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Is it Too Late to Change Careers? | That’s a Good Question

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Women continue to reconsider their plans, goals and priorities as a result of the pandemic. In fact, two-thirds are considering whether they should not just leave their jobs but change industries entirely.

In this episode of That’s a Good Question, our listener finds herself trapped in this conundrum. She had a one single career goal: go to college and become a partner at a CPA firm. Eight years into her journey, it’s starting to feel like it could become a reality — but she suddenly finds herself questioning everything.

We brought on expert Khadija Ben Hammada to help. Ben Hammada is the Chief of Staff to Chair of the Executive Board and Group CEO and the Global Head of Innovation, HR Talent Development and Recruiting for Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany.

Through active problem solving, practical advice and shared experiences, we will help her determine what’s next and how to get there including ways to translate skills into new areas and strategies to navigate the overwhelm when managing a transition.

 


 

Khadija Ben Hammada

Khadija Ben HammadaKhadija Ben Hammada is the chief of staff of the Group CEO, Belén Garijo, and VP for talent acquisition and development. She has nearly 20 years of experience in global leadership and driving business and organizational transformation. Known for her practical, strategic, and team-oriented approach, she is a well-rounded executive who has consistently delivered value-added service in the pharmaceutical and life science sectors. Hammada has held several leadership positions within human resources, covering the large spectrum of talent acquisition, HR business partnering, learning & development, and people & organizational advancement. Her passion is to transform organizations and culture, embracing diversity and inclusiveness where “our differences are our superpowers.” Through multiple global assignments throughout Europe, Singapore, and the US, Hammada has embraced these differences and developed a true entrepreneurial, hands-on spirit and a distinct cultural agility. These experiences have benefited her understanding of people through a cultural lens, shaping her ability to drive impactful projects in diverse cultures.

 

 

Celeste Headlee

Celeste HeadleeCeleste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It, Do Nothing, Heard Mentality, and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee

 

 


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Photo credit: iStock/JuSun

 

Episode Transcript

Tara:

Okay. Basically I went to college for accounting and pretty much all the professors there made it seem like the only path for success for an accountant was to become a CPA, work at a public accounting firm, and make it to partner. I bought into that, worked hard in school to get a good GPA, worked hard to pass a CPA exam so then I could work at a good public accounting firm. Then once I started working there, I worked as hard as I could to get a good reputation to someday make it to partner because that was what I was told I was supposed to do.

For years I feel like I’ve been running, running, running kind of with tunnel vision towards this one goal of making partner. To answer your question for the past year or two, I guess, I’ve been working closely with a partner who has become a really good mentor. He’s told me several times that his goal is to make me partner and that he wants me to take his job when he retires in a few years. This goal I’ve had of making partner.

Celeste Headlee:

Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Congratulations.

Tara:

Yeah. In theory, it sounds so great. But once he started having those conversations with me, it’s made me take a step back to really look at what being partner even entails. Even just working at a CPA firm, do I even want that? Now I’m at this crossroads, do I stay the course and continue on this path that I’ve been told I’ve wanted all these years? Because it’s all I really know. Or do I give it all up and try to find something different that I might actually want?

Celeste Headlee:

Let me probe, how far this goes, just questioning of yourself, which is healthy and wonderful to question yourself. Is it that you’re not sure you even want to do accounting at all?

Tara:

Maybe not so much accounting, but just the public accounting aspect of it. I’m questioning.

Celeste Headlee:

So you still like accounting, the field?

Tara:

That’s hard to say because that’s all I’ve ever done is public accounting. I don’t really know if I would like another aspect of accounting.

Celeste Headlee:

Okay. The only job you’ve ever held as a graduated adult is an accounting job?

Tara:

Yes.

Celeste Headlee:

Okay. Well this is a great moment to bring in our expert. Let’s bring in Khadija. Hi Khadija.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Hi Celeste.

