Sonja Antelmann, originally from Hamburg in Germany, came to the UK ten years ago to study. After completing a Bachelor in Business Management and a Master’s degree in International Business Management, Sonja started working as a Marketing Executive for a small company that supplied safety devices. She then moved onto her first analyst role as a CRM Analyst and later Supplier Insights Analyst at a well known Health & Beauty retailer, before moving to her current role, a Commercial Insights Analyst role at a leading Gen Z brand!
Two years ago, merely as a hobby, Sonja also co-founded and co-developed the app DressMyHorse with her partner. The app is now used internationally among the equine community. We interviewed Sonja about her colourful career history as well as how she maintains a healthy work-life balance.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I believe that I didn’t choose analytics, it found me.
Analytics isn’t a subject or area that you hear of a lot at career fairs, at least I haven’t. But at uni, I remember an analyst from Accenture speaking in my course and I thought how interesting her career sounded. At the same time I also thought I would never be clever enough to be an analyst myself, so never looked into careers in that sector again.
Later on, I tried to go down one of the more common career paths like Marketing, which sounded like the closest match for me. However, there was something that didn’t sit right with me. When I then saw the opportunity for a CRM Analyst role, I just went for it, although I never actually believed I would get the job. It all spiralled up from there, I am now hooked on code, data, graphs and insights. Looking back, I always found analysing research in uni very easy, it came naturally. I should have known really.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
After my studies, I planned on going back to Germany, but life happened and I started working in Marketing for a small company that supplied safety devices, where I gained some very valuable first job experiences and had the chance to work and travel internationally.
Somehow though Marketing just wasn’t ‘me’. I was more excited about Google Analytics than writing copy, so I applied for a CRM Analyst position, which I got, and have since expanded my knowledge in analytics through working on different aspects of analysis.
Alongside uncertainty about my passions and job choice at the beginning of my career, I think the biggest challenge I have faced along the way was my own self-belief. Especially by choosing a career that was more maths heavy and something I believed needed a lot of intellect and smart people to do the job well, I often felt as if I wasn’t good enough or suffered the classic imposter syndrome.
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
To be honest, I simply kept on going. There is no magic recipe or advice I have for overcoming self-doubt, but to keep on learning and also forgiving yourself. Often self-doubt comes from us expecting too much of ourselves: an unhealthy amount of perfection all the time. I had to learn that making small mistakes is not a sign of my weakness or failure, but being human. As for being forgiving of yourself, this is especially true at the beginning of your career when you are learning a lot of new skills and you won’t be perfect; and that’s totally OK. I was very lucky that I had a very supportive team in my previous role where we would often cross-check each other’s work, which was a good confidence boost and also a security net.
“As for being forgiving of yourself, this is especially true at the beginning of your career when you are learning a lot of new skills and you won’t be perfect; and that’s totally OK.”
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I believe it is all about prioritisation and balance.
My mindset is set out to divide between things I care about and things I don’t. If I care about something I will do everything to succeed, and giving up isn’t an option. But if something is of little importance to me, I will not waste my energy on it.
But to have the strength to be so committed there needs to be a balance. I take a few hours every day to spend in nature. I ride my horses, walk my dogs and just relax. Breathing the fresh air, listening to birds or even being in the wilder elements can do wonders for my mind.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
It is very clichéd, but life isn’t fair. You can work your hardest but not succeed, and you need a way to deal with it. You need to find something that makes you so excited that you go and try over and over again until you can do it. This can be a dream, a mantra or even just a chilled attitude.
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
You win or you learn.
To be honest, I have stolen this mantra from my fellow equestrians, but it just describes perfectly how I live my life, be it professionally, in my hobbies or my private life.
As much as we would all love to be perfect all the time we are not. I am very ambitious, and I absolutely hate not being the best or doing well. But I also know that getting to the top is a process, and the only way to get ahead is to understand how to improve when things don’t go to plan so that we can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Don’t stress - It doesn’t matter if you haven’t found the perfect job right away or if you don’t even know which career is for you. Just make sure to learn along the way, as life experience and skills within different sectors are very valuable.
Be different, but in a good way - Make yourself stand out and be remembered. This can be your personality or most importantly your awesome work. I had people come to me months after a presentation telling me they remembered my work because of the visualisation I used.
Never stop learning - Especially when you start in your career, but also later. You can learn something from everybody. I often do the exercise in my head where I go through every member of the team and think about one good quality they have and why I think they are good at it. Then I try to learn from the way they work. Of course, you have to find your own style, but understanding other people's strengths can help you learn from the best.
“Don’t stress - It doesn’t matter if you haven’t found the perfect job right away or if you don’t even know which career is for you. Just make sure to learn along the way, as life experience and skills within different sectors are very valuable.”
What are your key motivators?
I think overall, my motivators are a strong moral compass and ambition. I love challenges and I have learnt that I keep on going, through good or bad. I can’t even explain how I do it or why, but it’s just something that has been ingrained into me from childhood.
The more measurable key motivator is my work-life balance. I love analytics but I also love my hobbies and my life at home. To me, it is the perfect mix of engaging the mind in analytics and exercising the body doing yard work and riding. So I try and keep both working well for my own peace of mind.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Don’t wait until you are in a leadership position to lead. Even when you don’t have line management responsibilities, there are a number of ways you can show leadership. Be proactive and think about how you can improve workflows, current practices and initiate projects. Also learn to manage upwards, which doesn’t mean managing your manager but being more diplomatic to achieve your own objectives.
Sonja's story demonstrates that we can always learn from every situation, even when we fail. If you're interested in reading more inspirational women in the workplace, read our recent interview with Faye Lewis, Head of Marketing at La Fosse Associates.