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Moving abroad for a job can be tough emotionally and practically. Leaving familiar surroundings and loved ones can lead to homesickness and isolation. Adapting to a new work environment, language, and way of life adds to the pressure. However, it can also be a broadening and enriching experience that expands your world in unexpected ways.
Stefania Tosini, a press officer turned talent acquisition specialist is going to talk about what she wrestled with when making her decision to move from Italy to Germany during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In episode 93 of the Career Relaunch® podcast, I also share some thoughts on the struggles I had when I moved from the US to the UK during the Mental Fuel® segment.
Key Career Takeaways
- Leaving one’s family behind to pursue a career can be a difficult decision to make. It can bring up a variety of emotions, ranging from fear and anxiety about leaving a loving environment to excitement for new opportunities and experiences to come.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs support from time to time.
- Expectations can be a tricky thing, especially when it comes to your career decisions. Don’t assume that everyone will react to your choices in the way you hope.
During this episode’s Mental Fuel® segment, I talked about moving locations for your career. My challenge to you is to look forward instead of backward. To trust that you made the best decision you possibly could to serve what you felt was most important to you.
Focus on doing everything you can to make the most of your current circumstances rather than dwelling TOO much on what you left behind. Start small and decide on one action you can take right now to more fully embrace your chosen path.
About Stefania Tosini, Talent Acquisition Partner at Zalando
Stefania Tosini is a polyglot with a background in international affairs and economics who recently made a big move of her own from Italy to Germany. With over 8 years of experience across multiple industries including roles in education as an English Teacher for the Japanese School of Milan, luxury fashion as a press officer for companies like Dolce & Gabbana, and now in online retail as a talent acquisition partner for Zalando, she finds her professional motivation in helping people find fulfillment and belonging in their careers.
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Interview Segment Music Credits
- Podington Bear – Floating
- Podington Bear – Program Reverie
- Podington Bear – Pulsars
- Podington Bear – Golden Hour
- REW – Hylidae
- Podington Bear – Holding Hands
- Podington Bear – Stuck Dream
- Podington Bear – Memory Wind
Episode Interview Transcript
Joseph: Hello, Stefania. Welcome to the Career Relaunch Podcast. It is great to have you on the show. Thanks for coming today.
Stefania: [03:34] Hi. Thank you so much for the invite.
Joseph: Why don’t we get started by getting a snapshot of what is keeping you busy right now in both your career and life? Can you give me a glimpse into what you’ve been focused on recently?
Stefania: [03:01] First of all, Joseph, thank you for having me as your guest. In my personal life, I’d say that I’m focusing on my family and friends at the moment, especially after moving abroad to Germany. I really realized that family to me is the most important source of energy for myself. To give you some context, I’m from Italy and I think it’s absolutely true what people say about Italians. I match all the stereotypes here. I speak with my hands, and I love good food, and I’m a family person. Definitely, family is one of my main focus points.
Joseph: What about your career? What have you been focused on at work recently?
Stefania: [04:40] From a professional point of view, I switched careers and industries a couple of times already. Now, I’m focusing on growing my expertise, in recruiting. I’m working in talented acquisition. Therefore, it’s like really learning all the time and bringing your niche expertise to certain families and sectors. It’s really about growing and keeping on learning.
Joseph: Now, you are currently at a company called Zalando. For those people who are not familiar with Zalando, can you just give a very quick snapshot of exactly what Zalando is and what you guys do?
Stefania: [05:23] Zalando is awesome. It’s my employer and it’s an eCommerce platform, basically serving countries in Europe. We sell sportswear, beauty products, fashion products. To me, it’s a very highly advanced tech company. The sector is retail, fashion, and tech at the moment. I am a talent acquisition partner working in recruiting and I just love my job. I love my job because I’m working with people and for people. I do believe that the most important asset of a company is human capital.
Joseph: Before we go back in time, Stefania, I also know you’re a bit of a polyglot. Can you remind me which languages you speak and how you ended up picking up those languages?
