They had only just started remodeling the reception area at the part of the Sika Headquarters in Zurich when I arrived for my first day as an intern. The Head of Marketing & Technology was there to welcome me and the other two newcomers who were waiting in the temporary reception building.
Getting to know at the Natural Science Day
But before I say any more about my first day at Sika, I would first like to explain briefly how I came to know about the company. I was studying Industrial Chemistry at the University of Zurich and, as part of our Master's degree program, we all had to complete a short internship in an industrial environment. During my search for a suitable place, I registered for Natural Science Day 2010. Sika was one of the companies taking part.
I was extremely impressed with the company with its distinctive triangular trademark and huge range of construction chemical products. Its experiments with concrete admixtures also made a great impression and helped to make sure that I did not forget the company. It was here that I had my first brief chat with the HR manager, which encouraged me to send off a job application not long afterwards.
Step by step into the markets
Now, coming back to my first day at work. After I was introduced us to all the staff in the main building, I was allowed to move into my office, which I shared with another intern. After a brief introduction to the systems, programs and working methods, I was able to get down to the task of carrying out a large customer survey for the Industry Market. I would be working on my own initiative and had scope to use my own ideas. It was a very intense time and I really enjoyed working in this large company.
I was subsequently asked to stay on as an intern, and this gave me the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of virtually all product areas. I learned a great deal about the way the company is structured when I visited some of major customers and visited the production plants in Zurich and at Sika Sarnafil AG in Sarnen. I was also able to help with product testing.
What should my future career be about?
As my studies were soon about to come to an end, I had to give some serious thought to my future career. I was still very happy at Sika, so the obvious thing was to look for a job there. After a number of meetings, I was offered a job as a technical adviser for wood floor and flooring adhesives.
I had actually been thinking more in terms of a job as a product engineer until then, but I now had to give serious consideration to starting on the career ladder as a technical adviser. In the end, I didn't have to think about it too long and decided to accept the job. I started on January 4, 2013.
Preparations for Day 1
During the Christmas holidays I began to read through the data sheets for some of the products, trying to categorize them. I was able to study these in greater depth during the eight-week familiarization period that followed. In my first two months on the job, I accompanied my predecessor on many of my visits to customers.
Thanks to the very good overall introduction to my new job, I felt my confidence growing after just a few weeks and was soon motivated to take over the reins myself. The first few months were very demanding. Meeting new coworkers, trying to memorize a vast amount of technical information, attending the customer training courses run by other technical support staff, and the efficient transfer of my predecessor's customer list put me under a lot of pressure. It was like jumping onto a moving train: there was hardly any time to think or relax.
…and they gave me this cell phone…
On February 28, 2013, I was given the cellular phone of my predecessor. That was when I started looking after the customers on my own and dealing with all the inquiries. And the train kept on moving. My interactions with customers were all very positive and I was soon on first-name terms with many of them.
I was surprised how easily the customers accepted the fact that they would now be getting their information from a young woman with no previous training in wood floor or floor covering laying.
At first I had to prove myself to my customers a little, but once they realize that I am able to provide convincing answers to their questions, they quickly lose their initial skepticism and are usually very open. I also had to get used to the way the customers placed such great confidence in my advice and system recommendations. I therefore felt under a lot of pressure to get everything right and to make sure that none of my customers would have to suffer the aggravation of having to deal with damage.
Joyful every day working life
The pressure quickly eased, however, when I got the assurance that I could always cross-check with my product engineer whether my recommendations were correct. I could also consult my line manager any time if problems arose – usually when I had a difficult meeting with a customer or when I wasn't sure what to do next.
This helped me enormously and gave me added security as well as boosting my self-confidence. I remember very well in the early days traveling the country with whole files of product data sheets, brochures and notes and rummaging frantically through everything to find the right answer to each question. And after every phone call I always had a nagging feeling that I had given an incorrect answer or forgotten something.
Knowledge and expertise has grown quickly
This is happening less and less nowadays, though. Today, I usually only ever take my work folder with me on visits. I can now answer most questions straight away, but if I can't, I know who to ask to get the appropriate information quickly. Of course, working in such a big company has the advantage that you can quickly find someone in the company to help you with a problem.
This saves a lot of time, and enables us to provide a quick response to queries, thereby enhancing our customer service. That's why my work as a technical adviser is so enjoyable and keeps providing me with the challenges I need. Nowadays, I'm perfectly happy to cold call new customers and, thanks to the sales course that was organized for me, I also have the tools I need to handle this kind of sales task.
The biggest challenge of my job?
The biggest challenge will always be maintaining an overview. You also have to make sure that you don’t just let yourself be led by ongoing enquiries, but set your own agenda so that you make progress efficiently. Given the size of our sales patches, this is not always easy, though. You have to make sure that you take the time to maintain an overview. Otherwise, you are likely to end up running like a hamster in a wheel and getting nowhere.
Technical advisors aren't lone warriors
My original concern that technical advisers are expected to be lone warriors has proved largely groundless. Although you are basically on the road on your own, you still have regular contact with other people, and I am already on friendly terms with some of my customers even though I haven't known them very long. Not only that, but I am fully integrated into a team that discusses problems together and helps each other.
I am now convinced that the job of technical adviser was the right choice for me because I have learned so much in such a short space of time. Not just technical things, but also social skills and the ability to deal calmly with the unexpected, which often helps me to achieve my objectives more quickly.
Never wanted to have a 9 to 5 office job
The job of technical adviser demands a certain amount of flexibility, as one day is hardly ever like the next and your schedule is likely to change at the drop of a hat. I have found this to be one of the positive aspects of the job because I have always dreaded the thought of working 9 to 5 in an office.
The past six months have therefore been extremely intense. I should probably also mention that I also had to study for the oral examination for my degree while working on my new job. It was therefore very important for me to occasionally take some time out during all of this. My two hobbies, western riding and hunting, help here, and even though both are quite time-consuming, they have proved to be a very effective way of recharging my batteries away from work.
Women find good conditions in field sales
I would like to see more women working in field sales. They certainly don't have to worry about being accepted and respected in what is largely a male-dominated domain, at least not in my product area. I would even say that, once you have got over the first hurdle of getting to know your customers and have broken down any initial skepticism, there are some distinct advantages to being a woman working in field sales.
In closing, I can say that I am very happy with my job as a technical adviser and that working in the Adhesives and Sealants team is great fun.
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