Building an international career at Salesforce, Google and Trivago
Tina Radojkovic and I (Milo Radulovic - MARLEQ) met in Ljubljana in 2012, while both studied master's programs at the Faculty of Economics. As well, we both worked in the same building in Ljubljana, at two different companies.
Tina is synonymous of someone who successfully builds an international career. Currently, she works as Territory Manager at Salesforce in Dublin (EMEA Headquarters), and prior to this position, she worked at Google as an Account Manager for the Adriatic region.
During her bachelor studies, besides Ljubljana where she studied PR and Marketing, she spent one semester in Lisbon. She began to build an international professional career by working for 5 months in Madrid. Later she worked for 2 years in Ljubljana, then almost 2 years in Dusseldorf, and currently 2 and half years she is based in Dublin.
MARLEQ: Why did you decide to study Marketing and PR in Ljubljana? How was your student exchange in Lisbon? How did you end up there and not somewhere else?
Tina: Deciding for University and which academic path to take was one of the most challenging decisions in my life and the reason for it was - I had no clue what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. :) I was always a good student, but honestly had no special talents. I was always good in foreign languages, social sciences and was very natural in communication and relationship building. And that was it. Bachelor's study of Marketing Communication and Public Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana sounded like a cool option and plus it was broad enough to give me time to think about which profession I am going to choose.
My student exchange in Lisbon is another funny and life-changing story. It is one of these crazy stories, where you say “everything happens for a reason” and it was so right :)
As my Bachelor studies (4 years) were coming to an end I have decided that is about time to take advantage of European Union Funds (joking) and see what was that Erasmus hype all about. I was always fond of Spain and Spanish culture and as I was studying Spanish during high school, I thought that the only logical place to go would be Spain. Therefore I have chosen the only Spanish option that I had (where my Faculty had bilateral agreement) - Valencia! After writing the most amazing and emotional Motivation letter - guess what - I wasn’t chosen. I was so sure that I will go to Valencia, that I didn’t even think when writing the 2nd and 3rd options. Long story short I went to the International office almost crying and begging to send me to Spain, while a colleague of mine politely declining her seat in Lisbon due to personal reasons. You can only guess what was the rest of the story :) and btw my colleague got an internship in BMW shortly afterward and now working for one of the most successful Slovenian companies Outfit 7 (app Talking Tom). And me? I met my (now ex) Spanish boyfriend in Lisbon :)
MARLEQ: From the current perspective, would you study the same or some other faculty/field, and why?
Tina: To be honest, I think that we are very young and clueless when we are deciding on our Bachelor's studies. Unless you have a long-lasting relationship with mathematics, biology, or know that you want to dedicate your life to helping and curing others, you will end up studying something “generic” and hoping that you will have your “Eureka” soon after. Looking at the job market now and how the young people are struggling to find a job and on the other hand seeing the challenges that Startups and Tech companies are having to hire the right talent, I would most definitely study something different. With something different I mean: IT and Computer sciences, Web design, Digital marketing, or even Finance. But let’s be honest, first, some of these professions didn’t even exist 12 years ago (when I started my BA), or secondly are not even part of the regular academic curriculum.
MARLEQ: Your first international professional experience was in Madrid. Tell us a little about your first career steps? How was it to work in the capital of Spain?
Tina: Yes, that is right. I kicked off my first International experience in Madrid, to work as an (unpaid) intern in Madrid, in now very prominent Brand Management Consultancy - Bloom Consulting. After I finished my BA studies and still being under the impression of the International community that I experienced during my life in Lisbon, I was desperately looking for yet another challenge, even if it meant - wait for it - UNPAID. As I could still avail of EU funds and get a small scholarship, I was happy to accept the job offer - Junior Analyst and work on the project of Country Branding for Latvia. During my tenure in Madrid, I polished my Spanish and learned a lot of soft skills such as: consulting, project management, and presentation giving. It was an invaluable experience and helped me get my next job in Ljubljana :)
MARLEQ: After Madrid, you coming back to Ljubljana, where you worked at the Embassy of Spain, as a PR assistant. How did you succeed in that?
Tina: Every fairytale has an end and oftentimes not a happy one, therefore I had to come back to Slovenia, as my internship came to an end. And guess what - they were not hiring. Just for the context, it was 2011 the year where the Spanish unemployment rate was 52% among youth. If the locals couldn’t get a job, how on earth would I get one. So I have decided to look for a job that would bring me closer to go back to Madrid and started proactively looking for job opportunities within Spanish companies in Ljubljana. After some weeks of searching I got the offer from the Spanish embassy to join them as a PR and office assistant, but guess what - it was (again) an unpaid internship. I decided to accept the offer, as I was investing in my future and had seen this opportunity as a perfect way for networking. Needless to say that I needed to work on the weekends (mostly as a hostess or delivering flyers) to be able to support myself :)
MARLEQ: After some months you are moving to Megabon, where you worked 1 year and a half as Country Manager. Tell us a bit about these working days at Slovenian companies. What knowledge and skills did you gain that helped you build career progress later on?
