Farrah Aqlima shares how she switched careers, overcame challenges and found success , with support from Kaplan’s CIMA programme and a forward-thinking mindset.
A career switch can be a daunting task that requires a great deal of determination and resilience.
But with a forward-thinking mindset, self-motivation, and a knack for spotting opportunities, a successful transition can prove to be a rewarding experience – Just ask Farrah Aqlima.
Trained as a biotechnologist, how did Farrah end up as the Head of Finance at JobStreet Malaysia, by SEEK, one of Asia-Pacific’s prominent online employment companies?
Farrah’s journey from a science graduate to this coveted position was a winding road with an unexpected twist.
Inspired by the achievements of her sister, Farrah was driven to attain similar success.
This motivation bore fruit when she was granted a Yayasan UEM scholarship, which enabled her to pursue A-Level in Kolej Yayasan UEM (KYUEM), and later, a degree in biotechnology at the esteemed University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom.
Farrah Aqlima with her friends in UCL
She had a clear objective in mind and was set to work at a Pharmaniaga, a pharmaceutical company which was part of UEM Group, upon graduation.
Farrah with her fellow UEM scholars at a leadership camp
Everything seemed to be smooth sailing until her second year of university.
She learned that the company she was set to join was unexpectedly divested by the parent company UEM Group, derailing her plans and injecting a degree of uncertainty into her future.
Undeterred, Farrah set her sights on a new career path and began exploring opportunities in finance.
“Oh no, what am I going to do? I obviously panicked,” Farrah recalled. “So, in my third year of university, I took up business and accounting modules just to make sure that I equipped myself with the relevant knowledge and skillset,” she said.
“I also took up CIMA. I was just learning that by myself,” she said, referring to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants certification programme.
Farrah Aqlima at the Chartered Global Management Accountants’ recognition evening in 2017.
She found support in the form of Kaplan and its CIMA certification programme – the perfect programme that provided her with the knowledge she needed to succeed in the unfamiliar waters of business and accounting.
Kaplan offered her a thorough curriculum that focused on real-world applications and more importantly, the flexibility of self-learning.
Kaplan has been a trusted learning provider for those studying professional qualifications such as ICAEW, ACCA and CIMA for over 70 years. It is preferred by many for its comprehensive learning materials and concise notes.
Students who wish greater flexibility now would opt for their fully online, on-demand and live learning environment that offers notes, exercises, past papers, and tuition support.
“I had the flexibility to choose the papers and the pace that I wanted.”
“UEM encouraged us to do a professional paper if you’re a non-engineering student, which I did. So that was definitely helpful,” she said.
“It’s a blessing in disguise that the company got divested and I went into the corporate world.”
Venturing outside of comfort zones
Farrah at her graduation
After collecting her scrolls in the UK and returning to Malaysia, Farrah had the autonomy to choose the industry she wanted to pursue.
“I joined a management training programme. I was quite privileged to be able to choose which operating companies I wanted to work in and get attached to for about three to four years.”
“And I joined ‘Corporate Finance, Business Development and Strategy at UEM. That’s how I started sinking my teeth into finance,” she explained.
After four years at UEM doing research, running visibility studies and working in commercial finance, Farrah moved to Macquarie Group as an equity researcher.
“My role was to provide investment recommendations to our clients. Most of my days were spent on analysis, talking to the senior leadership to form a view of their company and ascertain what their fair value is,” she explained.
The exciting part for her about this role was that it forced her to think creatively to stand against competitors.
“There are ten other companies or research houses doing the exact same thing as you do. So you need to stand out. You have to have an edge and really think outside the box,” Farrah said.
Her scientific background and ability to think strategically would later take her to assume the role of Senior Manager of Marketplace Logistics at Lazada eLogistics during the height of the digital economy.
At Lazada, she learned the significance of capitalising on every opportunity that arose and cemented her understanding of the value of adaptability in the face of constant change, as well as navigating high-pressure work environments.
“It was very fast paced. It’s a very competitive industry and it’s all about grabbing the opportunity and making it yours,” she said.
These formative experiences imbued her with a unique perspective to rise swiftly through the ranks, and eventually proved pivotal when she landed a role as the country head of finance at JobStreet.
Success is no accident
“Switching from one scope to another can be a bit nerve-wracking because you’re literally entering uncharted territory,” she said.
The easy part is deciding to make a switch. The hard part? Farrah said it is when the time comes to put in the work even if you might fail.
Passing along advice, she shares: “Weigh out the pros and cons. Map out what you want to achieve.”
“Most importantly, if you’re able to find someone who has gone through the same process, speak to that person because you need to make a well-informed decision before making a career change.
“It’s not going to be easy. You’re no longer in your comfort zone, but it gets better and it usually pays off.”
“Like a wise manager once told me: ‘At first if you don’t succeed, you try and try again.’ It’s not going to be easy. Keep working hard.”
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