Julie Bowen – Career Story

“Believe you can and you will”

We sat down with Career Coach, Julie, and spoke about how your belief determines your action and your action determines your results. The outcome? An insightful and inspiring career story to remind us that we owe it to ourselves to be the best we can possibly be and the harder you work the luckier you get.

Did you pursue further or higher education?

At school I always wanted to be a PE teacher, but I failed my maths O level (GCSE) and assumed that this was no longer a viable career option. Instead of just resitting the exam, I followed my friend and applied to study Beauty Therapy and Hairdressing at Pontypridd Technical College. I successfully completed the course, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I moved to London shortly after finishing and worked in various roles, but I was frustrated that I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to be doing and my career wasn’t heading in the direction that I hoped it would. Practicality became my priority as I had a mortgage to pay, and I lost motivation to push my career forward. My husband and I moved back to Wales, and for the next few years I did lots of part-time jobs alongside having my 3 children – a lovely but very busy time! In hindsight I should have gone back to College, but I got caught up being a mum and, with no reliable career advice, I became unsure about my next career move. I wanted to achieve so much more but I didn’t quite know how to get there. 

Did your career direction/ambitions change after having children?

Once my children were in full time education, I wanted to get my career back on track and undertook some voluntary work with WISE, working with adults with learning disabilities. I was quickly offered a full time position as a Job Trainer, supporting job seekers in their placements. I spent 6 years at WISE and thoroughly enjoyed working in an advisory role, helping people to reach their full potential. After WISE I successfully applied to work with Careers Wales and spent the next 12 years in various different positions. My favourite role was working for the ‘Youth Gateway’ project with NEET clients (those not in employment, education or training) which was hugely rewarding: I loved supporting young people, setting them attainable goals and seeing them overcome often huge barriers to achieve them. I gained a great sense of pride seeing these young people succeed, and I knew I was finally in the right role for me. After Careers Wales I worked for Gower College as an Enterprise Development Officer. I worked in Schools delivering enterprise activities to pupils, helping them develop skills and qualities to enable a smooth transition into the workplace. I absolutely loved this job but after 4 years in the role, the funding was due to come to an end and I was left once again considering my options. I applied for a Recruitment Consultant position at Better Jobs, Better Futures, as I felt this would be an ideal opportunity to apply the skills and experience I had gained. I was delighted to be offered the role and enjoyed the opportunity to continue to interact with employers. However, I really missed the 1-2-1 interaction with clients who required advice and guidance, so when a Career Coach opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance and was successful! I feel this role uses all my strengths and is where I can make the biggest difference; I am most satisfied when I can support a client to identify their strengths, maximise their potential and explore exciting opportunities that match all their transferable skills. I can always tell when a client is excited about a role: their body language changes positively, and they start to smile, and I know then that we have something to build on! The role also gives me the chance to deliver group sessions and present in front of larger audiences, something I really enjoy, and which satisfies the frustrated entertainer within me!!

Is there one thing you wish you’d known when you were younger?

I wish I knew that despite not being in the job I wanted to be in, I was still gaining really useful and transferrable skills that would put me in good stead for any future roles. Hairdressing was definitely not the career for me, but I developed vital skills in customer service, problem solving and effective communication. I had always been led to think that I wasn’t good enough and I firmly believed it until I started focussing on my strengths rather than my weaknesses. I might not have gone down the formal HE route and got a degree, but I took a slightly different route and did various Open University courses and lots of continuing professional development. I wish I’d known that it is ok not to just follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing because that isn’t always what is right or best for you. There are no secrets to success; I firmly believe that you create your own opportunities so don’t just talk about it – go and do it! 

Are there any career decisions that you regret?

I try not to feel regret towards any of the decisions I have made as I have taken something from every experience, but I do slightly regret not going to University to do my PGCE. I have spent quite a lot of time wondering how different my life would be if I had gone to University, and it is this feeling of ‘what if’ that has been difficult to shake off. Despite not going into higher education, I have been incredibly fortunate to have had (and still have) such a fulfilling career in a sector which I am hugely passionate about. I would say to anyone in a similar situation that your life isn’t over just because you didn’t fulfil one or two of your career goals. Life is challenging and unexpected, and perhaps if I had gone to University, I wouldn’t have the knowledge, experience or understanding that has enabled me to take advantage of some fantastic opportunities. Everyone has the potential to do something great, it just may not be exactly what you thought or hoped it might be, but that doesn’t mean it is any less brilliant!  

Top tip when applying for jobs?

I am a huge advocate of voluntary work as my volunteering role gave me the opportunity to try a specific career type before committing to it. Volunteering is a fantastic way of getting valuable experience and learning essential skills, and it also provides plenty of opportunity to demonstrate desirable qualities such as dedication and enthusiasm. Volunteering gave me a huge amount of confidence and a sense of purpose which helped me get to where I am today. I would also advise people to access as much support as possible. When I was younger there was limited career support available, whereas now there are so many accessible support services ready and waiting to help people. Don’t be afraid to admit when you need help and don’t let the fear of failure decide your future. Speak to as many people as possible about their career journeys, and explore all options. When you come across jobs that seem unattainable, take the time to find out more: you will be able to make far more informed decisions about your career and your future, and that can’t be a bad thing! 

What is your ultimate piece of advice?

Don’t let small failures, like not passing an exam, stop you from pursuing your dreams and achieving your goals. You have to think of the bigger picture and be ambitious; it might be that you can’t do what you really want to do right away, but be patient. If you work hard and stay motivated, you can definitely get there. I may not have become a teacher, but lots of the roles I have done have been a form of teaching, just not in the traditional sense. My whole career has been based around education, encouraging people and helping them to believe in themselves, and the truth of the matter is that I never completely believed in myself. There has been a definite shift in my attitude as I have got older and I am now far more focussed on my strengths, and I try to use every situation, whether positive or negative, as a useful experience that I can learn from. Just because the past didn’t turn out the way you planned doesn’t mean the future can’t be better than you hoped for or imagined!