Celeste Headlee:

I am so glad that Sarah has brought this question to us because I feel like a lot of our women are in this position and sometimes aren’t brave enough to ask the question both of themselves and themselves publicly of is this job still right for me? What can you tell Sarah to begin with in terms of just this whole idea of, is it ever worth it to completely change your career path?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

The first thing I want to say to Sarah is I think she’s not by herself in such a reflection time. I think we all have been to that journey of being at the crossroad in our life. I think that’s very important to really keep this self confidence. What I want to tell to Sarah is what you have done the last couple of years and all the skill sets and all the unique gift that you are bringing to the table are something that you should be very proud. Those are quite unique. Your experiences, the path you have been taking the obstacle you had to overcome and today you just at the crossroad or you ask yourself, is it the right path for me? I really like what you said because you say I was told to, and now what you are just facing is I have to think about, is it for me or I have to put myself first.

First of all, to Sarah, every woman in my, in my environment, and I know so many even men that have achieved that feeling and that crossroad stay self confident. Remember that you are not by yourself, remember that you have acquired a lot. Now I will probably take the time to check with myself and ask myself a couple of question and do kind of inventory of all the gifts and all the skillset I have developed and ask myself a couple of question. What is it today that I’m not enjoying anymore? When did that happen? Can that be corrected as an example, before I make that big career change and I understand, Sarah, you feeling it can be a little bit scary. Can I maybe get different perspective and try different aspect before I make a final decision? Those are maybe my first reaction to Sarah situation today.

Celeste Headlee:

Okay. That’s excellent. Let’s ask these questions, Sarah, which aspects are you not enjoying anymore?

Tara:

I would say the main aspect is the… I don’t know if this is bad to say, but the client serving aspect.

Celeste Headlee:

That’s not bad to say.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

No, it’s not bad. Yeah.

Tara:

Where I feel like I’m always on call whenever a client response or sends me an email or calls me, I feel like I have to respond right away. It kind of makes me feel like I’m always on edge.

Celeste Headlee:

Hmm. Interesting. Okay. Which aspects of your job are you still loving?

Tara:

I work in tax. The aspects I do like are the researching of the tax law and understanding a client’s issues and how to apply the tax law to those issues.

Celeste Headlee:

Okay. You told us that you began to feel this way just recently. What does that mean? Within the past year, within the last few months?

Tara:

What I meant by that was I’ve only just began questioning it recently because up until then I was like, ‘Well of course this is what I want. It’s what I’ve been told. I want, so now I have it. Isn’t that great?’ Now I’m just really thinking it through and realizing this. Maybe is not what I want.

Celeste Headlee:

Which is its great and healthy, but how long ago was this, did this start?

Tara:

Probably within the year or so when my mentor started telling me that I can take his job when he retires. When it started becoming a reality.

Celeste Headlee:

I see. As soon as it became real real that you might be a partner and this might be your job for the rest of your life? Okay. Khadija, that’s fairly normal, right?

Khadija:

Absolutely.

Celeste Headlee:

When you have to make a huge decision. It sounds like it’s not, there are aspects of her job that she still really likes. What’s her next step?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

I think what’s was definitely next steps, Sarah is, and I think you have started to have that kind of entrepreneurial mindset because when I listen to you, you are very clear about what are your strengths, where you are good at and what you are enjoying. But you’re also very self aware about what you are not enjoying, where you are at the edge. That’s what you say when you have that client. And being self aware where you are good at and what you are not, where you have less good is something that is a gift as well. It’s very good that you have figured out very early in your career. Now you have to think about how do I build my career based on my strength. Sarah, I am really good at many things, but I also know I’m really not good at many, many things.

           I try to really focus on my gift, on my talents, on where I’m really enjoying the most. I try to surround myself with people who can help me cope on site, on the aspect that I’m not enjoying the most. As you keep growing and developing and building your career, you have to keep that entrepreneurial mindset. Remember this is your career. This is your life. It’s like your business, your employment. You’ve got to think about those challenges like an entrepreneur, what’s my target audience. What do I like? What kind of problems do I like to solve? What I’m not enjoying the most and build that kind of spirits towards finding the right next step.

Celeste Headlee:

Let me take that to Sarah then. Sarah, what job in the accounting field involves research and digging into problems, which it sounds like you really enjoy, but not is not client facing.

