Nailya Zehnalkova – Senior HR Manager for Emerging Asia and IMENA at Brown-Forman* in Singapore. She is a traveler and going to start her own podcast about Kazakhstani working overseas.
We talked to Nailya about her career in HR, work at Jack Daniel’s*, her perspectives about starting a career or transitioning into a new one.
*Brown-Forman – is one of the largest American-owned companies in the spirits and wine business. It manufactures several well known brands throughout the world, including Jack Daniel’s.
Being a student is about building a foundation
I studied Finance at KIMEP University in Almaty however I’ve never pursued my career in it. I wanted to get the most out of my uni time hence I’d been an active member of AIESEC, the largest youth organization in the world. AIESEC gave me an opportunity to try myself in many different things, that’s how I understood that I want to be in the HR department.
With AIESEC, I had a professional internship in Canada. Having a small HR team, I could engage myself in all HR processes, starting from admin stuff to performance reviews and succession planning. It was an alma mater for my career in HR. After working in Canada, I was in the leadership team at AIESEC in Russia, in charge of Talent Management.
About moving to Europa
My decision to move to Europe was based on two reasons: 1) get more international HR experience, and work with multiple teams from different countries; 2) I wanted to be closer to my now-husband who is originally from the Czech Republic.
I had my internship as an HR Coordinator for Electrolux HQ in Stockholm. My supervisors were from AIESEC, they involved me in the full HR spectrum. The entire culture of the company was about growth and lifting each other up.
After a year plus working at Electrolux, I got married. With my husband, we decided to live in Prague.
At that time I didn’t hold the position of Manager or Director, it was hard to find a job without knowing the Czech language. After a few months of sending 100 CVs every day, I got a job as a Payroll Specialist.
I really hated the job I was doing. I knew it’s just for a time being. It was just my first step to start working in Prague.
I kept applying for HR positions, and after 7-8 months, I received a call from a pharmaceutical company based in Prague. They’d been looking for a person who has international experience and who can adapt fast and handle many regions. Luckily, even already knowing Czech, all of the interview stages were in English.
I believe this company was a trampoline for me to move to Singapore. I’ve grown very fast in the company, from a specialist to a lead and looked after the entire European region.
About working for Jack Daniel’s
Looking back at my experience in the pharma company, I could see I grew a lot. One day, I received an email from a recruiter from my current company, Brown-Forman with an offer to work for them.
Brown-Forman offered me a position as HR Manager for Central and Eastern Europe, I really liked the opportunity and decided to change a company. I quickly adapted to a new company as the environment there was similar to what I experienced at AIESEC.
Read: Product Designer based in Vietnam Bekzat Sadykov about following your passion, social challenges and new perspectives
Moving to Singapore
My husband got an offer to work in Asia. It was a hard decision for me to write a resignation letter, and start searching for a job there. I couldn’t really believe this.
After a few months, there was an opening at Brown-Forman in HR in Singapore. Besides me, there were other candidates from Singapore who applied as well. I got an offer!
I moved to Singapore in July 2018.
Be more confident. We can adapt anywhere.
Besides having the language barrier or challenges with moving to a new country, I had a mental challenge as well. The mental challenge of not being good enough. I thought we are from Kazakhstan, our education is not that great, and how I can get something good somewhere else?
I believe being from Kazakhstan, having an influence from Europe and Asia, we can adapt anywhere in the world. This is the soft skill all of us have. Shout about it, this is our competitive edge.
Don’t afraid to ask for help
I’ve built a great network of people who really support me. What helped me grow in my career or moving to Singapore is the openness for help. I accepted positively to feedback, support from my managers and had a professional mentor.
Your own path
If you never try, you will never know. Different internships, projects, volunteering experience helped me understand what I like, and what I don’t like. It might not help you clearly find what you want to do, but at least you will know what you like. At the same time, start having a list of things that you don’t like to do.
Don’t compare yourself with others. Not everyone has to be a manager or director. The main purpose is to feel that you are bringing an impact, small or big to you and the people around you.
It’s not about always having momentum, all of us are going to have routine work as well. It’s just when you look back, you understand you like what you do and it can be something that is not accepted by society or what society states what is success.
I have many friends who are freelancers or unknown painters. I see that they enjoy their work and that’s enough.