How to make it to the top in travel: Passion, determination…and sacrifice!

C&M's Barbara Kolosinska shares her tips and experiences about making it in the travel industry

Return to News & insights

From backpacking around Asia and Africa as a teenager to becoming Director at the UK’s largest specialist travel recruitment company and being named one of the 100 most influential women in the travel and tourism industry, my career has taken me in many unexpected and wonderful directions over the last two decades! These are my experiences and tips about how to make your dream career become a reality.

The early years

I was initially planning to follow my interest of food and nutrition dietetics at university, but after spending a couple of years backpacking around the world, I realised I’d fallen in love with travel and I was soon enrolled on a travel and tourism degree course.

After I graduated, I was really lucky to get my first job in the industry at an airline and I fell into the corporate side of the sector as an Account Manager / Business Development Manager working for a tiny little French airline out of City Airport, selling to the likes of American Express and HRG.

After a couple of years, I was fortunate enough to get a job working for Holiday Autos as an Account Manager jobs selling to the leisure market including tour operators and OTAs. A short time later, my career changed completely…

Finding my place at C&M

Completely unexpectedly, the recruiter who found me my role at Holiday Autos, Angus Chisholm, got in touch to say he had just launched his own recruitment company and asked me if I’d like to come aboard. No-one actually decides to be a recruiter, so his offer took me by surprise! He thought my experience meant I’d be great for the role and I thought I’d give it a go. And almost 18 years down the line, I still love working at C&M – we have a great team and colleagues and I haven’t looked back since. 

I worked out pretty early on in my career that I’d be much more suited to working at an SME in an entrepreneurial business rather than in a corporate company because I’m ambitious and wanted to work my way up the ladder quickly and believe that at an SME you’re more than just a number. I learnt a lot working for a corporate organisation, but I am far better at a company where I can roll up my sleeves and truly get involved.

I joined C&M when it was still in its infancy - and this was a great time to come on board. Working for an organisation that’s young and is almost like a start-up means there will be opportunities to make your own mark.

I’ve held lots of different roles during my time here – starting as a Recruitment Consultant and working my way up as a Team Leader, Sales Manager, Business Development Manager, Business Development Director and then Sales Director before becoming a Director and then Managing Director.

Personal sacrifices

Of course, not everybody wants to rise up the ladder. Some people are happy as a Recruitment Consultant or an Account Manager. That’s obviously completely fine, but I wanted different strings to my bow. I’m very ambitious and wanted to grow intellectually and professionally, and I wanted to learn more. I pushed for it. I let people know what I wanted and how I was going to get there rather than just expecting it to come to me.

I told my boss what I wanted and he told me what I would have to do to get to the next stage, and then the next stage after that. I just kept pushing – and I worked my butt off!

It’s not for everyone, but I put my absolute heart and soul into, and some things took a back seat as a result. My work-life balance probably wasn’t as good as it could have been and I had to give up certain things. I did make sacrifices in my personal life because of my career and that was a decision I decided to make.

Hone your skills and prove yourself

Career advancement is all about honing your personal skills. Whether it’s a direct Manager or a mentor, I believe it’s important to have someone who can identify and develop those skills to help that person get to the next stage. You need to have a really clear plan of where you want to be, what you want to do and why you want to do it? What’s the next stage?

Some people haven’t got that ambition - they are happy doing what they do and earning good money. And why not? There is nothing wrong with that at all. Everybody’s different.

But if you really want to get to the next level, then you need to be aware that you are not going to get that promotion just because you want it. It’s not as simple as, ‘I’m doing this job and the next natural stage up is x.’ You have to prove yourself. You have to know what you want and possess the attitude and energy to prove you can do it.

It’s much better to do this first rather than having to demonstrate it later, because by that point you will have a lot to prove to your peers, your managers, your staff and yourself. Show what you can do, and then get the rewards that come with it in terms of status, job title and salary.

It’s also important to have humility and realise the disciplines that you still need to work on. Improve them and employ people around you who are better than you in certain areas.

Still lots to learn!

After two decades, I’m still hugely ambitious and want to develop personally and professionally. Nobody is fantastic at everything – there’s always more to learn. There are areas of my role that I want to improve on and there are more things in the business that I want to do – and hopefully, as I develop, the business will too.

There are loads of things that I still want to achieve, but I know that these will have to come from me. I’m now beginning to work with a mentor / coach to help me develop up to the next stage from Director, which is something I feel I’m ready to do. I’m not complacent. I never think that I can do it all. People might think that they’ve reached their optimum level, but they haven’t – there are always ways to improve.

Barbara Kolosinska is the Managing Director at C&M Travel Recruitment