Interview with Gio, System Analyst at a Retail Company
Age – Early 30s
Location – Melbourne, Australia
Gio's career is proof that hard work pays off...and that if you don't ask, you don't get. Although he's worked across a range of industries, Gio figured out early on in his career that it made more sense to pursue the type of work that he enjoyed, and not just job titles. And it's paid off.
What’s your current role?
System Analyst at a major retailer.
Tell me about your career path leading up to your current role.
I actually started full-time work while I was completing my Bachelor of Chemical Engineering. As with any other degree, getting that first job is really tricky as it's a highly competitive space, so I was applying for any job that looked remotely relevant to my degree. Some people think that you can just cruise into your first job but it definitely felt like a ratio of 1 job to every 1,000 applicants.
The whole process was pretty disheartening - for example, most job application processes required rigorous psychometric testing, which could often make or break your application. And employers would usually keep your results on file so if you'd 'failed' the test, you'd have no chance the following year either. I ended up taking a three pronged approach:
The first approach was the standard process of applying for grad programs in the stereotypical fields. For Chemical Engineering, that was mainly roles in the oil and gas industries.
Secondly, I was consistently on Seek checking out junior (non-grad) roles as well.
The third approach got me the best results by far - and has provided me every other job opportunity since then. It was NETWORKING. I didn't have the grades for my application to stand out on its own so getting intros to people who had some sort of influence on the hiring process was really important.
I probably applied for 100 jobs via the first two approaches and these got me nowhere. My first job opportunity actually developed from a Scotch and Coke at a club (Editor's note: Apparently considered to be one of the manliest drinks according to this list!)!
In terms of my actual job history, I started out as a Production Assistant at a polymer manufacturing company in my second last year of uni. I'd been introduced to the hiring manager via a contact of mine. I ended up interviewing for the role and receiving the job offer on the same day.
This was a 3 month vacation role but I had the right interpersonal skills and worked hard, so they kept me on after the initial 3 month period. It was a great opportunity to get general field experience – understanding process controls, following piping diagrams, time cycle studies, etc. It wasn't a typical grad job - with Engineering there are two types of roles, Operations or Design. This role was in Operations, which meant that I got to work across all components of the plant, as long as I actively sought out opportunities to do so. Whereas a lot of my mates went into Design roles, which meant working on only one component of a manufacturing plant.
I then took 4 months off work to focus on uni but was contacted by the polymer manufacturing company about a project role. I took it as I got the chance to project manage the whole project end-to-end, which was a massive opportunity. As I was still doing a full-time load at uni though, I didn't have time for a girlfriend or anything and was averaging 4 hours of sleep per night.
While I was in my last year of uni, I was recommended for the role of Plant Engineer at that same polymer manufacturing company. A colleague of mine had moved into another role in the business and had put me forward to fill his previous position. This time around it was a little less stressful in terms of juggling full-time work with full-time uni, as I already had work experience by then, so it wasn't as if I was having to learn everything from scratch. This role involved looking after the engineering aspect of the plant. I was able to catch up on three years’ back log of engineering work, developed a preventative maintenance schedule, developed a filing system for hard and soft copies of manuals for the machinery - it was a lot of risk management. I graduated while working as a Plant Engineer so at least I didn't have to worry about a job after uni.
I eventually got bored of this role - I felt that my development opportunities were starting to become limited. The problem was that 2 years after you graduate with an Engineering degree, it effectively 'expires' and you can't get grad roles any more. I ended up getting a role as a Mineral Process Engineer at a large mining company, where everyone effectively starts as a grad. The oil and gas industry was dying and the mining industry was starting to boom, so it was a very competitive job market, particularly because mining paid so well. The downside was that the mine was in Central Queensland, so I had to pack up my life and move away from my friends and family.
