Last week, I was invited to speak to our graduates at one of their development days about my career journey and talk a little about personal branding. I don’t have all the answers, by any stretch, but I thought that I’d share with you what I shared with them.
I’m Yvette and I’m a Design Manager with Engineering & Projects.
I’m from Townsville and have a Computer Systems Engineering degree from James Cook.
I had planned to be a software engineer but was convinced to try signalling, under the misapprehension that it had something to do with digital signals processing, which is untrue. For a year, I worked in QR’s signalling design team, doing circuit drawings, and testing and commissioning on site. I also had a really great graduate development coordinator. She has certainly shaped the professional I am today and we’re still friends. The fact that she owns a property in wine country doesn’t hurt…
At the end of my first year, I moved to Mount Isa to be with my then partner who was working at the copper mine.
I worked in fixed plant maintenance at the lead mine for two years, but then returned to QR National because I missed the intellectual challenge of signalling. Mount Isa itself really wasn’t that bad, there were a surprising number of beautiful shoe shops but I really found it hard to love my role.
Since my return I’ve been based with the signalling team for most of the past 6 years, in various forms.
For two years, I was a data designer while I completed my postgrad in signalling and telecommunications, then got my CPEng and RPEQ.
Who’s an engineer here?
Who’d like to hear about my CPEng journey or have you all been told enough about that..?
[They had been told HEAPS about it and politely declined…]
When my boss got snapped up by the transition to operations program, I expressed interest in her role, and acted as the manager of the signalling design team for about 9 months. I also had the chance to participate in the Mentoring Circles, which is where I met Renee [one of the graduate coordinators].
Then, I was seconded to an operational project and have been there since the middle of 2014, up until a few months ago.
As I mentioned, I’m currently acting in a Design Manager role with Engineering & Projects, while the Design Manager I’m replacing is on shared care leave. But this will end in a few weeks.
Each time I have changed jobs and roles, I’ve been terrified. Except for when I returned to signalling from the lead mine. The relief of actually leaving the heat of Mount Isa overshadowed any other feelings I could have had.
This, I think, is a mixture of self doubt and risk aversion. Why take a gamble if you’ve got something good going on right now? What if you are actually worse at the new job? What if you don’t like it as much?
Up until last week, I’d been really focussed on getting my mythical “dream job”. If I couldn’t get my dream job, then I was staying put. Paul Huth [Principal Engineer who coordinates graduate engineering rotations] very kindly led me to the conclusion that this was a little bit crazy.
Within reason, most rotation or secondment opportunities will have a little bit of your dream job hiding in there that can be used as preparation for the role you really want. Communication, people management, scheduling, exposure to particular business processes or assets… it’s all useful in the future.
And if you really do end up doing something that you absolutely hate, then you have learned more about what you need from a role to generate intrinsic satisfaction. This also goes for working with supervisors that you don’t really gel with. Even if you hate them, you will have learnt what types of leadership characteristics you don’t want to emulate.
I’m really bad marketing myself the way that’s recommended. For example, I need to go back to my desk and update my talent profile [which I did, see below]. I don’t have an elevator pitch because I’ve worked on a confidential project for a really long time and can’t talk about my work.
“What have you been up to, Yvette?”
“Um yeah, this and that… How are your projects/kids/goldfish?”
One time I accidentally stole a towel from the end of trip facility because I freaked out when Mike Carter [EVP] talked to me. I do not recommend this.
However, I do recommend, making the most of the opportunities for developing your elevator pitch in the next session. (I’m certainly looking forward to getting some well needed tips.)
I really enjoy connection and so I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to network by genuinely just being interested in people. I’m also reasonably lucky that I’m not too fussed by public speaking so one of the ways I’ve been able to get exposure is by speaking at seminars, technical meetings and conferences.