Tara:

I think that’s where I’m stuck because I’m just not sure. Maybe that’s something that I need to do is just research a little bit more of what’s actually out there.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. I mean Khadija, at this point she now has to figure out what jobs will work and what will not. To figure out if she knows basically what her strengths are. It sounds like, she really, really likes digging into problems and research and figuring out complex things. How can she go about getting good advice on what kind of jobs fit her strengths, but don’t include the things she doesn’t enjoy.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Yeah. I think Sarah, I would certainly recommend, and I think you say to start to research some job around those elements. There are some, let’s say company where you can work within a financial tax department where you don’t have that customer facing or customer pressure. Where you can be a little bit, not in the front line of the customer relationship. Maybe look at those organization where the customer let’s say service is not part of the day to day job. I will also try to connect with people who have similar roles and try to really understand how practically it’s happening to them and what are the requirement of the role. But it’s really start by broaden also your network look at organization that can be at the opposite of the organization you are working for today, because I’m sure there are those organizations where you don’t necessarily need that strong customer centricity and customer pressure.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. Sarah, if you don’t want to be at the beck and call of customers definitely self-employment or starting your own business is not the right road, so you’re going to ha you’re going to end up in a larger organization. You just need to be in a larger organization-

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Exactly.

Celeste Headlee:

… where you are not the one dealing with the client, right?

Tara:

Right, and I like what you said about broadening my network, because right now it is pretty small. It’s mostly public accountants, in my career network. I don’t have that, the visibility into what other jobs are out there. If I broaden in my network, I can see what other people-

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Exactly.

Tara:

… Are actually working on what they’re doing with their lives.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. Going to something like a conference for women or attending something like that is actually great because something that is not directly focused just on accounting is going to bring you into contact with people in other industries that you may not have even thought of before to really open your mind to… You don’t know what you need until you know that it’s there. You have to know about the existence of it before you realize that’s what you want. Keeping that perspective as broad as possible. You include as many industries as possible, could really help you to start to take meetings with people in lots of different places. Khadija, what are sort of the questions beyond just strengths and talents, which it sounds like Sarah has really thought about that quite a bit. What are some other questions she needs to ask to make sure she’s looking for the right industry and the right job?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

What I try always to ask myself is every morning when I step up out of my bed, Celeste, I’m really looking toward making an impact. I am going to enjoy the people I’m going to work with. Sometimes also, Sarah, you find yourself where you might take an opportunity because you really want to work for a specific industry or for a specific leader. I will say if one time you are really facing that situation as well, I will really encourage you to do it because working for a company that has the same set of values. If I put aside to Celeste point, your strengths and your capabilities, you might have a passion, you might have a strong sense of purpose. There is a specific topic that is key to you. I will also encourage you to look at that because as every single employee in a large corporation or in any corporation, in any company, we can only deliver the highest impact when we are fulfilled.

            We are usually fulfilled by the greatest purpose we bring to the table because of the people we work with or with the people we work for. You will also find yourself in some situation where you want to follow a path, just because of the people, just because of the purpose, because you can help to bring vaccine to society because you can help to stop some disease. Think about also what is important for you as an individual, as a woman, as a human person. I think try also to connect that and bring that to your professional career, because you will see, you will deliver fireworks when you have both your strand, your gifts, as well as an amazing purpose to fight every morning for.

Celeste Headlee:

At this point, Sarah, it becomes a two-pronged research project for you, which luckily you really like research because not only are you expanding your network to talk to people, to find out what job title it is that is best for you, what job duties, but also as Khadija suggests, it’s going to be about researching the company itself and finding the right place that has the right culture, where you’ll really fit in and not just have the job you want, but the environment where you can really thrive.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Exactly.

Tara:

Do you have any tips on how to truly understand what a company’s culture is from the outside? Because I fee like-

Celeste Headlee:

I was so glad you asked that was what I was going to ask Khadija to say how because Khadija, everybody talks about culture.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Exactly.

