What is your degree?
I have a Bachelor of Political, Economic and Social Sciences. Majoring in Political Economy from the University of Sydney.
Tell us about the course..
My favourite subjects were political economy of development and then an environmental sustainability subject. I liked them because they were very internationally focused and I’m really interested in sustainable development and environmental sustainability. I had 12 contact hours a week but spent at least an extra 3 hours at home everyday on uni work. Sometimes more depending on how many assignments I had.
In you uni course, what do most people want to do?
Most people wanted to either do Government work, like policy stuff, or NGO work, which is what I wanted to do. I ultimately wanted to work for an NGO .
Did you intern throughout your studies?
No I didn’t intern through my course, they unfortunately didn’t offer an intern component; a weakness of the degree in my opinion.
I wished I had as actively looked for internships from the beginning of my degree. In my field – international development, an internship and experience is essential to get any sort of job. So getting experience as soon as possible is essential. You also make very helpful and useful contacts when you intern. So many jobs in my field are word of mouth, which you can only hear about by being around the right people. When I finished I looked for an internship.
After my degree I thought I could save the world, so I interned for four months in Ecuador. We worked with agricultural farmers; they were tea farmers. We made sure they were farming sustainably, that they aren’t getting taken advantage of.
Did you find it more difficult to get a grad intern position without the previous experience?
Hmm, well I had no development experience, so I felt a bit behind the rest. I got around this by emphasising my travel experience. Especially that I had already been to Latin America and Indonesia, a developing country. I used the pub I worked at to show that I work well with others, but one of the main reasons I got this internship is because I had travelled so much and was very ‘worldly’.
What did they ask you?
I also got asked how I would deal with having no Spanish skills and I said because of my experience in developing countries like Indonesia, Peru and Bolivia I wouldn’t find it hard to work here.
I mentioned that I knew they had a different pace of life and since I had already experienced the culture it wouldn’t be a shock. I also emphasised that most of the projects they do I am interested in, such as community development and environmental sustainability; and so I could see myself fitting in well, being motivated and working well with everyone.
I didn’t receive feedback officially for my interview but the women said at the time that I seem like a great fit because my interest are in direct line with what they do.
How did you find the internship?
I found the internship through the website global nomadic. They list a bunch a volunteering and internships around the world.
So is interning the next step for everyone? Was it kind of frustrating to be applying for unpaid internships when you had a degree under your belt?
It’s not just volunteering, I was actually given a project and responsibilities that I have to do. So, I was hoping I could use the unpaid role to get my foot in the door for a graduate position. It is such a difficult industry to get into and unfortunately, this is a common way in for lots of us.
What was your project?
I was writing a proposal on how to encourage more women to participate in the Guayusa cooperatives (Guayusa is the tea they grow and sell) and most of the Guayana farmers are women, but all expect one cooperative president is a man. So my role was going to talk with the female sub committee members to see how we can get more women involved. Then I researched other case studies on how women have been incorporated more into cooperatives and see if there methods can apply to the project. At the end of the internship was I was writing a proposal for Runa on what they could do, or what things they can help facilitate that will help women participation in the growth of the project.
What did you get out of it?
I got some great contacts, but they were all American, and I was coming back to Australia.
What as the next step?
I came back and spent 6 months looking for working in the non for profit world. I thought, I’ve spent four months working on this project, how could I not get a job? But I didn’t. I didn’t even get a single interview. I probably applied for 50 jobs and it was really disheartening.
I kind of had to reassess my life and just get ‘a job’ while I was waiting for ‘the job’. I got a job at a really great media company as a receptionist. I obviously didn’t study media, but it was actually great – I ended up getting up a job on the client team.
Was it ‘actually great’ and how long did you stay there?
I worked doing media buying for Telstra. It was great in that it gave me another skill to add to my resume.
I stayed there for 2 years, in the end I left because it wasn’t where I wanted to be in life. I was still passionate about sustainability and the not-for-profit world. In the job I was stressed and busy for something that I didn’t want to do.
I found it really hard coming back from Ecuador where I was working with local people on a tea farm and then working for Telstra who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising. It was a mix of worlds, it was confronting – and didn’t make me feel good at night.
But what was great was that I could now use my media and communication skills to move back into the industry that was passionate about. Again, I applied to about 50 places and only got one call back. It was a fundraising job for Caritas and that’s the job I got. It was in fundraising. So it was all about finding interesting case studies and stories to inspire people to be apart of the donation community.
What did you like about the move back into non for profit?
I loved my job because I was finally around people who cared about the same things I do. Being able to talk to people about environmental or social issues, and them being informed about them, is just so stimulating.
What is your advice for up and comers?
My advice is just… perseverance. Don’t stop trying. As I said, I applied for 50 jobs and didn’t get a single call back. I also do recommend the internship route, because it’s so hard to get a job and you want to know that it’s something you are passionate about, and that it will be a fit once you get a job. You spend three years studying it and reading it- but an internship is doing it.
I know people that did get jobs from internships, so maybe I just picked poorly – or maybe I was unlucky. There are many roads that lead to Rome though, so don’t be disheartened.