Jen Beer has had an interesting and varied career, training as a vet, then working in a not-for-profit focused on community engagement in low socioeconomic areas, playing international sport, studying an MBA, working in telecommunications and then joining nbn in a role that brings together all the threads in her career.
This role as the Head of Health and Education for Regional and Remote Australia provides me with the opportunity to combine my knowledge of health, with my experience working with communities in particular regional and remote schools, and my telco background. This role is unique in that it feels like a genuine amalgamation of my skills and experience to date from each of the sectors I have worked in.
We chatted about combining varied skills into one career and the value of transferable skills, the lessons she’s gained from competitive sport and living as a proud Indigenous woman.
Combining the threads to weave one career
Jen began her career as a veterinary surgeon working predominantly in low socioeconomic communities. She shares, “during my time as a vet, I faced many situations where my clients (the humans) would say ‘I can fix my dog or feed my kids’ and after a period of time, I realised that I wanted to make a bigger difference to the communities in which I worked. I wanted to be able to help break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage which is what drove me to transition into the not-for-profit industry focusing on community engagement in schools and sports clubs in low socioeconomic communities across Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory."
“Working in a small not-for-profit requires you to do a bit of everything. I was the Business Development Manager but also led and designed programs, worked with the communities and our corporate and Government partners, worked with developers to create our content management system and app, prepped the Board, and did a bit of the marketing, the IT, and the legal. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and give it a go, and use every experience as an opportunity to learn.”
Jen decided to add some business qualifications to her experience, taking part in a ‘mini-MBA’ called the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass at the University of Melbourne, with a range of other Indigenous entrepreneurs, CEOs and employees. That experience ignited her passion to learn, which led Jen to do a full Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School, supported by a scholarship through Telstra, coupled with a two-year leadership internship with the telco.
Now that she’s made the move, Jen shared, “my experience over the past five months has been great. I feel very well supported and this career move has brought together a lot of threads that previously existed in isolation. I feel that my diverse skills and experience are adding value and I look forward to what the next stage of my career brings”.
For someone else with a similarly diverse background wanting to bring the various threads together, Jen suggests:
- Understand your skills. “Have an appreciation of what each of your experiences give you. People often ask, ‘what’s a vet doing at nbn?,’ but when I explain the transferable skills such as staying calm in actual crisis situations, time management, and how to develop and operate in a high performing team, they understand the value of the skills I gained.”
- Know what you’re looking for. “Write down what you’re looking for in a career. What are the things that bring you joy? What are the things that don’t? What are the things you want to do more or less of? These become the basis of your decision making in searching for your next role”
- Assess the job critically. “Assess roles as part of your longer-term plan and whether it’s getting you closer or further away from where you want to be. If you see it as a stepping stone, make sure you have an idea of what it is a stepping stone to.”
- Think about how you would talk about this role in your next interview. “Irrespective of whether a new role turns out to be the right move or not, there is always a narrative around why you made the move, what you gained from the role, and how it fits into your overall career plan. No opportunity is wasted and there is always something to learn.”
Competitive sport is a game-changer at work
Jen played volleyball on the Australian National team for seven years. We often talk about transferrable skills that accompany you on your career journey – capabilities like teamwork, problem-solving, leadership and negotiation.
Jen’s experience with sport helped her build many skills, three of the most important being:
- Working towards common goals
“I use these skills on an everyday basis at work. The business environment is very similar to how a high performing sports team operates. For a team to be successful, it needs to be in sync, have a common goal, and create clarity on the role each person in that team plays in achieving that goal. In any given team you have a mix of personalities and motivations. You have players who need to be the star of the show, players who just get on with it, and players who might struggle with their confidence. Each needs something slightly different to help them perform at their best and as a leader, investing the time to understand what is needed is absolutely critical for the team’s success.”
There’s a great parallel with business and sport and the importance of having a common goal and role clarity. Irrespective of an individual’s motivations, strengths or improvement opportunities, if they understand where the team is heading, and are clear on what you expect from them, you give them every chance to succeed, and ultimately for the team to succeed.
Of her heritage, Jen shares, “The fact that I’m Indigenous isn’t why I’m at nbn, but it is an important part of who I am. My family is from the Western Desert region of Western Australia, and my Grandma Ivy Kilmurray who was part of the Stolen Generation taught me many important life lessons that have shaped who I am today”.
In her work, Jen works closely with the Executive Manager of Indigenous Affairs Che Cockatoo-Collins in supporting many regional and remote Indigenous communities and shares,
nbn’s purpose is ‘lifting the digital capability of Australia’, and for our team, how we support Indigenous communities specifically by helping them get connected, build their knowledge and confidence in going online, and work with key stakeholders to create and achieve aligned objectives. This not only helps bridge the digital divide for Indigenous Australians, but also helps grow digital dependence to unlock social and economic benefits.
Personally, she shares, “I really enjoy the work-life balance I’ve been able to create. I must admit, it doesn’t come naturally, and is something that I’ve had to train myself to do, but working flexibly is something nbn really respects and encourages. A big part of bringing my whole self to work is knowing that my employer appreciates that work is only one part of me. Knowing that they respect and have a genuine interest in my cultural heritage, my family, and my commitments and interests outside of work as well as the work I do on an everyday basis is important. ”
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