Stefania: [06:17] Yes, I’m a polyglot. I love studying languages. I’m Italian. Of course, I’m a native speaker in Italian. I speak pretty well Spanish and Russian as well. I’m currently studying German and Japanese, too. Japanese has a longer story behind this. I think my passion for languages started when I was young. I wanted to connect with people faster.
I remember that once I was traveling with my grandpas to the UK, and I was really, really young. I think I was 6 or 7 years old. I really wanted to connect with people. I wanted to express myself, and the only way to do so was getting confident with the language. That was the moment I realized I want to study languages. I just want to speak with other cultures, understand more from other cultures, connect with them. Perhaps it’s because I come from the country of human relationships, and this turn my interest in learning languages.
Joseph: That’s amazing when I heard that. As you know, I’m originally from the United States. I come here to Europe and I suddenly realize that everybody speaks at least two languages, sometimes three. In your case, four or five. How did you pick up so many languages?
Stefania: [07:57] Of course, the more you travel, the more you have the chance to get in contact with other cultures, other traditions. I became curious. Curiosity was the driving factor for myself. Overall, I was really passionate about literature. I loved Spanish literature, Russian literature. I was driven by that. I was resilient. I wanted to read books in the language they were written. To me, that was like a goal. How do I get to this goal? To me, it was just like, “Yeah, let’s go into grammar. Let’s study grammar. Let’s try to speak then with the locals.” Everything that’s related to culture, traditions, it was really moving something inside my soul.
Joseph: That’s incredible. I would love to dive into this a little bit more because I know, just to switch gears here, if we go back in your history, you spent some time as an English teacher at a Japanese school in Milan. Before we talk about that, can you just tell me about your childhood? What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you think your work life and your adult life was going to look when you were a kid?
Stefania: [09:17] My biggest dream was actually to become an actress. I totally had a different path. Totally unexpected compared to what I’m doing now. Overall, I think my skills were related to communication and connecting with people, and I was a happy child overall. Smiling and I wanted to also make a difference in people’s lives. Perhaps also sharing the knowledge that I had, and also trying to learn from others. That’s why perhaps I ended up becoming a teacher. As a teacher, you teach, of course, but you get a lot from others, like from your students, from the people you’re working with. I think that teachers make a difference, a really big difference in your life. I must say that I was really, really lucky to have such great examples of teachers in my life. They really inspired me. They really pushed me in becoming a better person, a better student.
I’m also very conscious about the fact I could study. Now, education is a big topic and still in 2023, a lot of countries don’t have access to education. I was lucky enough to have this in my life. From the moment I understood I have access to education and I have access to great education, what can I grasp from this? How can I have an impact based on all the things that I’ve been in contact with, the people that have been in contact with? That, to me, was the moment that gave me confidence in moving forward in my career and in sharing what I was learning as well.
Joseph: What triggered you to start thinking about doing something else? It sounds like the teaching was going well, you’re having a positive impact on students. Was there something in particular that got you thinking, “Hey, I might want to try doing something different”?
Stefania: [11:28] I wanted to be in a new environment because, again, I am a very curious person. I know that I’m energized when I do something different all the time. To me, stability is important. But, at the same time, I really need to do something new and refresh. This opportunity came unexpected, to be honest. I was conducted back then by a head hunter because they saw that I had expertise in communication, that I was speaking several languages, and they were looking for someone who knew pretty well English, and Spanish, and Russian as well. They contacted me for a position in the press office in a fashion and luxury company, Dolce Gabbana based in Milan. I thought that’s the time to make this change and accept this change. I think I had nothing to lose back then. I gave everything to my job in the school but I also knew that it was time to try something new.
Joseph: You go from being in an academic environment at a Japanese school to one of the world’s most well-known fashion brands, Dolce and Gabbana. Can you give a glimpse into what that was like to work there, and what exactly were you doing as a press office specialist?
