How an international student got her dream business analyst job

Claudia Hernandez at Allianz front desk

Claudia Hernandez Suarez came to Australia in 2017 with one main goal: to do everything it would take to secure her dream job, working as a business analyst for a multinational organisation.

A determined professional with a diverse resume and a can-do attitude, Claudia is not deterred by setbacks. As a graduate of a Bachelor of Systems Engineering in Colombia, she worked for a supermarket chain in Information Technology and as a process consultant at a pharmaceutical lab.

However, she knew what she really wanted was to work for an international company and the main obstacle in her path was language.

"I decided to come to Australia after losing a couple of opportunities to work for multinational organisations. I wanted to learn English as quickly as possible. I arrived in Australia in November 2017 and studied English for over a year, from the beginner level.

Afterwards, I did a Diploma of Systems Analysis and Design at Torrens University, which helped me to elevate my analytics skills and get a bit of understanding about professional areas where my expertise and previous work experience may fit," Claudia said.

Claudia's decision to study a postgraduate course after her Diploma

When Claudia finished her diploma, she knew she wanted to step up to the next level with her career and education.

The time had come around to renew her student visa, but the decision to go on and study a master’s degree was a difficult one to make, primarily because of the cost.

"My dream of working for an international company was still revolving in my head," Claudia explained. "I explored my possibilities with different universities and the idea of doing a master’s sounded challenging. However, I firmly believe that when you choose a master’s degree you must go for what you want from the bottom of your heart. Usually, it requires hard work, determination and discipline.

My agent and I found that the Master of Business (Information Systems) offered by Torrens University combined training that would help me boost my analytic skills while also helping me to break into the data analysis field. On top of that, I could apply for a scholarship.

"So, I enrolled, and got a Business scholarship."

Prepared for the workforce by industry professionals and experts

Claudia started her Business Information Systems course at Torrens University in 2020. She soon began classes with one teacher who would have an impact on her career and direction, Phil Besim.

At Torrens University, a great deal of the teaching staff come from the industry or still work in the industry while teaching.

Torrens University is an industry-led learning driven university, meaning courses are often co-designed and taught by industry professionals, students learn work-ready skills and are presented with internship and work placement opportunities within the university’s industry network.

"My fellow teaching staff are also experts in their fields,” explained Phil, "and together, we share diverse industry experiences. I think this really makes for a well-rounded cohort, allowing us to tackle the teaching syllabus in such a way that we can take the conceptual material and bring it to life.

That's the most important aspect of learning and it’s where I've seen students exhibit the 'aha' moment.

Effectively, this approach allows students to stand out in job applications and interviews because they are able to say that during their time at university, they've played a lead role in solving an industry problem."

Connecting the classroom with real-world examples

Like his colleagues, Phil Besim is also an industry expert while teaching at Torrens University.

In addition to his role as a Learning Facilitator teaching the Master of Business Information Systems capstone unit, Phil is the Senior Manager of Strategy, Commercial & Business Performance at Jetstar Airways.

Because of his dual roles as a teacher and industry professional, Phil is able to bring real-world practice and theory into the classroom, to the ultimate benefit of his students.

"I've been at Jetstar for quite a while, going on 17 years. I think my teaching style is an extension of the mentoring work I take on at the airline, which involves building capability within teams and cultivating talent while also challenging students along the way.

I think preparing our next generation of leaders with pragmatic, real-world expectations is critical and every class sees me weaving my experience into the topics we're discussing.

I've found that students particularly see value in the boardroom scenario we play out in classes; they may share a perspective on a matter, then I may challenge the financials as pseudo-CFO, or I might ask them about the proposed competitive advantage as pseudo-COO," said Phil.

The Master of Business Information Systems capstone unit that Claudia studied in her final trimester under Phil is centred on ensuring that students are 'industry-ready'.

This is achieved primarily by simulating a consultant-client environment, in which students form teams to solve actual industry problems.

"For most students, it's their final unit before graduation," Phil explained, "so the thought-provoking, collaborative environment effectively primes them for life after university. This is really the uniqueness of the subject, requiring students to leverage and practically apply the various concepts they've developed to this point."

When Claudia began her capstone unit with Phil, she made it clear to him from the beginning that her goal upon finishing was to get her dream job as a Business Analyst.

Because she was clear about her aims from the beginning, Phil was able to tailor the learning and teaching towards this career goal.

"Claudia was committed, motivated and resolute in her ways. Knowing that her goal was to gain employment as a Business Analyst, I consistently tasked her with viewing each aspect of the course from a BA's perspective, whether it be her research, assessments or presentations.

To the extent possible, we shaped the course around this, allowing her to extract as much value as she could. I certainly cannot take any credit for her successful appointment - she did all the hard work - I simply guided her along the journey," explained Phil.

Facing challenges and setbacks in Australia as an international student

Claudia’s journey to pursue her dream took lots of twists and turns since she first arrived in Australia, and it wasn’t always a smooth road.

During her diploma and master’s courses at Torrens University, Claudia had worked hard in many jobs to pay her way: as a babysitter, cleaner and assistant at a coworking space servicing mainly tech start-ups.

