Career shifting interview with Andreas Aks from Widerøe

Aviation leader: Shift your course to find your goal

Career shifting becomes a key aspect in a successful professional development due to continuous change in the employment market. PitchMe developed technology to support a successful career shift. And here is a story that inspired our team and hopefully will inspire many more young professionals to explore new opportunities outside their comfort zones.

Andreas is Chief Strategy Officer at Widerøe. He joined the company in 2016 and at age of 28 as Deputy COO, becoming the youngest senior manager of the company. Andreas shares his story of a career shift from Investment Banking to Management Consultancy to Aviation.  

Widerøe is the largest regional airline in Scandinavia, with a staff of 3,000 and a turnover of USD 500 000 000. The company carries around 3 million passengers annually and flies to 52 domestic and international destinations.  In 2018 Andreas lead the transformation of Widerøe from a turbo-prop- to jet airline, and has now started a joint project with technology giant Rolls-Royce to introduce Zero Emissions Aircraft technology in the regional aircraft segment. 

Andreas, your story of a career shift is impressive. How can a person get into a new industry and role without having the background or experience asked for? 

I believe your first task is to try to understand how your skills and knowledge can be valuable to the company. Employers usually have an idea about the right person for a certain position, often based on their previous experience. For that very reason candidates may end up thinking they should be the same as the person currently holding the position. I believe we need to challenge that idea. In a rapidly changing world, where things are constantly evolving it may make more sense to ask: “Who is the right person to hold this position in 5 or 10 years from now?” and let this person lead you to the future instead of trying to replicate the past.  

What did you find hardest about doing a career shift?  

To do a career shift can be a bit nerve-racking, as there is always some risk involved. However, if you think about it, the biggest risk you face, is to stop evolving in a world that is spinning faster and faster. I believe it has a lot to do with how comfortable you are with being new to something or how comfortable the employer make you feel being new to something. I remember myself interviewing for Widerøe saying, 

I may not have the experience, but I’m keen to learnis there any room for that?

If you are not expected to know it all from day one, a new position becomes less scary, – it just means you may have to learn something new. I therefore believe successful career shifting is very much about accepting not knowing, and being comfortable with continuous learning. But of course, your employer needs to acknowledge that, and give you time and resources for development. As a job seeker, this is the first thing I would ask about. 

How can you persuade an employer to hire a career shifter? What skills should you emphasize when you are passing an interview? 

It is always a safe bet for an employer to ‘copy-paste’ what has worked before. Because of that, companies tend to replicate the person who is filling the position today without questioning whether he or she is the right one for the future, selecting safe bets with impressive, similar looking CV’s. I believe we need to rethink that approach, and maybe also our tendency to select employees with a lifelong effort to one or a few companies. Don’t get me wrong, persistence is a good thing in many ways, but not necessarily superior to the knowledge you get from exploring more.

Maybe a novel thought, but is really true that the 20-year experience veteran is the only one knowing best what he really wants, or may it be that a “career shifter” has an equally clear vision of his future? It’s more important to understand what the employee’s personal goals are and how their goals align with the company’s vision, rather than assuming that a lifelong history with one company is a guarantee for good performance. Rethinking this, may also give an opportunity to more people to excel and ease out todays inequality in the job market. 

What skills and what experience from your previous career as a consultant allowed you to succeed in your current job?

As a consultant I learned a lot of professional skills, all pretty useful in today’s business world. How important they will be in the future, – I don’t know? More importantly though, I learned to truly enjoy working with different people with different skills, cultures and backgrounds. When you graduate from university you may have an idea of what you want to do, and if you are lucky you may even know a profession or an industry you’re particularly interested in. But how can you know what you really want before you have seen the options?

Psychologist and Nobel Prize Winner in economics Daniel Kahneman behind the best seller Thinking Fast and Slow, says “What you see is all there is”, and teaches us that we cannot reflect on things we haven’t seen, and also that all our views are based on our experience so far. I believe many students, including myself, graduate from university heavily influenced by friends, parents or companies on their career choice. Later they may regret it, but what is important, is that this is just the first tack (one leg sailing upwind). I look at career shifting a bit like sailing, where you have to zig-zag your way forward as it is impossible to sail straight towards the wind. Maybe this tack 20 or 50 degrees of direct course is exactly what you need to reach the next buoy, or in this case, your next career target.

Do you think it is possible to learn all necessary skills for a future career at the university?  

I don’t think so. What you get from the university is a basic understanding of the world as it is today, seen through historic lenses; – some more foresighted than others. More importantly, you “learn to learn”, or to gain knowledge in a structured and efficient way. This skill is in my view the most important thing you get from higher education. With this foundation, you can learn efficiently ever after, from people you meet, through classes & seminars you attend and from the myriad of sources available online.  

It seems you are still learning a lot. How do you understand what skills you need to acquire? How do you make a decision what to learn next?

I guess I am quite curious by nature, so when I understand that there are things I’m having a hard time to understand, I desperately want to find out more. But only to a certain level, as there is no need to understand every detail of everything, but it is extremely valuable, I believe, to understand where your knowledge is limited. Some subjects I may dig deeper into, but more often it’s just about browsing for new information. To me, it is all about getting enough information to be able to understand what new ideas, concepts and knowledge may mean to my life. How it may affect the society I live in? What it may mean to my job? And how it may influence my family & friends?

What skills do you think will have more value in the future? Hard skills or soft skills?

Clearly you need both, but as I see a company as a social construction, more than a machine, soft skills I believe, are more important. “Culture eats strategy for lunch” is common saying within management consultancy and for a very good reason. It’s a reminder to consultants spending a lot of their time doing analysis, that people remain the very core of any business. To make a change, you need to connect with people. Even if people won’t do the actual job in the future, the business is ultimately there for the people, and people will define its value. 

Looking at the fast development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is reason to believe that computers may outcompete humans on many of the hard skills we know today, which will certainly be a big challenge to many people and communities in the coming years. Some say AI may even get emotional intelligence, but to my knowledge, it’s more likely that AI brains will do good as accountants, lawyers and pilots before nurses. Maybe I’m naïve. However, what is important to emphasise, is that what’s considered a safe job today, isn’t necessarily that in future. I therefore believe we as employers, more than ever, must understand our employees wish to develop in pace with innovation and technology advancements, and also encourage them to do so through different sources. With so many online courses and webinars, new knowledge isn’t any longer all that expensive. If employees end up changing job because of lack of development opportunities, it’s very much understandable, but may also be a clear signal that the company they work for haven’t seen the full potential in their employees.

Leave a Reply