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Networking and work experience

If you are nervous about networking, do more of it! Our Year 9 and 10 students polished their networking skills this week, perfecting the art of conversation with alumnae and other professionals.

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One of the highlights for Year 9 on Wednesday, was a session with Rachel Cambridge-Potter, a waste-free chef who is passionate about living sustainably. Rachel is a proud advocate for home-grown produce, bee keeping, permaculture and cooking consciously to prevent food waste. Although she lives on an average-sized block in Killara, Rachel keeps chickens and bees, grows bananas, oranges, apples, vegetables, salad greens and macadamias, and makes her own beeswax wraps, kombucha, candles, face cream and even her own mascara! Her career has spanned cooking for Maggie Beer, cooking with Po of Masterchef fame, and presenting a gardening segment on Burke’s Backyard. Today, she runs a series of popular classes and workshops, including how to cook with edible weeds, how to make healthy lunchboxes for kids with zero waste, how to eat seasonably to reduce food waste, and how to keep bees in suburban Sydney. Despite being a busy mother of two, Rachel also finds time to volunteer her time by coaching water polo at various levels.

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Rachel opened her talk with this quote from television presenter Todd Sampson: “I’ve hired 100s of successful people as a CEO and not once have I asked for their ATAR or even their HSC marks. But I did ask all of them ‘what have you done in your life that has made a difference to others?’”

Rachel told the students that she wishes somebody had highlighted to her the importance of proactively seeking out unpaid work experience. Although she had a part-time job at Country Road during her Bachelor of Design degree at UTS, she realises now that she should have sought out internships or volunteered her time for fashion houses and designers or used her skills to give back in some way.

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She also highlighted the importance of transferable skills, which are highly sought after by employers. Transferable skills are a core set of skills and abilities, which can be applied to a wide range of different jobs and industries. Things like organisation, people and communication skills are usually picked up over time and can be gained from leadership positions at school, service learning opportunities, fundraising events, sport, hobbies, or even just helping out in the community or at home.

So how can students anticipate the skills of the future? Well, Rachel suggested they stay up to date with current affairs, keep learning in their spare time, enrol in summer courses, get involved with mentoring programs, volunteer for causes they are interested in, ask questions and read, read, read! Most importantly, she told them to use social media rather than “letting it use them.” And above all, “resist the urge to post selfies!”

Rachel said the main thing she wanted the students to remember from her session was this: it takes such little effort to be above average. This applies to all areas of life, from academics, to giving, to socialising, to sport, to relationships. She told the girls that they can set themselves apart simply by shaking hands, looking people in the eye, introducing themselves and expressing their genuine enthusiasm for tasks and events.

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Rachel’s session set the students up perfectly for their next workshop: a ‘speed-networking’ session with alumnae, who were either still at university or had recently graduated. The session was overseen by business coach, Jen Harwood, who gave the students some tips about asking questions to find out what people do. Students then had five minutes with each alumna, moving around the room in small groups. They asked the alumnae why they had chosen a particular course and whether their HSC subjects had influenced their decision. They asked about gap years, course structures, work experience and their plans for the future. It was eye-opening for the students and conversation flowed.

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Earlier in the week, Year 10 students had a similar opportunity to talk to alumnae, all of whom were at an early stage in their career. There were accountants, lawyers, physiotherapists, nurses and designers. It was timely for our Year 10 students who had just come from a week of work experience, where they’d had opportunities to experience a wide variety of different jobs and careers.

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Matilda (Year 10) spent last week at the Walt Disney Company, working with the production team. She said, “As this week was the release of the streaming service Disney+, the first two days in the office were very busy, but also exciting and thrilling. Although there was a day filled with watching new Disney movies and TV shows, throughout the week I worked with many different areas of the company (production editors, writers and graphic designers), which allowed me to build my confidence and improve my self-initiative when performing tasks. My incredible host and the Disney production coordinator, Juliette Beck, left me with the advice to “take every opportunity as you don’t know where it could lead you.” Not only did Disney give me a Mickey Mouse toy, but they also made it clear that I would love to pursue something in the creative production industry as a career, hopefully at Disney.

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Kayla (Year 10) said, “I went to the Thomson Geer corporate law firm. During the week, I learnt a lot about the real work life of a lawyer, the logistics of law and how to do different tasks for cases that Thomson Geer deal with. I was able to draft letters of redundancy and termination, learn how to structure advice letters and how to use Excel to do spreadsheets of wages for a client. Going into this week, I didn’t really have any idea of what work experience would be like. I wasn’t expecting to be able to get as involved with the work as I did, and I am very glad to have felt like I could help with my supervisor’s clients and cases that he was working on. I was fortunate to attend a lunch seminar about the ethics involved in law. The seminar was broadcast from Perth and we watched it along with other staff members from Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. I also went to court with a different lawyer from Thomson Geer. I watched the hearing, which was an amazing experience for me as I had never been to court before. During the week, I also listened in on conference calls and over-the-phone meetings with Jonathon, my supervisor. I really enjoyed my work experience week and it has definitely helped me figure out that I would like to pursue a career in law. The lessons and skills that I have learnt will be able to help me going into school next year, university and then when working later in life.

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Olivia (Year 10) said, “I entered the Foxtel building bright and early on Monday morning, caffeinated and keen. After being greeted by many warm smiles and spirited handshakes, I joined the Fox Creative team for the day producing promotions for new Foxtel releases. Mum was excited to hear that I assisted the production team film an interview with the ex-lead singer of Spandau Ballet, Tony Hadley, who sang ‘True’ and other hits of the 80s. The following days ensued pleasant surprises, learning experiences and friendly faces in the Foxtel Acquisition and Engagement Marketing teams. I worked with the Fox Sports Marketing team on Thursday and Friday attending meetings and designing campaigns for the Domain Test cricket series. In the blink of an eye, it was Friday afternoon, which I spent in the studio recording my voice for a billboard ad that I helped to design – so much fun! I finished my week at Foxtel energised, confident and having flourished in my first experience in the world of work.”

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Director of Student Opportunity and Careers Education, Ms McFetridge, was thrilled with the feedback she received about our Year 10’s work experience placements last week, as well as the comments she received from alumnae about the networking workshops this week. She said, “It’s important that our students are thinking about where they want to go after Wenona. They need to be informed about their choices, but they also need to understand that they will very likely have more than one career, across a range of different disciplines. Work experience and networking workshops with our alumnae are great ways to build our students’ confidence and encourage them to think more broadly about their future opportunities and pathways. We are so grateful to all the employers, our alumnae, guest speakers and members of the Wenona community who have given of their time and expertise to help guide and inspire our students.”