There’s a universal truth: When making big life changes, many people find themselves in an absolute fumble. Some end up tailspinning and giving in to chaos, while others capitalize on them for a fresh start. Quynh Lu was one of them. Quynh moved from Vietnam to the Netherlands for her master’s study and went through a complete career makeover. We recently sat with Quynh and asked about her experience, her stories of changes, difficulties, and how she took on them.
Hi, Quynh, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to your current job?
Hi, thanks for having me! And to everyone who will read this. My name is Quynh Lu. I’m currently the head of publishing at GameDistribution, part of Azerion.
I graduated from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics, specializing in hospitality, event, and tourism. Back then, I really thought I would build up a career in this field. By the time I was in my senior year, I already got a full-time job in a hotel. Everything was going well. I managed to get to the role of front office manager and stayed there for two years.
However, after a while, I had a reconsideration. I asked myself: “Is this going to be my life career? Do I have what it needs to get there?” Then I decided it was time to invest in my knowledge and develop myself in a broader and international background. I moved to the Netherlands and enrolled in TIAS. Knowing my personality, I didn’t really want to be the person who does all the work behind the screen; I wanted to be on the frontline. So I chose a master’s program in Marketing Management.
After graduation, I looked back on tourism, hospitality, etc., in the Netherlands, and I encountered a roadblock. I kept asking myself: “To work in the industry, I need to know a lot more. But, do I understand the culture as if I am one of them, do I speak the language well, where do I see myself in 40 years?” Frankly speaking, Horeca wasn’t a good-paying industry. So I took another turn and worked as a sales and marketing consultant at a software company that provides cash management software for commercial and central banks. But then again, I felt something wasn’t right. The more I worked with the clients, the more I felt their slow-paced, hierarchical corporate culture was gradually encasing me. I thought it was dragging both my enthusiasm and my growth prospect down.
By this time, I had obtained new perspectives: If a job wasn’t giving me that sense of satisfaction and usefulness, I would rather not do it. I knew myself; I knew my skill set; I knew what I could do best in terms of providing value. And I changed again, this time to Azerion, as a business development executive for what I believed was a fast-paced company in games, media, and advertising. I knew that business development, building relationships, providing value to clients and company had always been my things. And I stayed until now.
So you somewhat reshaped your career path, and it appeared there were many ups and downs when you began this career. Can you tell us what you had to deal with?
In times of change, I know for a fact that everyone will find themselves in a difficult situation. For me, it was no exception. My first challenge was the language barrier. Of course, being a salesperson working in an international landscape, English wouldn’t be a problem. Everybody here would speak English with me at work. But work doesn’t happen in meeting rooms only; it spans to the water coolers, to the coffee corners. But by the time people are there, they would instantly switch to Dutch. And I understood that: no Dutch knowledge meant no building relationship at work, no climbing up the ladder, no management role, no promotion. And I don’t want to be just an employee, just a junior forever.
Another thing was people’s attitude. Being here in the open culture was a gift to me; I took it well. Yet, there were always throwback people who had somewhat inhospitable attitudes. Some people were prejudicial towards a young girl from Asia coming to show her skills, experience, and abilities. There would be criticism or doubt. Of course, if criticisms are reasonable, then you have to reflect on them and keep on improving. But if they were not, ignore them and move on. Their opinions might not affect you, but if it does, it can jeopardize your motivation. In these cases, I just ignored their aggression and kept telling myself: “I’m here to work, I’m here to survive, I want to conquer, and I’m here to show myself, not to cave in to adversaries.”
These are truly interesting and candid takeaways! Looking back on these reflections, it seems like you have been able to learn significantly from these experiences and challenges. Were you able to apply your takeaways from work to life, and what are they?
Interesting question, but why not the other way around as well? I think I did both.
Business is, after all, around people, even if you are in a very tech-driven company. You build a business based on people and with people. They’re not robots. They have feelings; they have their minds. To work with them, you need to use a very human aspect to approach. For me, that’s what I could get out of my life and put it to work. As a Business Development professional and a manager, I had to deal with many people. I managed to learn some of the essentialities. It was empathy. It was a very long learning curve, no doubt, but I had developed my principles and applied it ever since: always try to be open-minded, sincere, and honest in my work, and so in my personal life.
But, never do those things without thinking first. I also learned that: The higher you climb the corporate ladder, the more power and responsibility you get. You and your team constantly get put under scrutiny; whistleblowers and faultfinders are everywhere. So, learn how to protect yourself, then the team, and grow together. And I applied the same to protect myself in my personal life.
