Name: Agata Maksym.
Age: 26 years old
Degree and university: In 2006 I graduated from Warsaw School of Economics with a MSc in Management and Marketing. I also studied CEMS Master in International Management Programme at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Work Title: European Graduate Trainee, Wolseley.
What do you actually do?
The European Graduate Programme has exposed me to many aspects of our business and has given me a wide range of experience through a unique combination of hands-on experience and classroom training.
When I first started in this role I was based in Plumb Centre in Barking, East London, where my responsibilities varied from typical warehouse operations, such as picking and dispatching, to counter sales, inventory management and goods return to suppliers. This branch experience was invaluable; I feel I have learnt so much about our customers, products, suppliers and Wolseley distribution network.
Then I went to work for Réseau Pro in France where my main role was to design performance improvement solutions for an existing call centre to boost its efficiency, lower the costs and increase its value added to the business.
In my current role at Bathstore, the largest bathroom specialist in the UK, I am responsible for creating an all new customer satisfaction tracking programme. I work to develop a Customer Satisfaction Index and build an ongoing process for gathering the large volumes of customer excellence data required for continuous experience improvement. This third rotation has provided me with an opportunity to get to know yet another facet of Wolseley. Bathstore is unique as it is the only high street business within the strongly trade-orientated Wolseley Group.
Were you always interested in working in a foreign country?
I have learnt foreign languages since I was a little girl and I have always been passionate about travelling and discovering new cultures. At university I developed an even stronger international outlook. The growing success and popularity of CEMS MIM Programme allowed me to move to study abroad during my final year at Warsaw School of Economics. When I first moved to the Netherlands in 2004 I was planning to stay only six months. Needless to say, I absolutely loved that experience and took a lot of pride in it. I soon realised that there was no turning back and that I wanted to stay abroad and pursue an international career.
How did you find out about this job?
I had been in Rotterdam for a year when I met a recruiter from Wolseley during an annual career event on the campus. I knew immediately that the EGP, offering variety and international exposure, was a perfect match for me. I became very interested in the programme and wanted to learn more about the company and its people. I started the research online and even found out that one of my friends from university already worked for the company.
What difficulties have you encountered working away from your homeland?
I can’t think of any major difficulties. However, it can be a challenge to get used to health care systems in new countries, as well as to understand the countries’ specific tax regulations.
Working across cultures can be complicated, but is not impossible and can be challenging and exciting. Over the past 20 months on the EGP I have come across certain situations, people and behaviours which surprised me at first. It is amazing how a simple gesture, greeting, handshake, smile or lunch break can be perceived differently in Poland, England and France. The examples of differences are endless. Different cultures have different working styles, different approaches to meetings, punctuality and decision making. I think it is important to be aware of those differences and be mindful. I have learnt that when two or more cultures meet there are often cross-cultural exchanges that benefit all.
What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides?
I enjoy the variety. Over the past 20 months my role has changed three times! I have been able to work on various projects in three different business areas, in two different countries, in multicultural teams, using different languages. I also like the autonomy I have in my job. It requires initiative, good self and time management, and strong organisational skills. At the same time, it offers possibilities to think innovatively and develop leadership skills. It’s fantastic that I get involved in important real life projects, where my input makes a difference. I have to be positive and proactive at work, which are both very enjoyable.
Being away from my family and friends is probably the major downside to having an international career. Changing roles, moving from one country to another in two weeks, and starting everything from scratch can be challenging too. I need to build new networks, learn the new role, and gain my confidence all over again. At the same time, I enjoy the change and the opportunities it creates. I feel I move on and expand my horizons.
Are you considering returning home to work in the future?
Not in the short-term. However, I have chosen the career at Wolseley because its presence in Poland offers the possibility of returning to my home country whilst staying with the Group. I am convinced that Wolseley will open this option for me at some point when I have gained valuable business experience. There is still so much to learn about the business here in the UK, where Wolseley has such a strong presence. In addition, I like the challenge of being a part of international teams and making the most of my language skills. It is a highly satisfying experience and I want it to last.
What skills do you need to make a success of working in a foreign country?
Fluency in the language of the country and strong communication skills are crucial to be able to gain credibility and build relationships with people. Open-mindedness and adaptability are important, so is an understanding of diversity, and a desire to interact and learn from a wide range of people and cultures.
What advice would you give to graduates wishing to work abroad?
Do not ignore the power of culture. Do not expect that you will be able to be yourself at all times and force your way on the people around you. This is not how you will win their hearts. The key to success on an international assignment is the ability to blend; ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. On the EGP we take culture very seriously and there are several days of training dedicated to working across cultures. You can prepare yourself by reading books providing useful tips on how to adapt and thrive in the culture of the country you are planning to work in. Or you can choose to attend a multicultural course. I resorted to both books and training in preparation for my international endeavours.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Challenges usually become a part of every day life when you live and work abroad. The key to success lies in your attitude and how you look at life. When facing an adversity you may want to give up, pack your suitcases and go back home, or you can choose to be determined, approach the challenge with a smile, and create new opportunities for yourself.