It was a steep learning curve given that, as you'd expect, mining has completely different chemical processes from polymer manufacturing. But although I was getting exposure to best practice, work became really stressful, particularly because of the isolation. And that's the problem with chemical engineering - there aren't any chemical plants in the city. So whatever you job you get, it'll probably involve travel of some sort. The stress of work plus some personal matters prompted me to re-evaluate my life. I quit my job and moved back to Melbourne without another job, taking a 9 month break and traveled. Fortunately I'd saved up quite a bit (good pay plus low cost of living at the mine) so I was able to live off my savings.
One of my previous casual roles was at a retail store - I had good contacts in the business still and a lot of them had since progressed through the ranks. One was an Operations Manager and although his store didn't have any vacancies, there was a new store opening relatively close to where I lived. I applied for a role as a Trade Specialist (basically looked after smaller business customers) and with his recommendation, got the job straightaway. I had a solid 2 weeks of training to become a Trade Specialist and because it was a new store, I got to help set it up, train people and instill the culture. I was able to draw on my project management experience and took over a project that formed part of the store opening. When I took over this project it was running 2 weeks behind, but we ended up launching 2 weeks early.
I subsequently saw a role advertised internally that I was interested in, but applications had closed. So I contacted the Division Manager and convinced him that I was a perfect fit for the role of System Analyst. Although I didn't have any direct experience, my previous roles had been pretty analytical and basically involved a whole lot of problem solving. I convinced him over the phone, got an interview for the following week and landed the job!
My roles have been pretty varied but ultimately it's all about analytical work and problem solving for me - it comes easily to me and I really enjoy this type of work.
What does your role involve?
My team is basically the reporting centre of the business. It was originally a team of 3 but has since grown to 5 since I started - we're now a national team and the business recognises the value in what we do.
I liaise with store managers, logistics, buyers and supplier in relation to stock inventory. Inventory reporting is our primary focus, including anything related to inventory. Inventory control is hugely important given that it's one of Australia's largest retailers. So it's not only producing standard and ad-hoc reports, it's about optimising (and automating where possible) reporting processes so that the information in the reports isn't out of date by the time the relevant decision makers receive the details. We look at forecasting and even need to think about the behaviour patterns of different products. For example, seasonal impact on demand and demographics - people who live in rural areas have different buying behaviour to those who live in the city.
What are your favourite aspects of the job?
On a personal level, I love having the freedom to create - there's a lot of autonomy and also development opportunities. It's also important to me that we can influence key decisions being made around the business.
The company itself is great in that the different divisions are well integrated - everyone works together. There's also a culture of 'open table discussions' - it's a flat structure and I can speak directly to senior management if I need to.
Be honest – did you know that your current role even existed when you were in uni? How/when did you first find out about it and what drew you it?
I was aware of analyst roles in a general sense, but there are so many different types of analysts. I wasn’t aware of how this was 'interpreted' in different industries so I just applied for any analyst roles.
As an engineer, your primary skill set relates to acquiring data and developing systems and process that help business decisions be made and executed - however ultimately it's all problem solving. So any role that had a big focus on problem solving was interesting to me.
What type of person do you think would enjoy and do well in your kind of role?
You need to be able to thrive in high stress environments and you actually need to be pretty creative. You're conveying a whole lot of data in a concise format so you want to be able to convey the information in the best way possible, whether it be visuals, verbal, numbers, etc.
What are your interests/projects outside of work? Have any of them helped you to get to your current role? What other things/people have influenced you?
As engineers, I think that we have a responsibility of making sure that our solutions are also sustainable - otherwise you're solving a problem by creating another one. So I'm really interested in the development and construction of sustainable homes, as well as polyculture agriculture.
In terms of influences, I look at leaders in the fields of my various interests as well as the market needs of the economy.
What’s your advice for people who are considering a career in your field?
- Self education is a vital component
- Weekly evaluations of where you're at in terms of progress towards your personal and career goals
- Be happy
It's really about your attitude - I think attitude is the most important but the three points above help to shape your attitude.