A/N My interviewee this week is someone who used to be in the study next to me at Rishworth School. I know you’ll enjoy this interview with an amazing woman who’s forged her own path and has some great tips to share!
Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
When I left school, I just wanted to be financially independent. My real dream was to do Interior Design, but I figured there wasn’t a serious living to be made from that (tell that to Kelly Hoppen!) and I didn’t want to study any longer anyway.
Not really knowing what I wanted to do, I visited a job agency and landed a job as a trainee sales ledger clerk at Wimpy International the same day. Rapid progression in accounting related jobs led me to study for accountancy exams, and I worked in that field for many years.
In those days it was the accountants who were exploring computerised options and I was probably one of the first people to use a spreadsheet on a PC. As I played around with spreadsheets and then became involved in projects to automate processes, I found myself enjoying that side of things so much more. As I was working for a big company it was easy to make the transition into IT and I became a Business Analyst, defining system requirements, designing solutions & processes and sometimes managing projects. I had found my niche, and although I have moved between business and IT roles over the years, and even taken a break to study Interior Design and work in that field (still requirements analysis, design and project management!), I know that what I really am is a Business Analyst.
Today I feel that I have my dream job as a consultant working for a multinational software solutions company visiting clients across Europe & South Africa to run requirement gathering workshops.
What makes someone good in your chosen field?
To be a good business analyst you must of course have an analytical mind. You have to be able to quickly understand processes, document them and critique them … always looking for better ways of doing things.
An empathy with people at all levels is important as you have to gain their trust and listen to what they have to tell you. It’s not a technical role – more of an interface between business people and technical people. Can be very social at times, and very isolated when you have to shut yourself away and document findings and recommendations. You need initiative and the ability to get on with it!
What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
My current role involves me mainly with Financial institutions where I work with systems to make business decisions, but a key facet of a good business analyst is the ability to walk into any part of any business and quickly grasp the fundamentals of the relevant processes in place there. Essentially, it’s about business, but that covers a multitude of things, and in this age of technology the solutions called for may be very different to those used previously.
What can be challenging about your profession?
I think the most challenging aspect is trying to win over people who are set in their ways to new and better processes. Businesses are always looking for efficiency and improvement, but you often find someone whose authority comes from their specialist knowledge of what they do and they can be very defensive when you try to find out the detail or suggest alternative approaches.
What do you most like about your profession?
I particularly like the project related aspect. Each project has a start and an end and even thought you might be working on several at once that overlap, there is always a sense of making a difference and moving on to the next challenge. My worst nightmare is routine – as an accountant, I could tell exactly what I’d be doing on day x of each month. I hated that.
What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to hall full of around 100 people who I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something. It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
To me, the most important thing is to do something you really enjoy. Follow your heart.
Careers advisors try to push people into what they seem like they’d be good at, but if their heart’s not in it, they aren’t going to do well. Something that doesn’t come easy, but if you have a passion it is far more likely to be a success in the long run.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t do yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.
I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people that told me how important experience is were absolutely right. And most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.