Going from junior consultant to an executive in 5 years: How to advance as a tech consultant?

She perfected her people skills as a dance instructor, her analytical skills at the Faculty of Science in Zagreb, and her work ethic was developed when she worked as an intern at mStart – today, Želimira Kraševac is an executive from whom we have a chance to learn. • Facebook • Twitter • LinkedIn I finally got the opportunity to talk with Želimira about her work as a consultant, ahead of this year’s “Digital Career“ and her upcoming guest appearance at the meetup in Osijek, scheduled for the 23rd of October. No one has it easy in the beginning, but that is why we learn from others, and you have a chance to learn from Želimira through this interview, but also at the upcoming Digital Career Q&A where you will be able to ask her anything that interests or confuses you regarding the enterprise world. Želimira Kraševac is a customer service director for Oracle Retail systems at mStart – where she has worked at every position in the last five years, starting as an intern. Želimira’s professional development as a consultant started immediately after college, but that did not discourage her from entering an unknown field that is constantly changing. On the contrary, her willingness to learn from new situations is the most important factor in her promotion to such an important position in only five years. However, even with a degree, many people find it difficult to decide on the first step in their career. It is great to be so fortunate to have an opportunity to work in a field within one’s profession, but not all of us are willing to take the “usual“ path. After finishing her graduate study in computer science and mathematics at the Faculty of Science, not even Želimira knew where to direct her career, but she had an approximate idea about what she would and would not like to do. That idea brought her to mStart: I saw myself working in the field of computer science, but not entirely in programming – more like a combination of user relations, programming and technology – something of a set of various activities. That’s why I was attracted by mStart’s job ad for an Oracle retail consultant, because I was required to have certain technical skills, but also people skills, along which different projects and business trips were mentioned. All of those things had a dynamic nature in which I could see myself. Still, as to the most of the younger demographic, Oracle was a mystery to Želimira as well; she knew an Oracle database existed, but not much more. At that particular time I did not have insight into what consultants actually do, what kind of tasks the position enveloped, nor their value in the labor market. Actually, the first time I came to the job interview at mStart, the director of HR and the director of Oracle service elaborated in great detail what it meant to be a business consultant and warned me with a dose of fear: you will have to constantly learn something new and you will never know enough. On the other hand, I thought to myself: yes, but that is exactly what I want! Not even Želimira was completely confident that it would be the right job for her, until she started to work. Then, after going through a few interviews she started to feel that she could see herself in this role. There is always a risk that you imagined something differently than what it really is, she explains, but you need to do the work to be certain if that is or is not the case. While talking to Želimira I had the chance to learn details about the consultant position, so I could use it to make the first step a little bit easier for the future consultants. Internship is the time to absorb knowledge Želimira started working at mStart as an intern just around the time the Konzum project in Bosnia and Herzegovina was starting – a project she could be a part of from the very beginning, along with her co-workers: It all started with each of us five interns getting a mentor. At that point I tried to extract the most I could from the person who was assigned to me. Mentors would interchange, so every intern had the chance to gain new perspective from each of those five mentors – after all, those were five different people from different fields, each of who had their unique approach and work methods. I tried to absorb as much as I could, write everything down and give it my best, ask when I didn’t understand something, do everything in my power to gain the most from them. Along with mentorship, one also learns certain technical skills required for work. Internship is all about using the opportunity to gain maximum knowledge and Želimira was well aware of that. Still, the biggest factor for progress is real work, and that is the project level which starts with junior status. One can gain theoretical knowledge through formal education, but projects are where the knowledge can be applied. And with that experience one can advance to a specialist position. One learns and prospers the most through projects Unlike junior consultant’s, specialist’s work scope includes not only operative tasks, but also the inclusion in the real challenges of finding new solutions, Želimira explains. As a junior, a consultant doesn’t really advise, they are there to find out the problems users have, so they could forward those problems to someone capable of extracting a solution. Still, even that takes a certain level of understanding of the whole process, just to be able to understand what the user is trying to say and what troubles them. So, Želimira reminisces about her first, but also the longest project in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was finalized at the beginning of this year. This project ensured their clients the status of the first company in Europe to use the latest version of the Oracle Retail system. We were included in the entire process, from the implementation of their master data, complex processes, all the way to future predictions and optimization. That is a project in which I was included from the very start to this day – so it was definitely the one that left the biggest imprint in my entire career. The upgrade phase of the project is completed, but user support never really stops: The projects we work on are ERP implementation projects that last for a relatively long time and are never really completely finished. Projects at which we started working as interns are still on-going to this day, going through different phases. ERP or enterprise resource planning is a modular software system designed to integrate a company’s main business process functions in a single, unified system. For Konzum in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Želimira and her colleagues optimized the management of master data to ensure mass input and processing of data, along with many other options that helped the client “reach the desired result in less clicks“. Consultants are team players Going from a junior position to a position of specialist or senior comes with greater tasks and challenges which are assigned to consultants. Only when a specialist has a very broad spectrum of knowledge can he suggest solutions to users, Želimira explains. Every solution you propose is not limited only to your section of the project, but most likely encompasses three or four different user and IT services. As a specialist, you can make a proposal for your own field and then in collaboration with 5-6 specialists from different fields you can put