Tina: Exactly, working for free was not really a sustainable option, as you could imagine :) Thus I kept looking for job opportunities, even though the job market was really weak in 2011/2012. Companies were only hiring students for flexible working hours and I was already a bit tired of insecurity and needed to start earning some “real” money. Megabon was a project that job seeker could only dream about it. Emerging travel startup helping hotel owners to fulfill their empty vacancies while offering travelers to stay in good hotels for very discounted/affordable prices. Plus the payment was really above the Slovenian average. After the interview, I have really “clicked” with the project owner who had recognized my sales skills, plus had seen me as a cost-efficient employee, as I was fluent in four languages. I have to say that this was my added value from the beginning of my professional career and had helped me to differentiate myself and land some awesome opportunities later on (I am bilingual Serbian/Slovenian - thus able to cover all the Adriatic region). I will always be utterly grateful to Megabon, especially to Adel (owner) and Matjaz (sales manager) who believed in me and after only one year as Sales rep had promoted me to the Country Manager role.
MARLEQ: How did you get an opportunity to work at trivago in Dusseldorf, as PR for Slovenia and Serbia? What is your professional experience of working almost 2 years in Germany, the strongest economy in Europe?
Tina: After the termination of my contract in Megabon, I have decided to take some time off and dedicate myself to finishing my Master's studies (I was already 2nd year). Soon after I have found myself getting an internship in trivago and that is yet another funny and unexpected story :) So, after seeing a TV commercial during my favorite Sunday TV show, I said to myself “ooh trivago, that is a nice travel company and they have a Slovenian website”. I went on their website and found a job description that was made for me - PR specialist for Slovenia and Serbia. I couldn’t believe the coincidence and quickly uploaded my CV on their career page (all this happened during Commercials break). The next day I got an email from HR asking for my availability to come to their office in Dusseldorf. I was in shock when I have seen Dusseldorf (at first couldn’t even place it on the map of Germany), as I believed that I applied for trivago.si - consequently their local (non-existing) office in Ljubljana. My Skype interviews went really well and in no time I was packing my stuff and moving to Dusseldorf :) It is incredible how everything happens for a reason, but you need to be prepared for a change and let yourself embrace new challenges with no fear.
Funny how you formed your question - Germany is the strongest economy - yes, that is true, but you forgot one fact - I started as an intern for the first 6 months (even though I already had my BA degree) :) This time was (luckily) paid, but my net salary could barely cover my rent and food for 7 days :D Not to mention that Dusseldorf is 2nd (or 3rd) the most expensive city in Germany (which I didn’t know before), but I had faith in myself and with the strong support of my family I made it through tough (financial) time. At the end of my internship I got a full-time offer, so could finally move to 3rd meal of the day (joking). So to your question, Germany is a great country to live in but under 2 conditions - to speak German and to have a good job. We as young professionals for an international company in Germany had a lot of perks (team events, sports activities, free company trips once a year), but money-wise we couldn’t save that much. That is why I started looking for job offers in English speaking countries, as my German was not progressing so well (and I didn’t want it too :D):
MARLEQ: How did you get a job at Google in Dublin? How was it to land a dream job?
Tina: So Dublin or Ireland is one of these countries (next to Germany) that I would never move to (if I only listened to my heart). As you could imagine from the beginning of this interview Spain and Portugal were my dream countries - nice weather, happy people, good food, but what could you do with all of this if you couldn’t find a job. Consequently, I have extended my job search to UK and Ireland, particularly having Dublin in mind - knowing that is becoming the Silicon Valley of Europe. As for the Google position, the first time I have applied was in 2013 - just before I moved to Dusseldorf. I pulled some personal connections and got in touch with a Slovenian girl from my home Faculty in Ljubljana - who had referred me - Lina - to whom I am again utterly grateful. I was rejected with no particular explanation, but 2 years after I realized that I was missing a real International experience with a strong name on it - trivago. And my CV, my CV was a mess. When I think backward, I cannot believe that I had enough courage to apply with that document, but it was another good lesson. Two years later, my colleague Valentin (at trivago) sends me this LinkedIn offer, and guess what - Google is hiring again - Associate Account Strategist (Serbo/Croatian) - AdWords technical support. I polished my CV, asked my friend Lina to do me a favor again, and soon after I had my first phone interview with the recruiter. And guess what Serbo/Croatian vacancy was already fulfilled, but as I am bilingual in Slovenian as well they wanted me to apply for that position. You can only imagine who had resigned and coincidentally had opened up the door for me. So after 4 long and (gosh) challenging interviews (while I was going to my Master's graduation ceremony in Ljubljana) recruiter called me with good news. The offer had been extended and they want me to join their Dublin team. You can only imagine my euphoria and happiness after one month's saga and long hours of preparations for - what is known to be the most difficult job interviews in the world (which I wouldn’t agree with).