Stefania: [12:57] I was thrilled. I also started questioning myself like, “Why me?” It was an amazing experience. Working in the press office meant taking care of marketers and influencers, taking care of the credits where, of course, the company was mentioned in magazines and newspapers. Of course, online reports, online news. It was really exciting and you felt like being part of this magic world of fashion and luxury. Let’s say there in Milan, it’s really relevant, the sector. I felt thrilled. It was awesome. I loved my daily routine. I love translating press reviews. You really represented the brand.
Joseph: I’m just speculating, and also wondering. Is working for like a big fashion brand like that, is it as glamorous as it may seem from the outside? I guess I’m imagining a bunch of people who are super well-dressed, very fast-paced, very modern, very current, exciting dynamic environment. What were your expectations of what life would be like there and what was your life actually like there?
Stefania: [14:08] Absolutely, a nice environment. I must say very competitive. What we may see in movies, such as “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Joseph: That’s exactly what I was thinking about.
Stefania: [14:21] It’s absolutely true. There is a lot of competition. There is a lot of props, like pressure on what you do, and how you do that, and how you look, which is great. Don’t get me wrong. If this is what you want, you find exactly what you are looking for. But for myself, I had to be true to myself. I love the job. I loved my daily tasks. I also loved my colleagues and environment per se. But it became toxic for my personality because I tend to be a very competitive person. I tend to perfectionism like I want everything to be perfect. Back then, I didn’t have the tool to stop myself from being this way. It couldn’t last that long based on how I am.
Joseph: I see. It’s sort of this combination of wanting to be perfect, and also being in a very intense competitive environment. It sounds like that just was not sustainable over time?
Stefania: [15:26] If you, of course, have other priorities in your life and you want to focus on different things, perhaps it wasn’t really the best path for myself.
Joseph: How did you go about figuring out what you wanted to do next once you realized that, “Hey, this environment may not be where I want to remain, long term”? What did you do to gain some clarity on what your next chapter might look like?
Stefania: [15:53] There wasn’t a list of things that I was thinking about. I didn’t prepare any documents, like pros and cons. Of course, most of the current, let’s say mentorship or coaching programs propose, which I think do add a lot of value. But back then, I didn’t have those tools.
I was connected with some friends, so networking here really played a super important role. They told me, “You know, we’re looking for someone that is going to work in this business school in Milan. It’s a lot about employee relations and events, like connecting also students with job opportunities. Of course, in this role, it’s fundamental. You can speak English and perhaps speak also other languages. Because students are coming from all over the world. Do you want me to connect you to the head of the employee of relations and career services?” I thought, “Yes,” like immediately. I didn’t really think about that twice. I have, of course, my interview process and everything went super well. And then, I started my new job in a new industry, and of course, with a new magic team.
Joseph: This is, if I’ve got my timeline correct here, you were at Dolce and Gabbana for about a year. And then, in 2017, that is when you went to the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, which is where you and I actually first cross paths. When I think we last saw each other face to face, which was in 2019. You were the career development and employer relations manager for the school. Can you explain what it was like to then go from Dolce and Gabbana back into more of an academic environment? This time, at a school of management but still in Milan. What was the transition like for you?
Stefania: [17:48] It was a quite smooth transition at the beginning. Also because I always say that once you change a job, what matters the most is how your team is welcoming you, how they’re going to support you. They helped me in this transition. They’ve mentored me. Bocconi was a very, very challenging environment. Perhaps there is this understanding of academic environments as more relaxed, or perhaps laid back. But, in this case, Bocconi was challenging. We had a lot of events. We were responsible for creating training programs for our MBA students and students that were coming from again all over the world, and they had high expectations. You’re asking a lot from yourself. You want to give the best. This environment put me in contact with a lot of great professionals, with a lot of ambitious people. I gave a lot to this business school. But I also think it gave me a lot as well.
Joseph: It is a really great environment there I have to say, Stefania. I’ve worked with, as you know I work with a lot of different business schools, and SDA Bocconi is just one of them. I do find the students there to be warm, and very diverse, and very friendly. At the same time, very demanding and also very achievement-oriented. And so, it’s an interesting combination.