Despite all her hard work, due to circumstances, Claudia was faced with a number of setbacks as she made her way through her master’s. When COVID-19 hit, she lost her job, and due to a long case of Bronchitis, she was unable to work. Although she still studied hard and achieved amazing High Distinction grades, she also faced challenges financially.

"It was a very hard season, but I slowly recovered and went back on my feet again, praise God. My savings by then were reduced significantly due to the loss of my job and the period I was in bed.

Thankfully, I received accommodation support from the government. A few months before moving to the (government-subsidised) hostel, I got a new casual job as an Office Assistant with Fishburners, another co-working space. I worked with the team and a very lovely community until September this year."

It is a testament to her perseverance that despite all of this, not only did Claudia keep on going with her course she even completed an internship.

Claudia was truly committed to doing everything in her power she could to achieve her dream, and soon her creativity and hard work paid off.

Cleverly, in the last year of her master’s degree, Claudia decided to join a gym with business clientele as a way of expanding her network in the business analytics world.

"One day, one member of my gym class mentioned her company, Allianz, was hiring so I sent her my resume. She was clear I had to do it on my own, but sent my resume to human resources so I could apply just like any other candidate. Days later, I got a phone call to set up a phone interview; after that, I had a couple more online interviews.

A few weeks later, I got a call with the great news that I had been accepted and would receive an offer letter for the Business Analyst position."

All Claudia’s years of hard work, English lessons and struggle to make it as an international student in a new country had finally paid off. She would finally fulfil her dream of working as a Business Analyst for a big international company.

"Without any doubt, this is a milestone in my life since I achieved one of my goals, working for an international company using my analytics skills.

I could compare this time to when I arrived in Australia; in the same way, I am now landing in a new world, and I have to learn new things, digest new information and adapt to a new lifestyle.

The onboarding process has been a bit challenging because it has to be remote due to the new hybrid work style. However, I was expecting it, and somehow, the online classes prepared me for it. On the other hand, there is a lot of new information to process, starting with the fact that I have no experience or familiarity within the insurance industry," Claudia said.

Claudia is sure that her decision to study a master’s degree played a pivotal role in getting her into the job of her dreams, in several big ways: skills, coaching and work experience.

"My studies added value to my skill set. For example, the agile course was highly useful for my current role as it is the methodology I am working with. Even though I have work experience in Colombia in roles similar to what is known as a business analyst here in Australia, some things work differently here.

In that way, with the master’s degree, I gained a lot of new knowledge of techniques, methods, concepts and even terminology in the field that was unknown to me.

I also got a few sessions with a couple of Torrens University Success Coaches, which helped me to clarify how to present myself to a potential employer. Another thing that helped me was the internship that I got as a data analyst.

The process of getting that internship was not that hard. Still, it was the result of having good records in my courses and being diligent in looking for it through the University resources, like the webinars and other extra sessions," Claudia explained.

The importance of receiving student support from staff and lecturers

But, that’s not all the help she got along the way.

Claudia also recognises the importance of the support she received from the staff at Torrens University.

“I give huge thanks to Dr Mo Kader, my professor for the ‘Principles of Project Management’ subject. He delivered his classes with such high-level quality, making all the topics interesting and encouraging students to participate,” said Claudia.

“Dr Kader always had such positive things to say. He helped me not to give up on my studies despite the very uncertain times, assuring me that after the pandemic ended my investment would be worthwhile. I was so blessed to be part of his class.”

Dr Kader wasn’t the only learning facilitator who helped Claudia to get to where she is today.

"During the interview process with Allianz, I have to say that what we had done before with Phil during my classes definitely helped me," she said, "He always conducted his class with very high professionalism.

He gave me extra information by putting things in real work scenarios, which was a huge help when it came to explaining how to put my knowledge and experience into words during the interviews.

Moreover, having classes with learning facilitators that are passionate about the subject they are teaching and with real work experience makes a tremendous difference."

Claudia's advice for other international students looking for their dream job

Does she have any advice for other students who might be thinking of following in her footsteps, coming to Australia and following their dreams?

"I would say that they need to be clear about what they want and willing to work hard and be focused on that. Things will come along the way, and the path will be illuminated with every step we take.

Likewise, it is important to recognise and use the resources that I am sure everyone around, places, people, information, institutions, technology, and I could keep going."

So how is it going working in her dream job of Business Analyst role at Allianz and what’s next for Claudia in the future?

"I do not have a very clear picture of the future yet. Right now, I am learning a lot in my new role, everything about it is new to me. I am learning about the company, structure, policies, processes, and procedures at this early stage. I am also getting familiar with using tools like Jira, Confluence, and their intranet, and I am getting a high-level understanding of the Allianz systems.

In my role as Business Analyst, I am part of the initiative team, which means I have to make the first initiative request (IR) assessment to proceed with a deeper analysis by the senior analyst. Performing my role within an agile environment involves working with the stakeholders, running workshops, gathering requirements, and getting knowledge of the systems to evaluate the impact of the IR.

So far, I am planning to grow within Allianz and potentially explore other areas, like data analysis. However, I have no doubt in God’s guidance and He will be with me, helping to me to find success.”

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