Pivots: stories from women at Wrike who changed career paths

Written by
Cansu Yetisgin & Zosia Szczech
Published on
September 20, 2022

This blog post was created in partnership with Wrike, and contains paid promotion.

If you’re stuck in a work situation that is not ideal you might have a fantasy to call in sick, put a post-it on your desk that says “Gone fishin”, never go back, and just follow your calling. Sadly, it’s not as simple and usually takes a lot of courage.  

It’s normal to get scared before taking a leap, especially when that leap is as big as a career change. There are numerous factors to consider in such situations: you might be worried about the reasons behind changes if you have enough skills or experience required for that role, and what will happen if things don’t go according to plan. You might also think that your life is already settled and you don’t need any changes at all.

We’ve recently met with three Wrikers – Běla Beránková (UX Research Manager), Raluca Arvunescu (Customer Success Team Lead), and Katya Syromyatnikova (AVP, Customer Support and Engagement) who decided to make that move and it paid off. Get to know them and their stories. Learn how they reached the point where they are now and what advice they have for you. 

Please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your career pivots.

Běla Beránková, UX Research Manager at Wrike: I started my professional career in marketing at Unilever, had a pretty cool-sounding job position—Christmas Officer–and then moved on to several marketing positions. After that, I took a year and traveled around Asia. I then started my own e-shop with bags imported from Cambodia. I realized after some time that the lack of routine wasn’t good for my business development so I signed up for an intensive software testing course with Chechitas and got my first offers as a software tester. However, this didn’t feel like something I loved, so I started exploring other parts of software development, and fell in love with UX research. I put my skills and predispositions to work and became a UX researcher at the company I worked for at the time (2016). I built a successful team of UX researchers there to finally take the next step in my career and become a UX research manager at Wrike.

Raluca Arvunescu, Customer Success Team Lead at Wrike: I studied political science and knew that I wouldn't be working in the field after graduation. During my studies, I started a part-time job as a helpdesk agent in one of the first customer centers in the region. The pay was ok, and there wasn’t too much work, but towards my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t want an office job. I was working on cruise ships for several years where I received minimal training “on the job” and was then left to figure things like customer relations and people management on my own.  And I did! That was fun, but at some point, I realized that I actually want to have a “normal” life. In 2013, I moved to Prague to pursue my Master’s degree in Tourism Destinations Management. I used to work as a tour guide, in a travel agency, in event management, and more. Unlike the uni job, those weren’t paying so much, even though I had a skill that was (and still is) very much in demand–fluent German. I took a leap and joined an IT company that develops software for hotel management. I started out in support, then implementations and learned a lot, but it still didn’t feel like what I wanted to be doing. I was interested in  project management, and that’s why I decided to join Wrike (that develops a collaborative work management platform) to learn it inside out. I joined the company as a Customer Success Manager. Fast forward to today, I’m a team lead, even though I never thought I would be one. I trusted people who saw the potential in me and here we are!

Ekaterina (Katya) Syromyatnikova, Associate Vice President, Global Customer Support and Engagement at Wrike: I’ve always had a knack for languages. When I was choosing my university major, I decided to go with what I really loved and studied linguistics.  Even though it didn’t contribute directly to my career, it did help me develop soft skills. After graduating from college, I worked as a personal assistant for one year before deciding to pursue what I really love—teaching languages! For about a year, I juggled different jobs, including corporate English courses, translations for publishing houses, and private tutoring before landing a job as an Account Manager with a company where I had been giving English courses previously. After one year there, I knew that salary-skill correlation wasn’t sufficient for me and decided to start exploring opportunities with international IT companies. 

I found a job at Veeam in sales. I grew into a team lead role, but then stumbled upon another problem –I was still expected to deliver a full quota, which did not leave enough time to dive into people management. This brought me to Wrike, who was looking for a support team manager at the time. At first, I was concerned about this being technical support since I did not have any previous experience there. I believe that you should be doing what you are good at or at least have some base experience/skills to invest further to stand out. However, this was an opportunity for me to become a full-time people manager. After many in-depth conversations with my future manager and the support management team, we decided that people skills were more critical in this role than technical skills, and that I could excel in that role. Of course, I would have to go through rigorous technical training first, but I was ready to do it.

I decided to take a leap of faith and it paid off. After several changes in Support, I was offered the Acting Director of Support position.

What is something that you would like to share about career pivoting?

Běla: All my crucial career changes happened after I turned 30. I saw my friends who were the same age as me but they were stuck in their jobs that they took on right after university. A lot of them wanted a change but didn’t have the guts to do it. I’m really happy that I did and if I’d have to do it again, I totally would. 

Raluca: I want to echo Běla’s words about making a career change in your 30s. If you think about it, when you are in your 30s, you still have more working years ahead of you than working years behind you. 

