Zoe Williams

“You can only control the controllables”


We sat down with one of our Workforce Advisers, Zoe, and spoke about how the size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire. The result? A powerful career story to remind us that we are what we choose to be and our hopes and dreams can come true if we have enough courage to pursue them.

Did you pursue further or higher education?

I did A-levels at school but didn’t get the grade I needed in Geography, so I went back to College to retake my exams. My school encouraged everyone to go to University but my family wanted me to get a real job and start earning money. I was convinced that I would go into the Police or RAF; I had been in the Air Cadets for over 7 years, and my ultimate goal had always been to become a fighter pilot. However, I wasn’t tall enough and my lack of height, combined with the fact that I discovered my social life meant that shift work and the lifestyle that came with such an intense career wouldn’t be right for me. Having made the decision, I successfully applied to Swansea University to do a BSC in Geography. University was one of the best times of my life and I absolutely loved the independence, freedom and fun that came with it. I personally learned a lot from going to University and it helped shape the person I am today, however, things have changed a lot since I attended University over 20 years ago. At school we were pushed to apply to University and it really felt like the only path I was encouraged to take. If I was 18 now, I think my choices would be very different. There are so many fantastic career opportunities for school leavers that were never available 15-20 years ago. The number of degree, higher apprenticeships and school/college leaver programme careers that students can apply to are phenomenal, and allow you to start your career earlier and gain experience whilst learning.

What shape did your career take post education?

After University I worked in a call centre selling mobile upgrades – not the most glamorous of roles but I thoroughly enjoyed it because I love talking to people! My interpersonal skills developed hugely in this role and I gained a lot of confidence from my success. However, I quickly realised that call centre work wasn’t for me. I missed the face-to-face interaction with people and I couldn’t see a clear progression pathway for myself. As a result, I moved back to my hometown in Kent where a friend suggested I started to look at recruitment opportunities. I did some research about the type of roles I thought would best suit my skillset and I applied for various Recruitment Consultant positions. I managed to secure an interview with Badenoch & Clark in London where I was put through a rigorous 4 stage interview process. This was a huge learning curve for me in terms of the level of preparation required, but I made sure I was thorough and gave myself the best possible chance of success. I was fortunate to be offered the role and I loved every minute of this job as it combined telephone sales with going out and meeting people face to face, specifically legal firms looking to place individuals on a temporary basis. I gained a huge amount of pride and satisfaction helping people get into work and progress within their chosen careers, but I also thoroughly enjoyed working closely with businesses, gaining an in-depth understanding of how they operate. I quickly decided that recruitment was the career path I wanted to pursue, and this is where my career journey really got started!

How has your career journey developed?

I spent 12 years working for small independent and international recruitment agencies, but working in recruitment during the recession made me realise that the intensity of my work life wasn’t sustainable. I craved a better work/life balance and I did what I told all of my candidates not to do and handed in my notice with no job to go to. I knew it was a risk but I had to grab the chance and embrace the change as I wanted to give my home life the attention it deserved. My husband and I moved back to Swansea and I secured a role with TBG learning. This role came with a drastic pay cut but it gave me something that money can’t buy: the work/life balance that I had been desperately searching for. The role still gave me the opportunity to help people secure sustainable employment, and what the role couldn’t give me financially, it gave me in job satisfaction and fulfilment. I stayed at TBG for 4 years but due to the contract ending, I was put at risk of redundancy and so I secured a role with Chwarae Teg as a Participation Partner. This role opened my eyes to equality and diversity issues in the workplace and how by adopting simple principles, a business can become more profitable and productive and consequently increase employee engagement. My contract was only a year long and so I applied for the Workforce Adviser role at Better Jobs, Better Futures. I was hugely excited about the opportunity as the role encompassed everything I had done previously and so much more. I am now working with businesses on a more consultative basis as part of a fantastic team and I couldn’t be happier.

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

When you are young there is a lot of pressure to know what career route you should take and how your life should look, but I never did and I now know that that is perfectly ok! I wish I had known to trust life and my journey a lot sooner because as soon as I took a step back, my life seemed to move forward in all the directions I hoped it would! My advice to any young person now would be to be ambitious but don’t over stretch yourself as sometimes patience and persistence are all that are needed to achieve your goals. Life is complicated, things change, and challenges will be thrown at you, but stay focussed, don’t panic and go with the flow as much as possible – in the end everything will be ok, and if it’s not ok it’s not the end!

Are there any career decisions that you regret?

Definitely not. I can honestly say that I have loved every job I have done. Of course, there are times when it feels like everything is going wrong, but I truly believe that you are in charge of your own destiny and what you put in you get out. It’s vital to remember that you can only control the controllables, so try not to panic if things go wrong – it’s normal! Life can’t be perfect all the time so try and stay rational and never be afraid to ask for help: I have always been open and honest with my colleagues and I am lucky to have been surrounded by such positive minded and compassionate people. Sometimes you don’t even realise the level of support that is around you so talk to people, open up and see what can happen.

Top tip when applying for jobs?

My top tip would definitely be to make sure your CV/application is relevant for the role you are applying for. Always make sure that you can cover the essential criteria or be able to fully justify why you are relevant for the role. Sometimes you have to apply for the job, even if you only hit around 75% of what they are looking for. As long as you can effectively justify why you think you would be suitable, your application stands just a good a chance of getting noticed. My other top tip would be to fully prepare for any interview opportunities: do your research and think about the type of questions they will ask by looking at the job description and person specification. If you get nervous – don’t worry, we all do! Nerves can’t be helped but don’t let them get the better of you. If you prepare adequately and practice the answers you want to give, you can be sure that you will give your best performance and give yourself the greatest chance of success. Be confident and instead of worrying about what could go wrong, think about what could go right!

What is your ultimate piece of advice?

Learn from every experience. In recruitment I gained a range of essential skills from communication to negotiation, and I learnt the value of being determined and tenacious in a competitive and high pressured environment. Looking back I now appreciate how much my experiences have taught me and how the skills I learnt along the way have got me to where I am today. My time working in recruitment also taught me not to give up and that failure is never an option. My last 6 months in recruitment were some of the toughest days of my life and I wish I had been brave enough to leave the role sooner. It is easy to say these things with hindsight but I would urge people to not worry about ‘what ifs’ and start making the decisions that feel right at the time. No one knows you better than you do, so trust yourself and make the decisions that make you happy – life is about choices and we are what we choose to be.

Zoe is one of our Workforce Advisers based at Better Jobs, Better Futures. Our Advisers work with businesses to improve recruitment, staff retention and talent management in order to maximise their workforce potential. Get in touch to see what we can do for you: 01792 284450.