Celeste Headlee:

Let’s make this a two-parter. A, what do we mean when we say culture? As Sarah said, when you’re looking at a job posting, how are you supposed to know what the culture is?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

That’s a very good question. That’s a topic that’s very close to my heart because I’m also having a HR responsibility in my current job. I think first of all, if you go to the website of each company, you will have Sarah a sense of the values, the job, the work environment, but you can never really assess the proper culture until you speak to people or you get to know some of the people within the company. I always say that our best cultural ambassador is our people and people want to join a great culture. People want to also stay for great culture. They tell their friends, they tell their environment, they tell their colleagues and that’s how great company are known from. Today there are many companies that you can also find online that have been rated the best place to work, the best employer. That give you a sense, but you also have some website, Sarah, where you have a sense of people who have left the company. I also recommend you sometimes to check those website because you can tell what you can see what people say about the company.

Celeste Headlee:

Like Glassdoor?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Exactly, like Glassdoor. You can get a sense, but step by step with all the tools we have Sarah with LinkedIn, with the Twitter, you can really grasp quickly a sense of the culture of those company. Are they talking about the topic that are absolutely important? Are they supporting the conflict that’s running on right now in Europe? You can really get a sense and feel free to push yourself out and to connect with people, even if you don’t know them on LinkedIn, get a sense… What I have found out Celeste and Sarah is people want to share their experience. With the tools we have today, it’s very easy to have a sense of what’s happening in a company. What kind of culture this company has. Speak to the employees through the network, through the tools, that’s the best way to get a sense of the culture.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah. Sarah, as Khadija suggests, go on to Twitter and LinkedIn and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking at jobs. Does anyone want to brag about the company where they work? Does anyone think the place they work is great or I’m looking at a job at this particular company. Does anyone want to share with me your experience working there?’ It’s not a black market against you. If you are doing this kind of research. In fact, for me as somebody who hires, I think that’s great when somebody’s doing that kind of research.

Tara:

Okay. Yeah, that sounds great.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

If I may add one thing, Celeste. Sarah, you are in the best position today because the market is a candidate driven market today. Today companies have to be appealing. Companies are going out to tell how great they are, what kind of career opportunities they’re proposing, what kind of career path they’re proposing, because it’s very difficult to hire great, great people. You will see very easily how companies are trying to promote themselves because we are facing talent shortage. We are facing a great attrition. I think we have understood as an organization how the world has changed and what’s important for candidates. And it’s about purpose. It’s about sustainability. It’s about finding fulfillment in what they’re doing. Those company are actively working on that.

Celeste Headlee:

What questions could she ask during the course of an interview Khadija that might give her a sense of the kind of place it is to work? What might she ask the interviewer?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

I always ask the person, for how long have you been in the company? And that give you already a sense of if the person is happy or not, you don’t stay. If you are not happy, then I quite often also ask, what do you like the most in the company you are working in? What do you like the least? Because if someone is telling you, ‘I like everything’ Something is not going right.

            There should be able to tell you to tell you something. Then basically those kind of question will help you to get a sense of, and when you see people and how they talk about their company, how they presents their company, I have supported Sarah, some hiring manager during interview, and you have a hiring manager that talks about the company with so much passion, so much details. He has fireworks and butterflies in his belly. But I have other manager that will give you the minimal information. You can quickly, let’s say, test and pressure test, which one and how the culture is. If you do a face to face interview, you get to sense on the campus. If people are passing the corridor and saying hi and having a smile or if everyone is working in a closed door office, et cetera. There are many things that you can really sense ahead of making a decision.

Tara:

Interesting. I like what you say that it’s not so much what they’re saying, but how they say it to pay attention to that as well.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Absolutely.

Celeste Headlee:

What other questions do you have, Sarah?

Tara:

I didn’t have any other specific questions. I think everything that has been said has been super helpful so far.

Celeste Headlee:

Are you looking through notes? I mean, I think Khadija, as you mentioned, there are a lot of people at this point who may be having these same kind of questions. I wonder if you could give advice on how to know whether when you’re having these sort of doubts in your career, how do you know if they are real or it’s just a temporary you’ve just temporarily fallen out of love with your job. How do you know if it’s a lasting thing and it’s time to change careers?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

I think first of all, it’s the lens of having that thinking. If you have that in mind for a couple of months, I think it’s definitely more than something that’s going to pass. For me, what is really basically my sense of reality is if in the morning when I wake up, I really feel that, okay, I’m going to make a difference today and I’m happy to go and meet with the people I work with or I’m saying, oh my gosh, do I have to take a call from a customer today? I think when you at that stage, it’s time to really think. But what I also really think Sarah and I say that with a lot of confidence. I have seen many, many cases. I have reinvented myself a couple of times, and sometimes I also reinvented myself not knowing what was coming.