Now, I remember having coffee with you across the street from Bocconi in 2019. Now, this is late 2019, which is when I was there to host an in-person workshop. And then, the pandemic happened. Can you explain to me what the pandemic meant for you in your career? First of all, what happened with the work that you were doing? And what did you start thinking about at that time?
Stefania: [19:45] Back then, I wanted to be challenged more. I wanted to experience something new. On top of this, my partner and I had a distance relationship, and we were ready to move to another country.
Joseph: Where was he based at the time?
Stefania: [20:01] He was based in Frankfurt, and then moved to Hamburg. I was based in Milan. We were looking for jobs all around the world. I ended up in Berlin. There were many things that actually contributed to this choice.
Back then, when COVID hit, I was really scared, frankly speaking. On top of that, they usually say that you should not change more than two variables at a time. Basically, I changed the industry. I changed my role. I changed country, everything all together during a pandemic. Of course, I was scared. I was not fearless. I thought, “Did I really take the right choice? Will I be successful?” Because once you join a new company in Germany, you have six months’ probation period. Something that you’re not used to. I really had a lot of questions. I was questioning myself. I was questioning my decision. I was, of course, a threat about it.
Unconsciously, perhaps you start putting all those fears that other people have as well. Because you may hear from other people, “Oh, you already have a safe job in Italy. Why are you moving? This is a full-time role. It’s a permanent role. You have security. You have stability. And now, for sure, there’s going to be a crisis. We don’t know what’s going to happen.” And then, I thought, “I know no one knows what is going to happen, with or without the pandemic.” I thought that there is like a certain amount of uncertainty that I can deal with to be happy with my life. The more I’m open to that, the happier I am. I really thought, “It’s time to move on. Let’s do this.”
Joseph: Did you have a job lined up in Germany before you moved, or did you make this move before you had all that sorted out?
Stefania: [22:20] I actually already received an offer. This all came before the pandemic started. I was in contact back then with an amazing recruiter working in Zalando. I was really worried, and I was contacting her every day. Like, “Is it really going to happen? Will everything be okay?” Because also all the airports were closed. I didn’t know. “Am I really going to be in that country? Will I be able to start?” It was really, really stressful.
On top of that, I was leaving my family. It was not really like I’m going on holiday. It’s like, I’m going there. I don’t know, can I actually go back and visit them? I have a very close relationship with my grandpas. They were like my parents, and I was really worried about, “Can I see them again?” All those things worried me but also made me grow.
Joseph: This is early 2020, when you made the move to Berlin. At the start of the pandemic, lots of uncertainty, lots of airport security. I actually remember at the time, Italy was in the news a lot with lockdowns and a lot of volatility in terms of the regulations. And so, you move over to Berlin. Can you just explain, like what was the toughest thing about making that move for you?
Stefania: [23:36] Leaving my family. I think that’s still heartbreaking for me because to me, family community is super important, like my friends. I was really worried about what will happen next. I was worried for their health. I was worried for whatever could happen in the future. I was worried for things that I could not control. I also had friends stating they would never do this because they loved their family so much and they would never leave their family in such conditions. But at the same time, I had just left my job and I had another contract to start soon in Germany.
Perhaps, again, I was unconsciously questioning myself, “Am I a bad person? Why did I take this decision?” And then, I think everything went smoothly when I took the time to step back, really ask myself, “Why did I take this decision?” Realizing that there is “no size fits all,” and take one step at a time. We shouldn’t rush into decisions, but at the same time, we shouldn’t let certain fears block us. I survived.
Joseph: Listening to your story, Stefania, I can’t help but find myself thinking about a choice I also made, which was sort of similar to yours. Where I left the Bay Area, where my mother and father only lived a couple hours away from there in California at the time. I moved over here to the UK, which is where I’m now based. I felt very conflicted about that. It was a really hard thing for me to reconcile. Even to this day, I still sometimes find myself thinking, “Ah, I moved so far away from them.” I guess what I struggle with is completely being at peace with the decision. I’m just wondering on a day-to-day basis; how do you manage that? Or maybe another way of asking it is, how do you know when the decision is right even though it involves some major compromises?