together a single, complete solution. However, there are some solutions that include more services, and only a senior can make a complete proposal then. Even though large-scale ERP solutions such as Oracle Retail and SAP4HANA are implemented by big companies, with whom Želimira works the most, mStart offers other ERP solutions as well, so consultants have the opportunity to work with small and medium-sized companies. Želimira also worked on a few smaller projects; projects where one can develop completely different skills. Out of those smaller projects, one that was especially significant to her was the one for Mercator in Slovenia, where they only implemented a module for assortment management, which was a first for her. As she emphasizes, it was always an entire system that includes at least 100 people. In the case of Mercator in Slovenia, she was part of a small team of five, they implemented a single module, and the solution was implemented in three months. That was a great experience in quick situation-management, but also in how to implement a high-quality solution in a short amount of time. When it comes to consulting in general, I think there are few things you can do alone. Of course, you can get a grasp of the technical portion, one can learn about technology – and everything else that is easy to research on Google and YouTube – but anything business-related has to be relearned from each business user. Everything connected to other fields or systems is best learned from other colleagues who are specialized in those fields. Besides, you simply don’t have enough time to learn about every field in detail. So, you can be an expert in your own field, but you also depend on communication with others when it comes to other fields – how open you are and how open others are towards you. Occasionally, there are failures, because of someone or something over which we have no influence. It can be disappointing, says Želimira, but it is an unavoidable part of gaining experience and maturity. Besides, team work and searching for alternative routes is great for creativity, Želimira emphasizes. In general, I like it more when many people accomplish something together, as opposed to solving your mini-tasks by yourself. This gives you a greater sense of worth and involvement in a bigger story. Completely new executive tasks Even though she advanced very quickly, becoming a director was a significant step for Želimira. In five years she experienced many phases of various projects, got to know several big systems in the region, and as she already pointed out, she tried to extract the maximum from every situation. That is how she found herself ready to take on one of the leading roles at mStart. Of course, the role of director carries its own, completely new challenges: That was the most difficult transition for me, considering that everything had a logical route so far: with every promotion there were more difficult tasks, but from the same domain. However, the leap from a senior to executive was a transition to a completely new domain, which includes completely new tasks I had never experienced until then. I did have experience as a team leader, but it was a team of three, four, at most five people, while now it is 30 people. Alongside that, there were many operative tasks which are general by nature and not related exclusively to my department. All of these work novelties were a challenge, but Želimira points out that she overcame them by communicating with other colleagues, who were always willing to help and describe how they did certain things from their perspective, and those descriptions would help me conclude how and what I could apply to my line of work. “I know nothing, but I will learn!” Regardless of the number of new challenges, it seems that Želimira has no problems with facing and resolving them all, so she could eventually come out on top more capable and experienced than before. A consultant’s job is really dynamic and diverse. There is often work for eight plus hours, but sometimes a bit less, but then I try to use my time for independent research that will help me learn something new or figure out a way to improve something. The ability to paint a bigger picture of something is important for a consultant, and the fact that Želimira did not turn down a single task in the past five years was of great help. Without that intensity it is difficult to wrap your head around the entire story, so it becomes easier to trot and overlook things due to lack of understanding, she concludes. No matter how pointless or boring something seems, or you think about it in a way “this is not really from my field, why do I have to do it“, I have always accepted every task, even if it meant jumping aboard in the last moment as an “extra set of hands“. This helped me learn about everything, because every time something was lagging in a certain field, I would make a call and say: “I can help you if you need more manpower.“ With that willingness to help, not being limited to the scope of my job, I painted the picture of the entire system in my head. Life (and job)-saving interests But Želimira handled the new role quite well because of some other opportunities – and interests. She loves math and logic, but Želimira was always attracted to music and dance. Alongside elementary and secondary music school where she studied piano, she has been involved in dancing since she was little. During the years of practicing various dance styles, she turned mostly to salsa, which she has been actively practicing for 13 years, and so she also became a dance instructor along the way. It was this experience that gave her a great advantage in working with people at her current job, as she points out: Even before I started working at mStart, I had been working for a long time as a dance instructor for various age groups – from children to the elderly, and I think that was a life school when it comes to working with people. I learned a lot from that experience, from approach and patience towards different people to passing knowledge to others – how to teach and train someone in the shortest amount of time. That skill is very helpful at the current executive position, just as much as it was while leading teams as a senior. I could assess someone very quickly, adjust my approach to them, and figure out a way to explain things to people who learn things better visually, but also to those who learn better from theory. Would you like to start your consultant story as well? As we already mentioned in an interview with Emin Subašič, all business consultants must have foundations in knowledge about technology. Still, that does not guarantee that someone will make a good consultant. In this line of work, communication skills and ability to adjust to change, new solutions and work methods are crucial. As Želimira says: This is not a job for people who want to do the same job for eight hours a day, but for those who are ready to learn new things, and if necessary, change a solution 13 times if the user is not satisfied – all that demands patience. So, as Želimira says, if you can accept a dynamic job that is constantly changing and if you are ready to accept that you will never understand everything – that there are tasks which you will not solve by yourself, but with a team, in which many people and even more communication occur – then you will surely want to give this job a try. In any case, there will always be something interesting and new.