Vancouver’s Greystone College business program invites business guests for a networking event at the end of each course. Helena Plecko, LL.B, B.C.L., B.A., Associate Counsel at Davis LLP, spoke about her career and shared her experience with the business students. Helena is a successful woman with an interesting career and speaks five languages including English, Swiss German, Croatian, French and Italian. What are the secrets to becoming successful? Helena’s story mainly focused on the early years of her career to help students relate.
Going to a war torn country: An opportunity?
Helena’s family is originally from Croatia but Helena grew up in Switzerland. She completed a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics in Zurich. As part of her studies, she was required to spend a term abroad in order to immerse herself in a different cultural and language environment and improve her English skills. During Helena’s term abroad in California in 1991, war broke out in her native Croatia, affecting her immediate family.
Helena initially planned to pursue a master’s degree in conference interpretation in Zurich. However, she told the business program students in Vancouver, “Sometimes things you planned just change; suddenly I felt an urgency to go to Croatia. I didn’t know it would be an opportunity.” Helena’s determination took her on an overnight bus to Zagreb to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This marked the beginning of a very successful career, which ranged from working directly for the Croatian President and Prime Minister to running her own flourishing translation and interpretation business after the war ended in 1995.
A key to getting hired: Be direct and confident
One of the leading themes in Helena’s career, whether in Croatia or in Canada, has been her direct and confident approach to people and problems. For example, when the soldier manning the reception desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not let her see the human resources manager, she simply persevered until he set up the meeting for her the very same day. Equally, in being interviewed by the Croatian President, she remained calm and directly answered his questions which gave her a distinct advantage over the competing candidate who was very nervous and was resorting to flattery in order to get hired.
Finding the right environment for you
After the war ended, Helena started her own business as a translator and conference interpreter. “Those three to four years were the best time of my life.” she says. “It is important to find out which environment is the best for you and I realized that I am happy if I am an owner.”
The other advice Helena gives is: “Sometimes you just need to be creative. Don’t always do what others do. Be yourself and unique in order to stand out from the masses.”
What are the skills you need to become successful?
“Versatility!” says Helena directly responding to this question. “The markets are changing rapidly, so employers are looking for employees with transferable skills. The key to survival is to learn as many skills as you can in order to respond to changing markets.” The job market is already tough and is getting tougher. It is, therefore, very important to learn to position oneself in that market.
One of the key messages that Helena delivered to the business program students in Vancouver was to keep connections and relationships alive. “The global business network can actually seem very small at times. You never know – your fellow students from Greystone may become your business partners in the future!” Helena explained that she reconnected with a high school friend from Switzerland through LinkedIn whose company is now a client of hers. “If you have someone’s business card, keep it for years,” Helena advised.
Moreover, Helena highlighted the importance of social media. “LinkedIn and other social media are really significant in creating a personal brand. When creating a professional profile on social media, it is important to keep the profile current as it may be accessible to potential employers. If possible, creating a distinguishing online existence may be helpful too.”
“Sometimes you just have to take a risk. There is nothing to lose.”
Helena tells the business program students that by coming to Canada and attending Greystone, they may have taken a risk as some of them left their old jobs to obtain a potentially career enhancing education in business, tourism and hospitality at Greystone Vancouver.
“I didn’t know how life would go for me when I decided to go to Croatia during war time. If I hadn’t landed a job over there, I would have gone back to Switzerland, done my master’s degree, and things would have just gone differently,” Helena says. “The lesson I learned is that there is nothing to lose. Sometimes you need to take a risk.”