Stepping out of your career comfort zone

Road: Sally Colley, Roche Hospital Sales Specialist (Secondary Care Specialist), working in Breast Cancer, reflects on how life-changing experiences led her to step out of her career comfort zone.

Sally Colley, Roche Hospital Sales Specialist (Secondary Care Specialist), working in Breast Cancer, reflects on how life-changing experiences led her to step out of her career comfort zone.

Tell us a bit about your background and why you chose to work at Roche?

I studied Events Management at university and subsequently built up 12 years’ experience, mostly as an Account Manager at a number of creative agencies, before joining Roche in 2015. My work varied from Glastonbury Festival to global product launches. The work often changed but the key skills I used in these customer-facing roles, such as being responsible for developing relationships with people, ensuring customers had a great experience and producing creative solutions to problems and issues, always stayed the same.

In my last agency, Roche was in my portfolio of accounts. This saw me working with global, region-Europe and UK teams on many exciting projects. Every time I worked with Roche (I know this sounds cheesy) I just felt at home. The people and the culture are so special and I’d never felt more comfortable and that I was in the right place. I became aware of a vacancy at Roche for a head-office based Events Manager. I wasn’t sure I’d go in-house; but when something comes up that just feels so perfect you can’t let it pass you by.

“You’ve got to approach everything with passion and a nothing-to-lose growth mindset”

What was the motivation to switch from a head office role to a field-sales role?

I’d never worked for a company or organisation of Roche’s size before, so there was a lot to get my head around. I found my feet and enjoyed learning about the business and teams I was partnering with.

Over time, as much as I was happy in my role as Events Manager, I wanted to be challenged more, so I could give more to the business, to customers and, most importantly, to patients.

2016 was a very difficult year. My father, who, in his 70s and still snowboarding, playing hockey for England (seniors) and doing triathlons, was diagnosed with cancer. From official diagnosis to his funeral was only three months. During this time I was also diagnosed with a tumour, which was benign (I feel so lucky). Being a fit and healthy family we’d never experienced anything like this before. Once back at work, I was even more passionate to understand what I could do to support patients and this is when the first conversations started with my manager at the time.

What has been your path to your current Secondary Care Specialist role?

All in all, it took me around 18 months of hard work, from that initial spark in my mind to actually making the transition in the summer of 2018. I had no experience of sales, working in the field or any scientific background at all, but I was full of passion to do more, so my path was set.

My 18-month journey consisted of field-visits to better understand the Hospital Sales Specialist (HSS) role better, training and studying to upskill, and a number of assessment centres. Securing the role was a real roller coaster but the hard work and perseverance paid off in the end.

Who were the key people who helped you on this unusual career journey?

There were many colleagues and leaders at Roche, from different teams, that encouraged and supported me. However the three I would highlight are:

  • My line manager Emma, who was incredible; she’s such a fantastic mentor and coach. Career development here is a real partnership between employees and their managers, with employees taking the lead.
  • My husband Chris, who was so supportive and encouraging, especially when one of the HSS opportunities I nearly took would have involved me commuting to the South West from our home in London each week.
  • Of course, my dad. Although not here in person, he gave me resilience and strength to take on something new and way out of my comfort zone.

You started a weekly podcast at Roche about your journey, called The Career Road Less Travelled, what made you want to share your story?

I hoped to inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and see what amazing things can happen. I talk candidly about the highs and the lows of my 18-month journey. As through any transition, there are always challenges and it’s important to acknowledge, reflect and learn from these. I have received wonderful support and feedback from the business.

What advice would you give to anyone considering an unconventional career move?

The main theme which comes out in my podcast is: ‘Be open-minded’. You’ve got to approach everything with passion and a nothing-to-lose growth mindset. You need to be open to the challenge, have honest and open conversations along the way, listen and be open to learning from feedback and finally be comfortable with things not going to plan. We’re undergoing an organisational transformation here to be more agile and innovative and helping all employees to develop this growth mindset of curiosity, openness, and experimentation.

What are your plans for the future?

Starting a family is the next step on my life journey; my first baby, a little girl, is due in the Autumn. I’ll be heading back to work after maternity leave to pursue my purpose of trying to make a difference. I love my job as an HSS and I feel proud to go to work for patients every day.

This company is a place where it’s possible to learn every day, build our careers and pursue our passions. It may take time but if you really want to follow a career road less travelled, you’ll get there in the end and it’ll feel great!

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