            There is something that was very telling that you said Sarah, about your mentor that he said, that was what he wanted for you. Sometimes it’s very appealing for us, especially when we are early in our career to also please, and to be grateful and to give back that recognition to our mentor. We also don’t want to disappoint you, but there are moments in your life where you have to put yourself first. I think that’s what you need to do right now is put yourself first by also telling to yourself that imagine your career is something that many of us are going through. Think, I always give that advice about being forever employable, meaning that you have to reinvent yourself and Celeste, maybe a quick anecdote in our organization, in the org I work for today, we do a lot of reorganization.

            I think Sarah, you are also probably aware of that, of that phenomenon. We reorged for specific reason why don’t we reimagine ourself? It’s the same way. Why an organization has to reorg themself and make and go over reorg and employee cannot reimagine themself. In the post COVID world, when people want a stronger purpose, when people want to make a difference, when people want to decide if they want to work from home, or if they want to go to the office, they have the clue and they have the power to decide and to put themselves first. I think if it’s lasting, I think it’s time. For me, I see that as an opportunity to do something else, and I’m sure we have more than one career in life.

Tara:

Do you have any tips on how to reinvent yourself or make it easier? Because I feel like the part of me that wants to continue on this path to become partner is more of it’s because I’m afraid of the unknown or to go or to leave what is safe.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Yeah. It’s never easy Sarah to leave a comfort zone. Absolutely. I have done it many time and I can tell you the first couple of weeks and months, I have sweats physically and intellectually, but once you are in the pool, you know what? You will tell yourself why I didn’t do it before, why I didn’t do it earlier, because you will develop and you have that. You will develop that natural survival mode because you have skills, you have strong education, you have years of experience behind you. You have talents, you have gifts. Those are your foundation. Those are the suitcase that you are taking with you.

            Again, do that inventory, take the time to reflect, do those research and analysis, talk to people around you that might have a different perspective than you that might think differently, because then you meet in between and step by step, you will build that confidence. Try to pick a role model. I always looked at some woman also at some men that have always inspired me and try to understand how they think around such a problem statement around their career. I’m sure one day you will meet someone with whom you will feel so ready to make that move, that you will forget, and that comfort zone, and just jump into the pool. I am sure Sarah’s going to happen.

Tara:

Something else that you said that stuck out to me is I don’t want to disappoint my mentor because that’s the goal he has for me. If I decide to go a different way, I am embarrassed to say it, but I am scared to tell him that, ‘Hey, this isn’t necessarily what I want.’ Do you have any tips on how to make that conversation go as easily as possible?

Khadija Ben Hammada:

I sense that’s why I pointed back because I had the same situation a couple of years, I followed. We also are, let’s say going to so much pressure. Our parents sometimes have chosen for us, which grade and which focus we need to have. Then we have a mentor and we don’t want to disappoint them. But again, the most important is to put yourself first, because this is your career, not his career.

            I’m 100% sure that he’s doing that out of good intention. But if you have that very open, authentic, and vulnerable discussion with him or with her telling him how much you are grateful for the learning and the experience you had with that person, but that help you to reflect on your path and that you see a different path. I’m sure he will. He will help you because every mentor, Sarah has one single goal is to elevate and to help his or her mentee. At the end, it doesn’t really matter. The final path, as long as you grow, as long as you learn, as long as he sees you or she sees you growing and shining, he or she will be extremely thrilled.

Celeste Headlee:

If I could add something in here, just from a conversational point of view. Yes, to everything that Khadija has said, but also remember that you may want to get some of this research done before you let your mentor know. I say that because as Khadija says, your mentor wants you to succeed and has a lot invested emotionally in your success. Therefore, if you go to him and say, ‘I don’t know what I want. I just don’t want this.’ He’s going to be worried. He will be afraid for you also. That might lead him to really urge you to stay on the very safe path. I would do some of this research and start to understand a little bit more about what you do want. When you have this conversation with him, he can be reassured and you both, and then he can help you to move forward.