Stefania: [26:04] If you wake up in the morning smiling, then, of course, you feel like that’s the right decision for you. When you face your fears, you just like they construct what is worrying you and why. You give those answers to yourself, you are already halfway. To me, facing fear, be resilient, and try to boost your confidence, bring in your passion every day for what you do. Of course, once you hear back from your family and from your friends and they tell you, “Oh, wow. It looks like you changed a lot. It looks like you’re super happy.” Like, you’re thrilled. Your eyes are shining. Then, you have those answers.
Joseph: I’m going to shift gears here. I just want to talk briefly about Zalando before we even talk about some of the things you’ve learned along the way. You’ve been at Zalando now for, roughly, three years. It seems like you’ve followed quite a rapid and very fast-paced acceleration in your career there. Can you let me know just how things have evolved for you at Zalando over the past three years?
Stefania: [27:14] Absolutely. Zalando is a fast-paced environment. It’s super dynamic, and this is what I love the most about it. Working in headhunting or recruiting to me is also like no two days are the same in this field. You need to constantly innovate your strategy, your approach. You have to try new ways to catch the attention of your stakeholders and of your hard-to-find candidates as well. While you do this, you always learn new things and you become the recruiter in your niche. You become the expert. You become the to-go person. This excites me. Perhaps the most important aspect to me is when I offer candidates their dream job. You’re changing their lives. There is no better feeling, and this gives you the energy to keep up with the good work.
Joseph: I can’t let you go, Stefania, without also asking you a couple recruitment questions. Because you are a talent acquisition partner for a very large organization, Zalando. I am just curious. How have you seen recruitment change over the past couple of years? You mentioned constantly having to innovate. Just wondering, since you’ve been involved in recruitment first on the careers team at a global business school, and now, at a global eCommerce fashion brand. Any major evolution you’ve noticed in the nature of recruitment?
Stefania: [28:45] The market has changed a lot. There is a lot of competition. Actually, candidates want more. They want more from companies, want more from employers. They want flexibility. I think now, there is more attention towards health topics, and towards how do you want to spend your life. There is more attention to those details relating to your private life. Basically, as a recruiter, you have to be an expert on different job families. You need to understand what are the job families that we’re going to hire most for in the next quarter.
Joseph: Since you focus on tech recruiting, Stefania, and you’re at a tech company, do you have any tips for someone interviewing for a role in tech? Where maybe they have limited direct experience or they don’t feel like they’re the most obvious candidate for the job on paper. I know I cross paths with candidates like this who are at business schools. The tech sector is always one that a lot of people are interested in getting into. But if you don’t come from the tech sector, any advice for someone who’s attempting to make that sort of a pivot into the industry?
Stefania: [30:04] First of all, apply. There are a lot of candidates, like potential candidates, that feel like they don’t have the skills to do so and they just refrain themselves from applying. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
I push a lot of candidates to get back to recruiters like asking questions. Perhaps we have a first conversation and they don’t have questions for me, or they don’t ask for feedback, ask for feedback always, all the time. That’s the first and most important thing. On top of this, I think it’s super important to connect with people in your network, with people that have the experience that you would like to gain. It’s not about networking for the sake of doing that. It’s not just because you want to sell yourself. It’s good to connect, to create connections, to understand how certain industries work, to inform yourself about it. And then, you can also grasp a feeling, “Is there something for me? Is it something that I could consider?” I get a lot of knowledge around something that you want to do, about a role that you want to take. Connect with people. Ask for connections. Ask for a quick coffee chat, and try until you make it, that’s what I would say.
I must say that it took me a long time before I landed my dream job. I really left Zalando as the very last company I could apply for because that was my dream company as well. I really got a lot of rejections. But going through all those rejections and those failures, I would say, I understood what I wanted.
