I’ve been working a full-time office job for over seven years. During this time I’ve worked in three different companies, changed industries and took a pay cut twice, and did a pretty major career change once. Some things I’ve learned, some things I probably haven’t yet, and I thought I would share a bit more about where I started and where I ended – at least for now. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of the decisions I made – whether good or bad – and where they took me.
The dreams of the student
I studied a Business Administration Bachelor’s with a focus on Economics. I did the first 3 years of my degree in Spain and I moved to Berlin for my last Erasmus year. I picked a university that allowed for a Double Degree so I could graduate directly in Berlin, without the need to go back to my university in Spain. A few years after graduating from my bachelors’ I also ended up pursuing a master’s degree in the same domain and while working full time; you can read more about that here as I’ve shared that experience on the blog.
I’ve always dreamt of myself in the public sector, working to better the lives of people through economic policy and having a real impact – oh, the hopefulness of the youth. However, the private sector lured me in thanks to the good pay I could have from pretty much day one. At least good enough to be financially independent and pay my own bills while also helping family on the side. This has its ups and downs. On the one hand, I don’t regret getting into the private sector due to the work opportunities and salaries and the fact that it opened up a whole new world that was completely unknown to me i.e. the tech sector. On the other hand, I have to say that doing so left me a bit directionless, as I did not know very well what I wanted to pursue long term, and this is why I ended up changing direction a few times.
The joy of the first full-time office job
My first official job was as a Business Development working student in a Berlin startup, while I was studying in my final year of bachelors. Now, let me take a moment to tell you my favourite thing about (studying in) Germany. If you are not familiar with the concept, in Germany there are mini jobs (20 hours/week during the studying semester and 40 hours/week during breaks) for students to help them get some experience and also pay the bills. To me, moving to Berlin from Spain – where it is difficult to find an unpaid internship to accumulate some experience, let alone dream of an office job somewhat in line to what you are studying that actually allows you to build up some skills and also pays you – it was a completely new concept that blew my mind. I won’t say that the job was super exciting, because it was not. Many times it would get really boring because often times student jobs are quite basic and focused on manual work assigned to the “cheapest” employee. Which is fair. The repetitive work that no one in the team wants to do. However, it allowed me to build up some basic skills that helped me later on: from Excel to work etiquette and basic email & calendar hygiene to conducting market research. I clearly remember being so happy to have this job that allowed me to make decent money while still studying and going to class. I am forever grateful to the German system for supporting the insertion of students into the working life so early on. Every company that I worked for had working students. I don’t really know what the incentives are for companies or if there are tax breaks for doing so, but I don’t think it matters because it’s simply a great thing to do for the youth.
Now, it’s worth saying that this wasn’t my first job. Prior to moving to Berlin, throughout high school and university, I had plenty of other jobs and often a few at the same time. From babysitting to tutoring, cleaning flats or even working in a coffee shop full time while studying, I’ve done it all. I won’t go into detail here though since I’m focusing on the “corporate” career journey in this post
Following my working student position, my very first full time role was in the very same startup. Once I graduated, I managed to secure a full-time role and transitioned into a different team and role. This was a client-facing role as an Account Manager in a digital marketing agency. The role gave me a first taste of client contact, a little bit of project management and negotiation.
I don’t know how the first full-time job was for others, but for me it certainly was confusing. Growing up I didn’t have exposure to what working in the corporate/private sector looked like and I have to admit I didn’t have an idea of where I was and what I was doing, and much less of where I was going.
There I was, with a full-time salary, young and overly-enthusiastic about life. I was ready for this brand new chapter of my life. I must admit, the dreams and plans I had then about my career were not very clear and concise; and in retrospect, I will admit that I wasn’t very true to myself. As ambitious and driven as I was, I was only showing up day in and day out, doing my best, but without much thinking about the mid or long-term.
Two things stand out from my time there. First, I discovered my professionalism and my ability to handle clients as well as internal stakeholders and move things forward solely through my drive. This earned me a lot of internal recognition at the time, something that set me up for later years. Second, it earned me a promotion and a salary increase five months into the new role without even asking for one and although I already had a fair pay based on my experience to date. Oh the startup dynamics! This gave me a taste of what hard work can get you and again, served me as a good reminder years later.
