From IT to HR:
A Year in the Life of Heather Zheng at ApplyBoard

ApplyBoard is a rewarding place to work for many reasons. At the heart of it is our mission to educate the world, which is the driving force behind everything we do. To date, ApplyBoardians have helped more than 200,000 students from over 125 countries pursue their dreams of studying abroad! ApplyBoard is also a fast scaling company, making it a fantastic place to grow and advance your career while doing work that truly makes a difference. There are opportunities to grow not only on your team, but also across other departments at ApplyBoard. Today we’re sitting down with Heather Zheng to learn about her unique journey from IT Support Analyst to People and Culture Coordinator at ApplyBoard.

Head shot of Heather Zheng

Heather Zheng transitioned from her role as IT Support Analyst to People and Culture Coordinator at ApplyBoard

Q&A with Heather Zheng

Hi, Heather! Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration with an HR specialization at Wilfrid Laurier University?

I immigrated to Canada from China at a very young age with my parents. Growing up Chinese-Canadian, I maintained a good understanding of both cultures. Thanks to my parents’ insistence on keeping my mother tongue, I can speak both Mandarin and English fluently. I am also a Wilfrid Laurier University alumni, having recently graduated from the Bachelor of Business Administration program. I was never a math/science type of person, and I really enjoy helping others and the human side of things. Naturally, I thought going into HR would be a good fit for me, so I decided to specialize in HR during the last year of my studies. I found the topics and issues very interesting, and I wanted to eventually work in the field.

You first started at ApplyBoard as an IT Support Analyst. What attracted you to ApplyBoard and this particular role? How did growth opportunities within the organization factor into your decision to join the ApplyFam?

When I found out about ApplyBoard, I was immediately drawn to a few of things: It’s a startup, a local success story, and the company is on a mission to educate the world. Coming from an immigrant family with lots of international friends throughout university, I was very excited for an opportunity to help contribute to what ApplyBoard was doing, because I knew the struggles so well. At the time, I applied to the IT Support Analyst role because it matched so well with my past work experience on the IT Help Desk at university, and I really wanted to give it a shot. I was greeted warmly by my hiring manager during the interview, and they emphasized the tremendous amount of growth and learning opportunities at ApplyBoard. It really played a big part in my decision to join the ApplyFam as I really felt that I wanted to start my career in this environment.

You spent about a year in that role. What did you enjoy most, and what did you learn?

It was my first time being on a small team, and I had to learn to do a lot of different things at once. It’s even difficult to describe just how much I was exposed to, from cybersecurity and internal IT processes to interacting with users directly on the help desk. I had to be flexible and open to just about anything that came my way. It was enjoyable because, at the end of the day, I was happy seeing others happy after I’d solved their IT problems. It’s very rewarding to put 100% into my job and seeing the positive results that come from it.

Photo of Heather Zheng

Heather visits the Big Apple in 2016

How did you learn about the People and Culture Coordinator role? What interested you about it?

I saw a posting for it on the ApplyBoard careers website, and I was really interested. I really wanted to give it a try because I felt that I would regret missing this opportunity. At the end of the day, HR was what I spent a lot of my last year of university learning about, and I could not give up the interest I had in making a potential career path out of it. I had also had pleasant interactions with the HR team and felt that I would enjoy working alongside them.

Did you have any conversations with your manager before you applied for the role? What sort of advice did they give you?

Yes, for sure. I spoke with my manager at the time about wanting to apply for the position. I am very transparent and honest about what I want to do and try. He was enthusiastic, and I was extremely grateful to him for supporting my career growth. He encouraged me to talk with the hiring manager to learn more about the role and said that he would also speak with her directly. With these encouraging words, I was comfortable going ahead and booking a chat with the hiring manager.

What was the application process like? How did it differ from the interview process for your first role at ApplyBoard?

I chatted with the hiring manager on two occasions—once to chat about my interest in the role and to ask questions about it, and a second time for an informal interview. She also encouraged me to chat with the individuals on the team to learn more about their day-to-day so I could get a better understanding and an overview of what I was “signing myself up for.” I followed her advice, and I spoke with everyone on the team about their experiences, what they are working on, and general advice for heading into the HR field. It was really insightful, and I’m very lucky to have gotten the chance to do this. This was the major difference between the interview process for my first role as an external candidate and this one as an internal candidate.

Photo of Heather and her tabby cat, Buddy

Heather and her family’s tabby, Buddy

What was the transition and onboarding process like? How were you supported during this time?

I started attending a few HR training sessions about a week before my official changeover date. Everyone was super supportive in making sure that I wasn’t overwhelmed by learning something brand new, while still attending to my daily IT tasks. I was able to make the change without any challenges or issues. Despite leaving the IT team, I’m still more than happy to help answer any questions that the team has, and I continue to maintain good relationships with my former teammates.

You’ve been in your new role for a couple of months now. What has the learning curve been like? What are some of the challenges, and what do you enjoy most?

It was definitely a lot of information to take in at first. The main thing was keeping track of all the processes and following along without making mistakes. I asked a lot of questions and made lots of notes. The challenges came from not having prior work experience in this kind of capacity and needing to adjust. My teammates are wonderful to work with and very supportive in helping me in all sorts of ways. They were as excited to work with me as I was with them, which really helped me build confidence in my new role.

How did your role as IT Support Analyst prepare you to become a People and Culture Coordinator? Did it give you a unique perspective to address challenges and pain points?

One thing that I was very sure of when I was looking to transition to HR was the fact that I wanted to bridge gaps between the two teams. We work closely together but have faced challenges in understanding each other’s processes, as well as barriers of communication due to having knowledge in different fields. Knowing how things work on both sides helped me see what’s missing and make improvements. I also took the chance to automate some manual processes to achieve time savings and ensure accuracy. It’s very rewarding for me to have these mini projects on the side that both improve my skills and help the team at the same time.

What advice would you give to someone that’s on the fence about pivoting to a new role in a different department at their current organization?

Depending on your situation, it may seem like a very difficult decision to make for fear of not succeeding. I highly suggest doing as much research as you can by using all the resources available to you, then listing out pros and cons to help you make a decision. A rule that I live by is that honesty is the best policy. Speak with your current manager beforehand so there are no misunderstandings or miscommunications, and be honest about your decision. Lastly, be confident in yourself! Believe in yourself and believe in your decision, whatever it may be.

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