Joseph: Speaking of reflections, Stefania. The last thing I want to talk with you about before we wrap up are just some of your reflections on your very unique and interesting career journey. I’m wondering if you had to give advice to your younger self, as it relates to changing careers or even moving countries, what might that be?
Stefania: [32:08] Be open. Listen to yourself, like trying to gather reflections also from the people that you meet. The most important thing that I reflected on is that you can do things alone, you can go through everything, but there is also no need to do things alone. It’s important that you learn to be vulnerable somehow. And then, you can ask for help.
I just learned that having honest conversations with yourself is a priority. I understood that I’m just an adult in the ocean of knowledge. And when you work with such ambitious professionals, and especially with people that perhaps went through difficult situations and you hear certain stories, you start understanding what really counts in life, and that we all have the tools to make it happen if you really want it.
Joseph: The other thing I was hoping you could talk about relates to your move. Because I know that you mentioned, it was a challenging decision to move away from Italy to Germany, and leave some friends and family behind. Now that you are in Germany, when you look back on this leap, is there something that you wish you had known about moving locations that you now know?
Stefania: [33:41] You can’t expect everyone to see things as you do. I had my own opinions on my own ideas. I tended to think, “Okay, if I think this way, then it must be the same for everyone.” I wish I knew this before. I can’t expect everyone to react as I wished. I can’t expect everyone to be good to me. At the same time, I can’t be good to everyone. I can’t force myself also to be up to the expectations of others. I wish I knew I could let go of things and people faster. Because we all have different opinions and different paths in life and you have to accept that. I think that was one of the best learnings from a personal point of view.
Joseph: I was listening to you say that. I guess I also sometimes fall on the trap of letting others’ opinions maybe sway me too much, or disproportionately affect me, especially with the major decisions. Because on those big decisions you’re making in your life, you do want to get a second opinion. Whenever you’re doing anything major. Whether it’s getting surgery done on your body or making a major move, it’s useful to get those second opinions. At the same time, everybody’s coming at it from a different standpoint. Everybody’s coming at it from a different set of experiences themselves, which may have nothing to do with your actual unique situation
Stefania: [35:16] Correct. It’s like the same feeling that I had, and perhaps was the same feeling that was pushing me back from taking certain decisions. It’s because we have so many different opinions. We also have a lot of noise, and sometimes it’s not just to silence it and just reflect.
Joseph: Last question for you, Stefania, then I got to let you go here. Having been through this career change, what is one thing that you have learned about yourself along the way?
Stefania: [35:47] That I tend to be a people pleaser. Perhaps this is something that I have in common with so many other people I met within the last three years. I learned to protect myself and set boundaries. Because when you work with a lot of people, a lot of great professionals, and you perhaps meet a lot of people outside of work as well, and you are far away from the family, you are actually looking for a community and you want to build connections. To do so, you start behaving differently than how you really are. That’s what I learned about myself, “Oh, I’m really a people pleaser.” I didn’t know that that was the level that I was crossing. It was a little bit too much.
Here is another example where I needed to step back and give myself time to understand. If I could like find this peace within myself as well and not really just have to have the rush to connect because I’m in a new country, because they need to find new friends or new people to connect with, or like that could happen at work as well, really showing that you’re present, that you’re there. That you want to be in the middle of everything, and that you want to perhaps overperform as well. Really being there, being present. I learned to protect myself from many, many circumstances. Learned how to set boundaries. I think this is another super important thing to learn in life, generally speaking.
Joseph: Well, thank you so much, Stefania, for telling us more about your life there in Germany, and as a talent acquisition partner, your former press office role in the fashion industry, and the pivots in your life. And very importantly, how you know that you’ve made the right decisions for your career and your life, independent of what other people think. It was nice to reconnect with you. I wish you the best of luck with your role there at Zalando, and I hope things continue to go well for you there in Germany. Finally, I hope we’re also going to have a chance to meet up again at some point in the future.
Stefania: [38:09] Of course, Joseph.