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Podcast: Choose your own path: Laura’s journey of transitions and personal growth

Written by Astrid Roest on 24 September 2023 for Graduates

For this episode, we have a guest who’s very determined and won’t be pushed in a direction that she feels isn’t right. She’s not afraid to go back to the drawing board and start again, even if she’s already put a lot of time and effort into something. Laura Van Loon is a 25-year-old graduate who traded medicine for industrial engineering, and development for project management & support engineering. Her secret? A supportive environment and a coach who helps her navigate it all.

Note: You can check out the full podcast episode in the video below or listen to the episode at the bottom of the page. You can find us on Spotify or YouTube as well. Please note that the podcast is recorded in Dutch, and there are no subtitles. For non-Dutch speakers and the hearing impaired, we’ve included a written version below.

Welcome, Laura. Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m 25 years old and I live in Gelrode, a small village near Aarschot, close to Leuven. In my free time, I enjoy playing squash once a week. Not the competitive kind, though. I do it for fun, with no rules, and a drink afterwards.”

Alright, that sounds like a sport I’d enjoy too. So before we go deeper into your career journey, can you tell us a bit about school? What does your academic background look like?

“After high school, I initially pursued medicine for 3 years. Then, I switched to industrial engineering and studied IT.”

What prompted this change?

“When I finished high school, I was already torn between industrial engineering and medicine. But because medicine required an entrance exam, I focused my attention on that, and found out I really liked the subject matter. For three years I enjoyed studying medicine, I found it very fascinating and enjoyable. But during my internship, I started questioning whether the working environment and the hours were really what I wanted. I doubted I would be able to keep that up. So midway through my last exam period, I decided to quit medicine and pursue industrial engineering instead.”

You did make it to your third year, so this switch definitely wasn’t due to your academic performance. It was about aligning with your future work environment. This is a decision that takes courage. How did your environment react?

“I was lucky: my parents were very supportive. They immediately said it was okay for me to give up medicine and switch to industrial engineering. Of course, they had noticed that I had been struggling with medicine for some time. Others were more surprised at my career switch, but nobody gave me a hard time about it. They were mostly curious about why I wanted to change paths and what I would do next.”

This means that you entered a lecture hall filled with 18-year-olds when you were already 21. What was it like to start over like that?

“Honestly, it wasn’t easy at first to connect with people who had just finished high school when I had already spent a few years in university. Nevertheless, I quickly made friends during classes and at my digs. These were people I got along with and who shared similar interests. So, making friends wasn’t really an issue after all.”

And then you graduated, almost one year ago. How was that experience for you? We all know graduating industrial engineers are in high demand, to put it mildly. I assume you had plenty of options as well?

“Job events and fairs usually take place months before graduation – most industrial engineers have already signed a contract before they even get their diploma. Personally, in my job hunt, I prioritised finding a role that interested me at a company that aligned with my values. This included factors like work-life balance, training opportunities, coaching, and supportive onboarding. I didn’t want to start somewhere that was like: right, here’s your job, good luck with it and we’ll talk again in six months.”

I assume Exellys checked off many of those boxes for you, after all – you’re here now and we’re thrilled about that. You started your trajectory with us around six months ago. Can you tell us a bit about your client, and how these initial months have been?

“I work for Nationale Nederlanden, also known as NN, in the Non-life section. People in Belgium who are insured through ING are covered by NN, that’s how Belgians will mainly know us. Our offices are located near Brussels-South.”

So you take the train from Gelrode to Brussels every day? I can’t imagine you could park your car there anywhere.

“No, but we have the flexibility to work from home a lot. NN is very chilled about that, which is quite accommodating.”

And what exactly do you do at NN?

“I started as a Gosu Developer, but after two months, it became clear that this role wasn’t suitable for me. It was a challenging decision, what with it being my first job and all. But I explained my concerns, and fortunately, the client responded well. They asked about my interests and considered options within the IT team that matched both their needs and my preferences.”

You then transitioned to a project management role. Is that right? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

“Yes, I switched to Service Management. We handle applications within the IT team that are used by the company. When these applications have issues, they come to Service Management for analysis, and we then route the problem to the appropriate team. I also combine this role with project management – a junior role of course, as project management requires more experience. I was assigned a project to develop my skills in this area.”

It’s a testament to your capabilities that you were given this opportunity. I find it interesting that your journey involves two major transitions, though. How did you handle these shifts in a professional context?

“I took a similar approach as I did when switching from medicine. I talked to everyone – people at Exellys, people at NN, and people in my personal circle too. I also discussed it with Clément, my coach. He provided guidance on how to approach the situation and communicate effectively about it. Having that support was invaluable. Having a safety net like that is very helpful.”

To be clear, I wasn’t being critical of your journey by pointing out the two transitions. On the contrary, I believe many people might resonate with your experience. After all, we all spend at least 40 hours a week working, some of us probably even more. So it’s nice to be spending that time on something we enjoy, at least for the most part.
So Laura, you’re about 6 months into our Start Smart programme now. How are you finding it thus far?

“It’s been great. I was fortunate that my first Start Smart Weekend – which is a three-day event with other consultants – happened early in my journey. It allowed me to connect with people from similar professional contexts but varied sectors. We learned about ourselves and how to provide and receive feedback. Apart from the weekend, we also get group training sessions and are able to choose a couple of individual trainings as well.”

Are there any training sessions that stood out for you? Any that you find yourself revisiting often?

“I gained some takeaways from all the training sessions. I did ask feedback from others beforehand to make informed choices about which modules to pursue. Personally, the Prince2 training was most beneficial for me. It provided insights into project management and related concepts that I can apply directly in my role at NN.”

That was a training you took from the open offer. You indicated there are also non-optional group trainings that you take with the rest of your class. Did you get some use out of those as well?

“The time management training comes to mind. I was sceptical about it at first – I’d already done a lot of time management during my studies and it didn’t really pose a challenge for me in my work. I wasn’t sure how useful the training would be for me. But actually, I got a lot out of it. Lots of little tips and tricks that I could implement directly, but also more about the theory and the psychology behind it. It was very interesting, I would definitely recommend it!”

I’m happy to hear you’ve been doing well so far. Of course, we’re only 6 months into a 2 year programme. What are you looking forward to?

“I’m looking forward to the second Start Smart Weekend, since the first one was a really positive experience for me. And Exellys at the Beach, which we had recently.  I’m excited about the upcoming edition, hopefully with better weather!”

That’s great to hear. Keep up the positive momentum! We wish you all the best for your continued journey with Exellys and NN.

Check out her full episode down below!

About Exellys

Exellys is a Talent Incubator. We match ambitious companies with the finest talent. Are you ready to drive the innovations of tomorrow? Ready to make an impact and become a future-fit digital leader?

Whether you are a graduate or (young) professional, Exellys will unlock your full potential by guiding you to a challenging work environment that perfectly matches your personality, expectations and ambitions.

On top of that, you are enrolled in one of our very own training and coaching programs (based on your personal and professional ambition and experience). This means that, while working as an Exellys consultant, we are helping you to bridge your ambition to excellence.

Through intensive training and coaching, you’ll gain the essential skills, competencies and knowledge necessary to become the highly effective professional you aim to be. Become an Exellyst and get in touch with us today!

Written by Astrid Roest Talent Development Manager