What advice would you give your new career self?

Hindsight is a delightful thing. We often spend so much time reflecting on the job opportunities we missed, the ones that passed us by, and thinking about the jobs that might come our way. We ask some of our esteemed IPAA Advisory Council members what advice they would give their early career selves. The responses are simple…and fantastic.

Michelle Lees – Deputy Secretary, Service Delivery Operations, Department of Human Services 

For me, I think it would be don’t stress about the jobs you don’t get – because other fantastic opportunities will come your way unexpectedly. As a 25 year old, I had already been working in the public service for 9 years! I started working in the public service when I was 16 after leaving school so I didn’t have any idea what might be seen as the usual graduate moving into the workforce stuff going on. I did my tertiary studies later.

These days there is more emphasis placed on schooling and uni, but I would always recommend that sometimes a lot of life and on-the-job learning can really support your tertiary studies so that you are better placed. You can enter tertiary study with a bit more nous later. I don’t think people should be afraid of continuing to study and getting their education as they get older. It can be enriching not only for you, but for the people around you. They will benefit from your life and work experience as well.

Rachel Hunter – Director-General – Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning

Perhaps be a little more career-attentive, but focus on what you enjoy. When you are young and relatively ‘unencumbered’, you may not pay much attention to the career opportunities that exist at a point in time. I spent 24 years in the TAFE system, starting as a teacher, working in senior management and ultimately as the joint GM and then the Chair of Queensland. And while I had a deep and rewarding career in TAFE, there might have been an earlier time where I could have, or should have stepped out of the organisation to do something else. There is always the risk you can become defined by what you do rather than by what you could do. Having said that, its important to recognise a career is built horizontally and laterally, as well as vertically.
There is no definitive right or wrong way to build a career, but looking back, my advice to my young career self would be, be more alert to opportunity to broaden and deepen your experience, do what you find meaningful, and back yourself. Seek opportunity not necessarily promotion.

Ian Stewart – Former Commissioner for the Queensland Police Service

Understand from day one, that true public service is a team event and that only through this integrated effort that we will ever solve the most complex problems facing our society. While doing so, staying true to the highest standards of integrity, impartiality and fairness in everything you do.

James Purtill – Director-General – Natural Resources, Mines and Energy

When I was given the opportunity to manage a consulting firm here for an American company, I had only been in the company for six months. And I thought “No, I couldn’t possibly”, I have barely been on the tools, and then the person they brought in was just culturally insensitive. A lovely guy – just culturally insensitive. The very same environment that he worked within in the United States was backed by very strong legislation that we didn’t have that here. In Australia we were driven by corporate social responsibility whereas in the United States, they can saunter into an office and say ‘According to the X,Y and Z Acts you must do this”. He did that here. He just started to destroy some great working relationships and luckily I had a chance to take a second crack so I took it. And that is definitely my advice to a young professional starting their career. Have a go! Put your hat in the ring. The worst thing that can happen is that you miss out, but at least then somebody knows you are willing to have a go.

The stereotype would suggest that millennials are more precocious and demanding of that progression, but I don’t necessarily see that. The subtle difference in those two positions is that when you are afforded an opportunity, take it, versus someone who feels that they deserve an opportunity, and someone gives it to them. That is the subtle difference. Not trying to put the dirt on millennials, they are so much better equipped for the world. With the contracting labour market, why wouldn’t you be enjoying the spoils of more choice as well? So I don’t see anything particularly weird or wonderful, you have so much choice, so enjoy it!

Neil Scales – Director-General, Department of Transport and Main Roads

Don’t do too much – I always take too much on! I have always recognised that, and I haven’t changed in 40 years. I still take too much on, but I try and think twice about it. I have always been enthusiastic, and I have always loved the job – and this is the best job I have ever had.

Hindsight is a wonderful 2020 vision though – If I had adhered to my own advice, I think I would have ended up in the same place. I have worked for a lot of places including the World Bank, the European Commission, manufacturing, here as well as overseas. I think the advice is probably “Don’t do too much or think twice before jumping in” – which I am doing a lot more now because of experience more than anything else.

In the end, your career journey is personal. With every role, every manager, and every colleague, you learn. So enjoy your journey and come to take the positives and negatives of your career path as a learning exercise, all contributing to the professional you will become.

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