Interview: Choosing the right professional career

To get a better understanding of the career path of a working individual and the impact one’s degree has on their future, we interviewed Zubair (Zen) Khan. Zubair is a working professional with a great deal of experience in business and a history of studying at the Vrije Universiteit. Khan told us about his professional career and gave us some useful tips as well. 

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional career?

I was born in Pakistan and moved to a village near Groningen in the north of the Netherlands when I was about 4. I studied business economics in Groningen but was always interested in traveling, so I decided to go to Pakistan for an internship as my first big adventure. The internship was at Coopers & Lybrand, now known as Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). After finalizing my bachelor’s, I worked for ING for a while and was then looking for new things, so I decided to do a master’s in international finance. I went to the south of France during that time as well, which ended up being a very smart move from a networking point of view. After France, I also went to Scotland for half a year. After my master’s, my professional career started. 

I worked for ING and loved the work I was doing, but wasn’t satisfied enough and ended up working for Global Crossing, which was a huge company at the time. I worked for the European head office, met lots of new people, learned a lot, but it was too good to be true… shortly after the company went bankrupt. This made me realize that I maybe wanted to do something that was more academic-related, so I joined a post-graduate program for International Law. After this I went to Rome to work as a consultant for the United Nations and with this job also visited many other places. After a few years, I needed more stability in my life and came back to work for ING again. I had trouble fitting in with the company culture, so I started my interim career.

After the interim jobs, I wanted to settle and grow in my professional career. I joined the Schiphol Group for a while but decided to step back to spend more time with my family. I then joined Mosadex to work as an interim again, and after that worked for KPMG. Finally, I decided I wanted to work with a few guys I knew, and we started our own company. 

How was the transition from being an employee to being a business-owner for yourself? 

For me, it wasn’t a big change. I was done working for someone else and wanted to be in control of my own career, which was a big motivation for me. As an interim, you get your own projects, and during that time I had some companies of my own as well, so entrepreneurship was always there for me I guess.

If you look at your whole career and your work now, how do you feel that your study has helped you throughout it?

Study and University is a good basis, it opens up doors, but it’s not the most important thing. A degree matters initially, but after a couple of years, it’s all about what your impact is on an organization. If you can prove yourself, and that you can make an impact, the degree you have doesn’t matter. 

So, it is possible to get into the corporate world with other study backgrounds?

Definitely, it’s all about your own development and your added value to an organization. 

If you could give students advice, what would it be?

Do something you like, something you enjoy and are passionate about. Academics are of course good and helpful, but I do believe that in order to be successful in the future, you have to be passionate about something. It’s not about the choices you make, but the motivation behind them. If you chose a certain study, why? If you joined an association, why? Etc.

From Mr. Khan, we’ve learned that a university degree is definitely a good stepping stone for a rewarding professional career, but passion, a strong motivation for your choices, and the impact you make are equally, if not, more important. If this blog motivated you to spend some time on improving your skillset to jumpstart your professional career, here are some tips on writing a great motivation letter!