            When you say, you know what? This isn’t exactly what I want, but I have this idea about what the path I do want to take, and then he can help you out with that. The other thing I would say in terms of your fear about taking this leap is that if you understand now that this is going to be scary for you and stressful and cause anxiety, this is a really good time to think about other things in your life. What are the things in your life that help you to relieve stress and anxiety? What are those things and get them in place now so that you can already have a plan set for yourself where you know, okay, I’m starting to feel stress. Here’s my solution. Here’s what I can do. This works to help relieve my stress.

Tara:

Wow. Those are really great tips. Thank you.

Celeste Headlee:

Any other questions that we can help you with? Because it sounds like Khadija is exactly the right person at this point in your life.

Tara:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t have specific questions to me, but I would love to hear some more details on a time that you reinvented yourself.

Celeste Headlee:

Khadija.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Yeah. Definitely happy to do that. Sarah, I’m French. I’m sure you can tell by my accents, try to hide it, but doesn’t work. But I worked in several countries and the first time I had to invent myself is when I left my family, my parents, my sister and my brother and I told them I’m going to the U.S. They told me, ‘What are you going to do to the U.S.?’ I really had two suitcases, Sarah, and of course a job over there. I just had to reinvent myself from the beginning, build a network. I never thought that my English was good enough to live in the U.S. but really start this experience from scratch. I remember I was crying the entire time at flights, but once I landed there were no way back.

            I always felt and found myself in any challenge or opportunities where I have people around me. You never buy yourself Sarah. That’s one of my lesson. There is so many people going to the same phase and as there are so many people willing to help her. Then I just, again, had to invent myself. Then I went back to Europe and then I went to Asia again. My company have offered me a job in Asia. I remember at that time I had zero clue about Asia and I never been there. Again, for some reason I felt it based on what you say. I knew that I had some strengths. I knew that I’m going to develop new skill and learn. For me, as long as I keep learning. I keep absorbing new things. That always something that trigger my decision to move on.

            Then I just say, yes, and same, I cried less because I had more experience. But then I learned in Asia and I’m telling to myself, why did you do that to yourself again? But that feeling has lasted for just a couple of hours, but the same process, Sarah, I just say, okay, my story’s unique. I have some talents. I’m not by myself. There are people in Asia and in Europe, if it’s not working, I can still go back and I’m going to go there, open myself to people and they’re going to help me. That notion of also coming and always surrounding yourself and trying to absorb through others is something that has always worked for me. But the most important imagination that I have done is really taking a stretch assignment in my career. I’ve been always in the HR function, in several countries in several role.

            But then one day I got to call to work for the CEO of the company. A fantastic woman, a medical director and leading 60,000 employees. I’ve got that call. Will you be interested? And then I say, ‘Do you ask me if I can do the job or do you want me as an HR to recommend people?’ I was doubting myself. I just say, ‘I don’t know if I can make that.’

            I remember going over the process and hoping of not getting the job. But then I got the job and I can tell you, Sarah, I have sweat a couple of weeks, but the same process, you don’t know what you don’t know. When you put yourself authentically very open and go to some people like the Adolph Research and Development, because it was a pharmaceutical company and say, ‘Hey, I don’t understand the drug process. Can you help me?’ He was so happy. He sat with me hours and hours and he helped me to get there when I was not too much into the PNL and into M&A topic. Because I was coming from HR. I went to see the CFO. ‘Do you mind spending a few hours and you will be surprised on how much people love to talk about what they do and how they want to help you.

Celeste Headlee:

Oh, that’s so true.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

I just spent time off. Okay. I’m going to, they know that I don’t have all the skill. She chose me because of my aptitude, potential leadership ability to work with different environment and culture. Those are why she chose me. Now, I need to make sure that I can support and surround myself with people who can help me. Then when you come with an approach, like you don’t know it all, but you are ready to learn it all. You will be impressed by how much people can give you.