I’m also involved in the Institute of Railway Signal Engineers and the Railway Technical Society of Australia. Not only is this positive for the usual reasons – like contacts, leadership experience, technical development, but it also shows people that you are serious about your career; that you are willing to help yourself, in your own time. And people are far more willing to help those who help themselves, than those who grumble in the corner about the lack of progression but turn up their noses at anything that slightly oversteps the boundaries of the role they are paid to do.
I’m from a small town and my mother, like most of the adults I knew, was always worried about what other people thought.
In your personal life, I’m a massive advocate for embracing the weirdness that is your authentic self. This is definitely the way to be happy, seriously.
But at work, it turns out my mother is actually right. Although, I hate to admit it.
You do need to be a touch more savvy when you’re around people who can influence your future. This is where you’re more the consultancy than the employee. You’re trying to drum up more business for yourself, rather than just carrying out your tasks and making sure your paypacket is being filled.
Your work personality should be managed with as much care as your instagram account. In the same way you wouldn’t post unflattering photos of yourself with a massive number of chins, you have to think about what your actions at work say about the type of professional you are.
Your instagram account is still you, and it still allows you to portray who you are. But it doesn’t expose the shortcomings, at least not unintentionally.
Who do you want to be seen as?
What kind of actions will your stakeholders “loveheart”?
What kind of actions will lead to them wanting to follow you?
There is a lot of leadership stuff, for women especially, that talks about being assertive and leaning in and asking for what you want.
Striking a balance between telling people what you want so that they can help you get there and not tarring your brand by seeming entitled is an incredibly thin line to tread.
And I don’t have an exact solution for that.
But I do know that being mindful of it can only lead to better outcomes.
My cousin, who is a zumba teacher, posted an inspirational quote which said “what other people think of you is none of your business”.
Until we live in a very different kind of world, this is incorrect.
It is your business.
It is your repeat business.
It is your future business.
So if you don’t want to go out of business, it is worth having a think about.
(The photo above is what happened when I made Control Systems grad, Ragnee, take a selfie with me at her Graduate Challenge Presentation, like a proud but embarrassing older relative.)
I also followed this up with an email to the graduate coordinator with some useful networking links, which may also interest you.
Here are the links I promised which may interest some of the graduates:
IRSE Younger Members’ Society:
Also, ask me for a membership form if you’re keen!
Young Transport Professionals Queensland Facebook Group:
Young Engineers Australia:
Queensland Women in Engineering:
Queensland Women in Finance:
I’m also investigating the UK-based Young Rail Professionals and, amongst other things, organise exchange programs for graduate rotations. Stay tuned for more info soon! Fingers crossed!
My favourite Myers Briggs test, mostly because the graphics are really cute. No idea how our HR professionals feel about its actual content… [I know that some HR professionals, don’t recommend this test for recruitment purposes, but it’s free and as long as you’re not using it to discriminate against people, I feel it isn’t too bad]
We had a discussion about personality tests in the session after mine, which led me to including the 16 Personalities link. I added my two cents in, mentioning how having a broad indication of my strengths and weaknesses has helped me in figuring out what will make me happy, career wise. I had often struggled with being motivated enough to care about nitty gritty technical details, and was quite concerned that I found principles testing so monotonous and lonely. And I’d never understood why I couldn’t ever remember electrical part numbers and yet could still recall the birth dates of my childhood friends. However, the actual realization that I am extroverted and gain energy from interacting with other people helps explain why I love chatting, group brainstorming and getting stuff done on the spot.
I’m an ENFJ btw. Here’s a picture of me either saving a village or stealing a baby.
Knowing about yourself also helps you in your interactions with the others around you. Understanding the differences allows you to better interpret (and predict) other people’s actions and to treat them the way they want to be treated (which may be subtly different to the way YOU would want to be treated in the same situation).
In case you’ve not been paying attention recently, I’ve very much about seeking happiness by being your authentic self. An extension of this can be seen in my update of my career aspirations on our internal talent profile, finally giving in to the fact that detailed design just doesn’t pick my relay: