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Previous job(s):

  • Intern at the Engineer, Energy & Climate Change Unit at the City of Cape Town
  • Management Accountant at Robert Walters.

How I obtained my current position:

I had been working at the City, and mentioned to someone that I was looking for a job.  He then introduced me to every person he could within a single networking event, and I ended up having three interviews from just that one evening with a job offer within a couple of months.  It’s hard for me to emphasise enough how important your networking opportunities can be.

How my qualification relates to my work:

I did Mechanical Engineering at UCT.  I don’t use very much of the technical knowledge that I gained, and I think this is the case for a whole whack of degrees.  What I do use, and what a lot of people choose engineering for, is the ability to problem solve. This comes from there not being one right answer, but a myriad of possible solutions to a poorly defined problem, which is appropriate for many things we come across in life.

Skills that have contributed to my success:

I write a lot for work.  Reports, reports, reports.  I also need to be able to talk to people from various backgrounds with varied skills and experiences.  The way you communicate with people affects their interpretation of your competency and intelligence.  Being able to present an argument or point logically and concisely has been very important.

Day-to-day activities:

I mentioned reports, hey?  No, I manage projects in an energy consulting team where the main focus is on renewable energy or energy efficiency.  This means I provide technical advice during various stages of an energy project, from pre-feasibility, through construction, to operations.  Recently I’ve been monitoring the construction of a 75MW solar PV project – reporting on progress, quality, compliance with contracts etc.  Right now I’m looking at the potential for solar PV installations on buildings.  Interesting times.

Best & most challenging parts of my job:

I work on many different projects, so I am always learning something new.  There is so much happening in this industry and the people I work with are enthusiastic, hardworking, fun to be around and a wealth of interesting information.  I’m very lucky in that I work in a strong team that functions as a unit.  It’s very supportive, innovative and creative.

Being a consultant is demanding and it’s hard to feel as if you ever know enough as you never know what you’re going to be asked.  You could work every hour of every day and there would still be more to do.  If you’re not a fan of deadlines, pressure and a lot of responsibility, it’s probably not for you.

Involvement at UCT:

I didn’t make nearly enough of the opportunities available to me at UCT.  I placed unreasonable pressure on myself to figure out what I would do after university, and as a result took a long time to settle into a career.  I had an unrealistic understanding of what engineers did on a day to day basis, and I didn’t take Career Expos seriously.  I didn’t look for help or advice from people who could have guided me.  While none of the time after studies was wasted, and I gained varied experience, I really think I could have benefitted considerably if I had thought to ask.

Gaining a competitive edge while at UCT:

I can’t really answer this as I didn’t do very well here.  Looking back, what I did do well was connect with my peers.  I find myself coming across a lot of them (engineers and peers from other faculties) in my working life, and having a reputation for competency at university means I don’t have to convince them again when I’m meeting them representing my company.

About approaching your own career development journeys:

In finding the field that is the right fit I would suggest that you start by asking yourself three things:

  • What gets you excited/what do you like to do?
  • What impact do you want to have on the world?
  • What kind of career could bring these two things together?

For me, I found that I liked figuring out how things worked.  I liked the science of physics, taking things apart, finding patterns, solving problems.  I also knew from a very early age that I wanted to do something that mattered and contributed to the protection of the environment.  While it took me a while to get there, renewable energy satisfies these two things for me.

In terms of what actual job you’d want once you’ve found the field – I think this is down to trial and error.  There are very few people who end up in one job for years when they’ve come straight out of university. Lastly, in the immortal words of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – “Don’t Panic”!

Advice for graduates entering the world of work:

Go to every single networking event that you possibly can in the field that you are interested in.  I have never, EVER found a job through applying via a career portal or submitting a CV blindly.  It has always been through meeting people, getting introduced, and mentioning what I’m interested in.  I started a blog which helped me to learn about renewable energy so that I knew a bit about what I was talking about before I met with people. It also helps you to have some sort of profile.

I would also suggest, wherever possible, that if you can’t find a job in the field that you’re interested in – volunteer.  Get two months under your belt, and use the company for their connections.  It’s a lot easier to find a job if you’ve already got your foot in the door.