Nobody can stop her. Effervescent, waving her hands and laughing, Natalya Izergina recounts the story of her relocation from Russia to Switzerland, when she couldn’t speak either English or German, and about her development from veterinarian to neurobiologist to HR recruiter and, most recently, to become the founder of the company “Recruiter’s Advice”. She lives by the motto "Define your story and forget your fears”.
Why did you come to live in Switzerland 11 years ago?
I wanted to work abroad but I couldn’t decide where. All the countries looked pretty scary to me. So when two of my friends who had gone to Switzerland told me that it was great there, the decision was easy. And I have never regretted it. People are so relaxed here and so much more cheerful.
What was the biggest change for you when you came to Switzerland?
In Russia I was a star just because I was doing my job (she laughs). It really struck me, when I realized that in Switzerland everybody is doing their job and that I have to jump much higher to be recognized. So much more was expected of me. I accepted the challenge. To make things harder, I didn’t speak English in the beginning. For my first job interview, I had to learn my CV in English off by heart, just like my first presentations at the Biozentrum. I am still grateful to Heinrich Reichert who was my boss then. He is a very gifted and spontaneous speaker and I once asked him for a tip. His answer hit me: “Good preparation”. I still keep that in mind and today I love to give talks.
And how was it to dive into science at the Biozentrum?
From my veterinary studies I was used to reading papers like books and memorizing the concepts. Here, I suddenly had to read publications critically and verify their conclusions. I also had to learn to ask the right questions: I mean, you have a great project and imagine a shiny, bright end. But how do you get there? The time at the Biozentrum really made a scientist out of me and although I left science afterwards, science actually never leaves you.
You originally studied veterinary medicine. Was it ever an option for you to work as a vet or did you always want to go into science?
This came step by step. I was especially interested in infectious diseases and started to work on Rabies at a large animal health pharmaceutical company in Vladimir. This disease is still very relevant, especially in the wild forests of Russia or in India. Many thousands of people are bitten every year and, without a timely vaccination, they die. This motivated me a lot. The idea was to develop antibodies against the virus, initially for diagnostic purposes but possibly also for its treatment. As the company – by the way, formerly a site for the development of biological weapons against animals – was focused on the commercial production of vaccines and not equipped for such investigations, my boss, who had become aware of my dedication, sent me to Pushchino to study molecular biology and genetics for four months. After that I went from lab to lab in search of some additional training. Finally, the head of one of the labs offered me an exciting collaboration project, which I happily accepted.
And how was the change from the medical to the purely molecular biology lab?
It was a very big step for me and I had to learn everything from scratch, even how to hold a pipette. I stayed for one and a half years and there was no turning back. I felt like an accomplished scientist and could never have returned to medicine. Pushchino itself also influenced me. It is a famous biological centre with many scientific institutes, a little town inhabited almost completely by scientists.
You were into science for ten years but then turned your back on it and became a recruiter. Why?
There were actually two reasons. Firstly, as I scientist you are pretty much on your own and I realized during my PhD that what I enjoyed the most was working with people. And secondly, I also felt science to be rather abstract and I no longer wanted to have a yearly plan with no concrete end. Instead I wanted to add intensity to my workday and feel that I achieved something each day. I approached several recruiting agencies but with a PhD and no experience as a recruiter the process was tough. Finally IPS Life Science accepted me.
What were your duties at IPS Life Science?
In the beginning it was all about hiring scientists for pharmaceutical companies. Although my boss was initially doubtful about my qualifications, I was a good match for the job because I understood scientific profiles. Then the quality regulations for the pharmaceutical industry were tightened, which resulted in the expansion of Quality Assurance departments in the companies. I started hiring Quality Assurance specialists, then Regulatory Affairs specialists, automation and validation engineers, writers and many others. This meant that I had to extend my knowledge and understand the full life cycle of a drug. To recruit the right people, I had to learn things like the module structure of a regulatory dossier or rules of air sterility at a production facility. It was exciting, fun and very intense but after four years I wanted to develop myself further.
And you did. At the beginning of 2016, you founded your own company counseling job seekers. Have you switched sides?
No, not at all. Counseling job seekers was also part of my job before. Already at IPS I became really good at improving people’s CVs, so good in fact that my statistics went from 17% to 29% of invitations for an interview for my candidates. I was also helping them to prepare for these interviews. I mean, you can’t put words in people’s mouths but you can teach them what to expect. Take the so-called elevator pitch: Imagine you are stuck in an elevator with your prospective boss and you have 30 seconds to say who you are. You have to prepare this carefully. It’s about defining your personal brand. I loved this part of my job. So, after a good thinking I decided to focus on what I do best – and to become a consultant. There is a great book called “Strengthfinder 2.0.” It promotes the idea that you should build on your strengths. Stop concentrating on your weaknesses! Go forward doing whatever you are doing best!
What was the biggest challenge in establishing your company “Recruiter’s Advice”?
To actually get started. To admit that I want to do this. It is something that was in the air like a dream for a long time. I have often given workshops for job seekers. Not for a living, just for fun, but with my whole heart and my scientific structuring methods. They were very well attended and I got so much enthusiastic feedback. And it was fun. As soon as we ‒ a former colleague from IPS and I ‒ got started, it all fell into place. First there was just the idea of me leading the workshops and then both of us helping people with their CVs, but then we thought, well, with our knowledge we could also do career counseling and also approach companies because in the context of restructuring they might require our services. So, little by little, it all added up to define our business portfolio. The challenge of the first year is now to prepare all our service packages. In May, our first big workshop will take place. And I am so happy to be able to concentrate on my strengths.
Natalya Izergina studied veterinary medicine in Russia at the Ivanovo State Agricultural Academy until 2001. She then worked at an animal health pharmaceutical company and in parallel studied molecular biology and genetics at the Biological Educational Center in Pushchino south of Moscow, where she graduated in 2003. In 2005, she came to Switzerland. After an internship at the University of Zurich, she graduated with a PhD in Neurobiology at the Biozentrum. Then, in 2009, she moved to the Friedrich Miescher Institute but had already discovered her interest in HR recruitment. For several years she worked at IPS Life Science, an employment agency specialized in recruitment for the pharmaceutical industry. In early 2016, together with a former colleague, she founded the company “Recruiter's Advice”, which is specialized in the individual coaching of and workshops for jobseekers.