John is the Director of Digital Content and Channels at NSW Department of Customer Service
Learn more about NSW Department of Customer Service
1. Why did you choose advertising/marketing as a career path?
I was always interested in narrative and the motivations that lead us to act in certain ways. I first began my career in journalism before realising many of these same motivations influenced public affairs and digital communication. I'm driven by social justice and ethics so working in the public service allows me to drive strategy that's citizen centric. It's rewarding. I was interested in communications because maths was never a strong point. Now that data-driven decision making is so key to efficient reporting and probity, I've learned I'm more numerical than I realised OR I have the knack of asking for help when I need it!
2. What's the best advice you'd give to your younger self who's just started their career?
You have to give yourself room to learn and fail. No one starts a career as an automatic expert, and often those who rise through the ranks too fast find they can't meet the technical and leadership challenges that can drop like grenades. We grow on the edge of our window of tolerance which means it's totally okay if work feels 'hard and challenging' from time to time. Be mindful not to burn out.
3. What do you look for when hiring young people?
Curiosity. Technical skills are an important base but having someone confident to ask questions and be open about the learning process is a joy. Being willing to demonstrate a willingness to collaborate and lift up others is as important as your technical skills or previous experience.
4. How do I make my resume stand out?
Don't waffle on with meaningless platitudes about your approach to strategy, goal seeking, driving change and leading innovation. Talk is cheap. A strong resume cuts to the chase: what are your career highlights and what are you previous roles? If you're not confident about your employment history, let me see what you're doing in study or voluntary work that reflects your work ethic and values.
5. What skills have been most beneficial for you?
Listening, reflecting and answering big questions with context in mind. I try to be curious about the world around me. Listening and asking questions really helps this. I'd also recommend some acting or presentation skills. Most senior people are now asked to present-- getting it right (enthralling your audience) can reflect well on your professional reputation.
6. Do you need a degree?
Probably? The one thing a degree will give you is a course in learning how to learn. I don't remember a lot from my own degree or Masters, yet I did learn how to make an argument or pitch for an outcome. The degree (and my peers) also helped me see my voids in education and show me what I didn't know. That said, it's not the first thing I look for when reviewing a job application.
7. What was a key lesson you learnt in your career to date?
Don't make decisions based on money alone. It's a fool's promise. You'll have more joy in life if you focus on contribution. How can you make your industry better and support the people around you to thrive in their careers? This approach is authentic but ironically it will increase your value over time. I was a reporter at the ABC and loving the opportunities that were presented to me but I made the jump to a competitor mainly for the money. I think more and more people are learning that success can be defined in many ways. You are within your rights to choose your definition of success.
8. Have your reasons for joining the industry changed over time?
I started my career in public affairs at entry level, studied journalism and became a reporter, and now work in public affairs and digital communication in the NSW public sector. I still think it's fair to say I'm a truth seeker. The more we can surface what's real and authentic to us as customers and citizens, the more we'll be able to deliver products and services that make a difference. My love of the public service has grown over time. It can be a little cumbersome because of the bureaucracy but at its heart, the sector is trying to do the best by the citizens at every moment.
9. Have you ever failed? How did you react?
One of my professional roles was a real dud, and I learned quickly that I was not a cultural fit and my motivation sunk pretty quickly. Yes, we can turn our failures into learning opportunities. It's also important to be kind to yourself-- sometimes there's merit in kicking the experience to the curb and reflecting on the mistake without making it bigger than it needs to be. When this particular role went pear shaped, I went back to the things I value and the experience I could offer a new employer. I was also mindful to separate my professional and private personas. We are not our work, and a professional failure need not become something that encompasses our contribution to family and friends.
10. If you had the chance to re-do your career knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I don't think I'd change very much. I might have studied more diligently? Perhaps I might have had more confidence in difficult conversations? I don't believe in looking back at 'what ifs' too often. Our focus on 'what if' is far more positive when set in the future. It's in this moment, we make decisions and take actions that determine our influence on what comes next.