What does life at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Brussels look like for young professionals? To find out Andrea Nazario Ferrando shared thoughts with two other recent joiners Astrid Helferstorfer and Francesco De Marzo in conversation.
Let’s start with a simple question: what’s your name and where do you come from?
ASTRID: Hi! My name’s Astrid and I’m originally from the south of France, where I studied social sciences at the University of Aix en Provence. I was an exchange student at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and earned an MSc in International Relations from the University of Bristol in the UK. Following my studies I moved to Brussels where I worked at two trade associations – one representing small businesses and another the advertising industry. After that I worked at another communications consultancy before joining H+K.
FRANCESCO: I’m Francesco, and I come from Italy. My background is in law and EU affairs, including an MA in European Political and Governance Studies from the College of Europe in Bruges. Before joining H+K I interned at the European Commission in the legal team of the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA).
ANDREA: And I’m Andrea and I’m also Italian like Francesco. I’ve been a Junior Account Executive at H+K since March. Before joining H+K I studied international relations in Genoa and Bologna, as a part of which I did an Erasmus exchange at University College Cork in Ireland. I moved to Brussels last year to take up an internship in the Regione Piemonte representation office, and worked in the European Parliament for an MEP after that. I joined H+K because I felt the private sector and consultancy were a better choice for me as I wanted to discover a more dynamic environment where personal growth is always valued.
Why did you choose H+K over other options?
FRANCESCO: I wanted to kick-start my career in EU public affairs by joining one of the most renowned consultancies in Brussels. For me H+K was the best option because of its holistic approach, meaning how it applies a wide spectrum of expertise to meet clients’ needs. That means we’re not siloed into sector teams or narrow public policy focus, which is a really refreshing and rewarding way to work and also a great way to learn from others.
ASTRID: Echoing what Francesco said, I wanted to work for an international consultancy where I would be able to work across different sectors for global clients. I really felt – and feel – strongly that I could grow within H+K and develop my skills in public affairs and strategic communications.
ANDREA: That’s interesting. I already knew that H+K Brussels was a dynamic international environment, but I couldn’t imagine I’d meet colleagues with such diverse backgrounds. H+K has a completely horizontal structure which, from what I hear, is rare in other companies. Simply put, H+K is a great place to work because great relations between colleagues are massively prioritised and are key to success.
How is H+K different from other places you have experienced?
ASTRID: During my first job interview I was immediately impressed by the focus on the human, which I think is one of H+K’s main draws for me. That first interview already felt like a normal conversation and it struck me that the company was looking for someone who could fit into the team and match the company culture. Company values are essential here and this really helps build a healthy, fun and hardworking environment. At the end of the day, we spend many hours working with our colleagues so getting on well together in an exciting workplace is brilliant.
ANDREA: I agree with Astrid, and for me next to the atmosphere with colleagues it’s the way we collaborate together. In most places where I worked I was simply receiving orders I had to faithfully execute. My opinion was listened to, but didn’t often have much of an impact. At H+K, even though I’m still at the beginning of my career, my teammates always want to hear my opinion and to understand what I think. And there’s no place like H+K for someone starting out on their career. You are involved in meaningful work right from your first day, but you get great support from your colleagues.
FRANCESCO: I completely second Andrea’s last point. H+K is structured around the idea that everyone, from the most junior to the senior level, has a positive contribution to make. Hierarchy is not a totem, merely an organisational tool to assign roles and responsibilities. No one is left behind, and everyone’s opinion counts. I believe that this is somewhat unique in the consultancy world.
What have you learnt in your first months at H+K?
ASTRID: I have definitely expanded my public affairs expertise in a number of different sectors. It’s been exciting getting to know new clients and learning about their challenges. On top of this, I think the Covid-19 pandemic really pushed us to work even more closely as colleagues.
FRANCESCO: I learnt the great value of receiving feedback, looking at it objectively and appreciating the positive change that implementing suggestions brings to my daily work. I’ve also learnt the importance of ownership, of taking responsibility for my own actions, always having the bigger picture in mind. Lastly, the vital aspect of quality work, in all occasions, all the time. This is what achieving excellence means. All these learnings have had even greater significance considering that my on-boarding happened mostly via teleworking due to the Covid-19 confinement. While adding a challenging variable to the learning process, this has also led me to appreciate even more H+K’s outstanding teamwork.
ANDREA: The main skill I’ve acquired is how to multitask, which doesn’t mean working on different tasks at the same time – because everyone knows that men can’t do that! – but working on different client briefs. I’ve also built confidence in addressing clients and stakeholders, but without sounding arrogant. The main challenge for me was certainly Covid-19 as Astrid mentioned. I had spent only one week in the office before lockdown meant we had to switch to home–working. But what I can say is that as H+K we successfully managed to successfully get through this unprecedented situation and I appreciated the continual support that I was receiving, even remotely.
And lastly, what are you looking forward to in the next months?
FRANCESCO: My main objective is to keep adding and scaling-up important skills such as resilience, time management and strategic thinking. On the policy side I am very much looking forward to the set of regulatory initiatives under the European Green Deal that will start emerging from September. These are a key focus of us because of their importance to many of our clients.
ASTRID: I’m looking forward to exploring H+K’s training to help me grow professionally. I really like that the company sees training and lifelong learning as a key priority. I also look forward to contributing to the company’s work for a wide variety of clients.
ANDREA: Like Astrid, I’d like to learn more about other sectors, like for example healthcare and sports. I currently focus on sustainable textiles, the chemicals sector, and professional services. And while I joined as a young PA professional, I feel I’m constantly growing in PR too. Lastly, I’d like to improve my time management and learn and earn greater autonomy.