Celeste Headlee:

That’s gold, Sarah, other questions, or other ideas on what might face you in the months ahead?

Tara:

That was amazing. Your story is incredible. But I was wondering how you were able to build your network in all these different countries. I know you mentioned at the beginning going to these conferences for women, which I think is a great idea, but I don’t even really know where to start in terms of broadening my network.

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Maybe if I go, Celeste is the first thing is you have to put yourself out. We have many tools today. You have LinkedIn in where people can also follow what you do. For me, what has really worked and that’s something that I try to share. It’s a key principle of my leadership and the person that I am. I really also believe that your work speak for yourself. I remember having a mentor told me, he told me that you need to build a brand for you. Within my own company, which has been much more easier when you work for large corporation, Sarah, to your point to have a larger network. But I always worked towards delivering something that was important in a good way, in a fast way.

            Then people start to see, oh Khadija is known for getting things done, she’s known for this. She’s known for that. Those opportunity came because you have developed a certain set of skills and experience and people get to know that. But I also am a very, let’s say people oriented person. I like to connect with people. I like to share stories. I like to share, let’s say, to learn from them. That’s how you develop a network as well. Put yourself out Sarah, through a tool, LinkedIn. I’m sure there is some accounting association and network. There might be the alumni group of your, let’s say, previous university or college, feel free to go towards that. Don’t be shy to connect with people that you don’t even know. I cannot tell you how many people I have connected that I don’t even know them. Just put yourself out and step by step. That will be a snowball effect where your network will be so big that opportunity might come to you directly.

Celeste Headlee:

Really, really great advice. Yeah. There may be things networks, as Khadija suggest Sarah, that you haven’t really paid much attention before, not justly alumni networks. But I found when I was reaching out, there were networks I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to before in terms of like the volunteering that I do. I work also with the League of Women Voters. I hadn’t even thought about them as a network for finding new work and finding new clients. And yet when I reached out and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing.’ There was a huge number of professionals there. For me, getting involved with some of these other activities, volunteer networks, some of these, sometimes it can be a political organization or whatever else you do, that can help you create unexpected networking opportunities as well.

Tara:

That’s great advice. Thank you.

Celeste Headlee:

I think we’re all set to go, unless there was any other questions that you had.

Tara:

I do have one more. It might be quick.

Celeste Headlee:

Sure. It doesn’t have to be quick.

Tara:

Oh, okay. One thing that I’m worried about if I do decide to change careers is that I would feel like all these years that I’ve been working towards this one goal would be wasted if I decide to go a different way. But it sounds like you had taken a completely different role that you weren’t necessarily expecting. Were you able to use the skills that you felt-

Khadija Ben Hammada:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. As nature, I have developed very strong judgment when you are advising the CEO of the company, you need to have good judgment. As a nature, you always need to think for the best interest of the employees and enterprise as being the right hand of the CEO, you always have to look at the best interest for the CEO and for the group. I will not really call Sarah that truly maybe my kind ask to you before we leave, the call is don’t believe what you have build is a waste. This is your story. It’s unique. It’s perfect. It is your story. I can guarantee you will always leverage that. It has been part of your story.

            It’s something that you will always keep with you. I will not call that a waste. I will say you will find connection between your past and your future and the most important if you keep having that learning agility, I was just referring to from, okay, I know I can learn many things. You have proven that you can learn many things coming to your way and your past will just help you to get there.

Tara:

… This is great. I feel like I’m going to have to re-listen to this recording over and over to remind myself of that.

Celeste Headlee:

No, well, luckily it’s available forever. Just one thing I would add is that I have a 25 year history with NPR and PBS and all these other media companies, all of my education and my original work is in music, I’m a professional opera singer, but I got my first job in radio as a classical music host, which I never would’ve predicted. When you start to say yes, and really broaden your idea of who you are, so that it’s wider than just a job description, you might discover your qualified for a lot of different things. That experience that you’ve had can help you in a ton of different ways. It’s not just specific skills. It’s a whole skill set that you’ve developed.

Tara:

That’s great advice. Thank you so much, guys. This has been amazing.

Celeste Headlee:

Sarah, thank you so much for bringing that really, really good question to us.





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