I was also able to add another layer of perspective from life to work: Don’t overthink everything, be decisive when it needs to be. Be determined, especially in your development, and be attentive to what truly need my focus. Ignore things that are not worth concerning. Don’t worry about things that are not your responsibility.
Last but not least, try to keep your emotions balanced, train your EQ. Some people focus on honing their IQ. But it’s EQ that matters more interpersonally and professionally. If you cannot control your emotion, you cannot lead people.
This is an exciting share! I believe that many people have not been able to acknowledge the importance of EQ, resulting in them missing opportunities despite a long list of personal achievements. And I also want to ask you a bit more about when you moved from one country to another, so what did you feel? What observations did you make?
The two countries were completely different in terms of culture. In the Netherlands, people are fast-paced, rational, and more candid. The way people put things together and communicate their intentions is very straightforward. Additionally, the working culture was what I enjoyed: Juniors can speak, unlike the majority of companies in Vietnam, where a junior doesn’t have that privilege. Even as an entry person, everybody would let me speak. Not all of my opinions were spot-on. But, people will let me speak; they would hear my ideas before getting their points across. This is excellent for a person like me.
It’s not the only way that changing environments benefited me. After years of working and getting familiar to three different cultures: Vietnamese, Chinese, and Dutch, I have been much more flexible. I wouldn’t mind being put into new settings again.
I see that you have been quite successful with your approach. What would you advise people who are trying to develop themselves?
I would say to overcome is easier said than done. Generally speaking, whoever is facing changes should try and do their best. What needs to be done is to keep on learning, improving, becoming the better version of yourself day by day. Always pay attention to what you can improve. Always be all eyes, all ears, and all mind. You need to observe, listen, and remember what others are doing well and learn from them.
Another thing is to know how to ask questions. To shy from asking a question is an opportunity you throw away. But you need to know what and when to ask and how to ask the right question. If people answer, then it’s good for me. But if they don’t, I didn’t do it for nothing. I got myself familiar with it and made a precedence for the next occasions to come. So, it isn’t wrong to ask questions, especially about how one’s managed to succeed in something.
Finally, it’s not just their mindset and their verbal that successful and confident people are utilizing. It’s also the body language that matters. So, learn to present yourself. By doing so, you are being more confident and make it easier for you to say what you want to say and get things done. Learn to present yourself anywhere, anytime: meeting, commute, lunch, or even Friday drinks, and keep practicing.
Final words. I reckon that not many Vietnamese people are in business development or sales roles in the Netherlands; it might be hard for starters to find a good role model. What advice would you give to Vietnamese professionals who want to start or grow their careers in that role?
This is not only going for only Vietnamese, but I think you can also apply to everybody. If you want to do this job, you have to know that you are capable of doing this. People often see the flashy veneer of business development: traveling internationally, meeting C-class executives, talking multi-million deals. But on the inside, there are a lot more that you need to overcome. The pressure is there to take, so you need to brace yourself for it.
Second, if it’s your passion to work in business development, in that case, you must have a genuine interest to follow it in the long term. Once again, don’t fall for these false pretenses. You need to be patient, be perseverant.
And finally, this is a job I believe to be quite result-oriented, so always have your eyes on the prize, always be direct when communicating about what you want. Don’t get caught in the means-end inversion. It can be the bane of your career.
I also want to talk about one specific skill set that helps me in business development. I call it the ASK combination: It’s the collection of attitude (how you behave), skills (what skills are and will be imperative for your success), and knowledge (what you need to know to succeed). To be good at something, you must have the attitude to follow and get better at it. And that comes to the second point: skills. You must obtain the skills you need for this job and the skills that will become essential in the future.
Take presentation skill as an example; it’s essential to have it as a business developer. And finally: knowledge, to have the skill, you must also have the ability, so learn whatever is helpful whenever possible. And to do it effectively, that’s why I have my principles: All eyes, all ears, all minds. Some might say that something is all gifted or talented, but I believe that: Everything is learnable. Research anything you need to know and want to know. Always be proactive, don’t wait, just take action.
One tip I want to say is that: This is a job that would require specific characteristics, and if you don’t see a click, you don’t see how you can fit in with this job, don’t try in vain, leave it. In the long run, it will do more harm than good if you insist on following one thing that doesn’t suit you.
Thank you very much for the story! That would be all for today.
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