MARLEQ: You worked for more than 2 years at Google as Associate Account Strategist and Account Manager. What makes Google different from others? Tell us something that many perhaps do not know about Google, and it was important to you.
Tina: So, I have spent my first year working as an AdWords technical support for the Adriatic market (mostly Slovenia) and boy, that was the most challenging year of my life. First of all I couldn’t get used to the weather (it is much worse than what you imagine it to be) and secondly the job was very challenging. In the broad scope of Google products, you come to the realization of how little you know and how much you still need to learn. Back then I was very stressed with the workload, but looking from today’s perspective - it was the best year of my life in terms of the learning experience. After one year I have been promoted to the Sales team to become an Account Manager for Slovenian Advertising agencies and direct clients in the SMB (Small-medium size businesses) segment. Google is an amazing place to work for - an abundance of (free) food and drinks, an onsite Barista bar, gym, swimming pool, massage therapist, doctor, dentist, and many more. Things that one can only imagine and had seen only in (American) movies. It is most certainly the best place to work for - but - there is a but. I have joined Google as an entry-level Associate, even though I had about 5 years of working experience and an MSc degree in my pocket. What I want to say with this is that I was above the average age of a Dublin office employee and all of these perks did not mean a lot to me (as I stated before, I had most of them in trivago). Most of my Nooglers (people who had started with me) were young graduates with almost no working experience and were simply in different stages of their life. For me, the best thing about Google was the continuous learning and challenges that you were exposed to on the daily basis. But in Google there is also a lot of bureaucracy, internal processes, promotion cycles are much slower than in smaller companies etc. Given the size and scope of the corporation, there is very little space to be creative or do things differently and that was perhaps a deal-breaker for me. Now, one would normally ask me - why on earth would you leave Google - are you crazy - all that free food??? Yes, that is true, but there is one very important thing in life and it is called - wait for it - priorities. My priorities were not free food or gym, my priorities were faster career progress, more responsibility, and visibility, and if possible better compensation. And guess what, I was not afraid to step outside of my comfort zone (once again) and leave the Google bubble :)
MARLEQ: Last six months you are working as Territory Manager at Salesforce, as well in Dublin. What are your first impressions of working at Salesforce, the world's #1 CRM company?
Tina: That is right, Salesforce offer came just at the right time, as I was looking to make another leap in my career. As I mentioned in the last question, my priorities had changed in the last 2 years and I was ready to take on a more “serious” job role. And I had seen a great opportunity - to be able to be the first person to “open up” the Adriatic market (as first local support) and bring Salesforce to the next level. Here I had great support from my former teammate - Ilma - who had inspired me to take on this challenge - as you can imagine, it is very difficult to make the decision to leave Google on your own. I needed a second opinion and I am glad she was the one to be consulted about it :) My impressions so far are truly amazing. Salesforce is a great platform with a broad portfolio of products and I am really looking forward to being able to translate their global success to our region and to help our SMBs to benefit from the world’s #1 Customer Success Platform. I am very passionate about growing the Adriatic region and being able to be the first one to set the footprint - it gives me great pleasure.
MARLEQ: The majority of your roles are connected to the Adriatic region. How would you comment on this?
Tina: That is a very good observation. Yes indeed, ever since I have left Slovenia - in December 2013, I have been working for Global tech companies supporting the Adriatic region or what is locally known as - Former Yugoslavian republics (plus Bulgaria now in SF). As mentioned earlier in this interview I am bilingual by birth (mother Slovenian, father Serbian), thus my differentiation point among the workforce. One would probably think that speaking these two languages is not a “big deal” (and I would agree to that), but with these two languages, you practically cover all the former Yugoslavian countries/languages (with my Macedonian partners I speak in Serbo/Croatian). And this is really great skill for the Global employer. Imagine how much time (and money) I could save to Google or now Salesforce, being able to communicate with my partners and clients in their native tongue. They look at us as a whole - Adriatic region - no one of the Sales executives would care for solely Slovenia or Montenegro, we are perceived as Adriatic and that has been great for me :) Needless to say (once again) how passionate I am and utterly happy - being able to translate my knowledge and experience to the local companies, partners, young professionals and be driven by “think global act local or regional (in my case)”. In the last 5 years, I had grown a very good understanding of the local SMB landscape, especially in terms of Tech/digital companies and I am looking forward to developing the market further.
MARLEQ: Tina, many thanks for sharing with us your impressive career story. I am sure you empowered young people to follow you, and that one day they build such a respectful international career.
Tina: Milo, thank you so much for thinking of me and including me in your project to inspire and motivate young professionals in the Adriatic region. It has been my pleasure to share my personal experience and I really hope that my story can motivate youth to - perhaps first set up the career goals and let them embrace new challenges.
In the next blog post, Tina will share 10 advices of how to build a successful international career.