Another thing that I talked about to other women is that we need some kind of confirmation of our skills – a diploma, a title, or something like that to prove ourselves (not even other people) that we are good at it, that we actually know it. Whereas men I talk to don’t need such proof to admit they’re good at something. I realized that all the companies I worked for hired me for my skills, because they saw I could do the job even without the diploma. So don’t underestimate yourself. If someone saw the potential in you and gave you the responsibility – you can do it! Don’t stand in your own way, be open, and try new things.

Katya: At this point, I know how to go through the pivots I'm supposed to make, and I have a clear vision of where I'd like to go. If you are considering such changes, have a conversation with your future self, and assess the situation realistically – what existing skills can help you achieve your goals, what new things you can learn, and what’s out of the question. And go for it!

What challenges have you stumbled upon? What kind of support did you get along your journey?

Katya: From my personal experience, you need to be ready to ask for help and be comfortable with discomfort and you do need strong support. In my case, I was hired as an external person to the team and they felt cautious about it at first. It's the role of the hiring manager to make the team feel secure - which had been ensured.

I needed a way to measure my performance in the beginning, especially during Wrike product training and onboarding. I asked for feedback often to make sure I was on track and meeting expectations. Wrike Product Training and onboarding is very good and supportive. You'll be pulled into many projects, many syncs with the manager, and collaboration with the manager where you have an open dialogue on the direction of your work on what is working or not.

How do you see the division between hard-soft skills? If you are lacking hard skills can soft skills make up for that?

Katya: It really depends on the area and the role. If I want to pivot into becoming a developer tomorrow, I'd need lots of hard skills. Unless I suddenly discover a passion for coding, I don't see how I can justify starting from scratch at least without minimum skills. The roles I've taken so far were majorly based on more transferrable skills - experience, being open to change how you work, team management, presentation, etc. As a manager, it’s my job to find the best person on my team who possesses the right skillset and can do the job. However, to better understand my employees and to be efficient in conversations with stakeholders, I need some basic skills in many areas. This is why in the course of my career, I've also taken training in analytics, statistics, and economics. I usually start seeing what I'm lacking and look for courses to fulfill this gap.

Běla: Not only when you start working but when you start interacting with people you start developing soft skills. You need to have the right motivation to be a manager. Research is a hard skill, and there is still a lot I'd like to learn. I cannot imagine going back to research full-time, but I'd also like to do it more. I feel like at some point I will miss it.

Raluca: As Katya said, the division very much depends on the type of role. I mostly relied on my soft skills, I learned new things with each job I had but it was mostly my soft skills and the willingness to learn that got me the role. There are now so many resources for learning everything, but there are also a lot of things we unlearn or forget. We focus so much on being the best in a specific field at the same time, you forget to say please or thank you to a colleague. There are now courses on "common sense" or office etiquette, which are basic skills we should not forget in competitiveness.

Katya: We often forget soft skills are still skills. Being a good person is not a skill, but negotiating, or presenting to executives is. You are not born with it even though you might be good at presenting, your audience changes. You need to continue learning for each role and as you grow.

Q. You all mentioned money or being underpaid during your career. Do you have any advice for women who feel they are underpaid, or not paid enough and are afraid of changing their career? Any financial advice?

Raluca: If you think you are underpaid you probably are. Unfortunately, it's easier for us to look for another job than to have a confrontation.

Katya: If you are feeling underpaid you most likely are - in the sense that you don't feel comfortable doing the work with the amount of money you are getting. However, it does not always mean that your employer is not giving you a fair salary. It could be that the market rate for the job you are doing is not meeting your demands. Start by doing some research to understand if you are within the salary band for your role. If you are not - it’s a good reason to have a conversation with your manager and HR, and if the answer is no - you can look for another place with no hard feelings. However, if you are paid fairly, but the money is not enough for you, have a different conversation: what can you do to move into a role that will fit your financial aspirations? Can you take on additional responsibilities, what can you do to grow within the company, and so on? These are also good conversations to have with your manager, and with your HR Business Partner. There is a reason why I don't do teaching and translation. The world is supply-demand. There are so many people ready to do it, so there is more competition and less money. My priority was different. Think about what's right for you, try to change your situation, and with more people speaking up, we will gradually change the world.

Běla: You need a benchmark – do market research, go have interviews, and talk to other people in similar positions. This would put me in a comfortable situation to ask for more – proof that supports my demands.

What would you tell other women or yourself? If you could turn back time, would you embark on the same professional journey?

Běla: I'd do it again.

Raluca: I'd probably do it again.

Katya: When searching for a new position, be honest with yourself about what you want in a job. Do not just try to imagine the perfect role. This job may not exist yet. Be clear about your priorities, what you are striving for and what you are willing to give up or sacrifice. Then you will make it work.

Běla, Raluca, and Katya were interviewed by Cansu Yetisgin, Community Specialist at Wrike, and Zosia Szczech, Employer Branding Specialist at Wrike. We were truly inspired by their stories and we are proud to be working with women who prove that it pays off to woman up, follow our dreams, and turn them into reality. 

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