The growth stage & my second full time job
After two years at the first company I was ready to move on and change industries. Since the industry I was in was quite lucrative and well paid, I took a pay cut of about 8k to move into tech. My second role was in a B2B SaaS company, working in the client-facing area. I did a mix of Project Management, Consulting and Software Implementation depending on the clients I was working with or the stage of the projects. This job was the one where my real professional self really was born. I learned and changed the most there in the almost 5 years I stayed. I progressed quickly and had three promotions & salary increases while there. I learned to speak up, play and be aware of the office politics game, fight for my progression and negotiate my salary.
I truly gave my all in this job and I (mostly) loved it. I had a high level of autonomy, I got a taste for managing a team and for travelling to client sites every now and then. I got to work with C-level closely, got to advise and run steering committees for Fortune 500 corporations, all the way up to VP or C-level. The learning curve was steep and there was always a new challenge to solve. I had a solid sense of progress and of growth even though I worked more then I probably ever will again – I rarely had a 40 hour work week and the rule were 50, 60, 70 hour workweeks and often even working weekends. The pace was fast and the pressure was always on. While I had a great time and great teammates, I do think that the company culture was a little toxic. Like it often is in non-profitable companies seeking to close the next investment round, close the next big client and hopefully achieve the the next million or billion. Nonetheless, that helped me discern good from bad individual contributors, managers and leaders. A skill that is not easy to acquire and I am most grateful for. It was a great learning experience that helped sharpen my senses and get closer to my ideal work self.
Looking back, I do think I gave a bit too much of myself and failed to prioritise health at times – especially exercising consistently. At the same time it was an amazing experience to learn so much about my professional self. By the end of it I had a clear understanding of my strengths, my boundaries, an ability to push back and say no regardless of who I was talking to and so much more. And I am really proud of who I am today professionally, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
The career change
After almost 5 years at the second company, I once more decided it was time for a change. While I enjoyed client work and was good at it, it did not feel like it was “my calling”. I felt like I was missing out in terms of exploring and further sharpening other facets of my strengths. I felt like it wasn’t time to settle into a comfortable career trajectory because I had more to give and do. I already talked a lot about why and how I approached my career change so I will not go into details in this post. l actively worked for about 6 months on my career change by taking courses, certifications and interviewing. I pivoted from a Senior Customer Success Manager (my official position at the end) into a Product Manager.
With my career pivot, I stayed in the tech world and now work in a company belonging to a multinational group. Now, suprise surprise, I took a second pay cut to change careers. I have to say that throughout my career I was never really afraid of changes or of taking temporary pay cuts because I’ve never really doubted my worth and my ability to perform and therefore grow my salary. Even before I finished my probation period and within less than 6 months since joining I bumped my salary back, so that bet paid off.
It’s already been a year since I’ve changed careers, and I’ve been extremely happy so far. Of course the learning curve has been steep and I’ve felt uncomfortable plenty of times, because guess what, growth is meant to be uncomfortable. When it comes to work and delivering good work, I have to admit I don’t have that much patience. I have high expectations from day one, whether it’s for myself or for others. During this past year I had to learn to give myself time to feel uncomfortable and to grow into the new role and to eventually reach my own expectations. I am in a very good place now yet I am also looking forward to what I can achieve next.
I have to say that it’s not only my role that I am enjoying a lot but also the environment I am working in. Starting with the people – I truly have an amazing team that I always have fun with – the company culture and values, and overall the healthy work pace that I have. Since the pandemic, I’ve totally changed my work-life balance beliefs. I spoke more about it here. I don’t know if it’s temporary or not, but nowadays I am much stricter with the boundaries I set and with protecting my energy, and I am fully enjoying that.
So what’s next you’re wondering? Right now, I am truly enjoying my day to day and I am looking forward to further growing into the role. I haven’t yet made up my mind for how long I will stay at my current company and what precisely awaits for me next. I do see longer term growth within my current career trajectory, yet I trust that I will continue to explore and adjust my trajectory whenever it doesn’t feel right. Whether it’s about money, work-life balance, self-fulfillment or anything else important to me.
Based on my career journey so far, there are a few key lessons and tips I will share in a follow up post, so stay tuned for that!
Thanks for making it to the end and I hope you’ve enjoyed the lengthy read. Do let me know what stands out from your own career journey so far? Curious to hear more stories, perspectives and career journeys.