Name: Merryn Spencer
Position: Research and Consultation Coordinator, City of Parramatta
Industry: Government
Graduated: 2015
Promotions since graduating: 2
Biggest takeaway: Asking for feedback is a great springboard for promotion

A self proclaimed “lifelong learner”, Merryn always had her nose in a textbook skilling up on one thing or another. However, when she went searching for learnings to assist with her career progression she found lots of theory and operational techniques, but not a whole lot of practical advice.

“I was struggling with visibility in the organisation and confidence. I wanted to develop at a more strategic level and really get some deep understanding of things which impacted career progression and the unwritten rules no one tells you about,” explains Merryn.

The Women’s Career Advancement Program (WCAP) emphasised the unwritten, the unspoken, the unsaid – the ‘informal’ skills required to get ahead. “Things like how presentation and nonverbal cues, pitch and tone can make such a difference to impressions and impact. I learned simple things that I could try back in the workplace, having opportunities to feel safe and supported whilst doing it,“ says Merryn.

Work with fears, rather than against them

In particular, Merryn enjoyed the teachings around two elements which terrified her most – office politics and presentations. In the past she had tried to avoid both, but through the program increasingly became aware of how to work with her fears, rather than against them. During the hands-on program, Merryn mapped out the different political relationships and really honed her presentation skills, presenting some key structural elements in her final session.

“When I present in front of a tough audience for example, it doesn’t impact or affect me as much as it used to. When people gossip or talk about me behind my back in unsavoury terms (and it does happen if you’re starting to push in a good way and/or achieving more), I now think “is that the best you’ve got?” Whereas before I used to crumble.”

Merryn’s new found resilience, has paid off big time for her workplace. Over the last 8 months, she has become the go-to MC for her organisation, saving them thousands of dollars in external MC fees.

“The last one I did was with the Minister for Local Government, with some really great feedback post-event. And I actually enjoyed it, even though there were a few moments where things turned out differently to what I expected.”

Approach your career optimistically

The positive flow-on effect is also evident with Merryn looking to better instil resilience in her own team, and encourage them to be more optimistic about work, in spite of their struggles.

The Women’s Career Advancement Program has had a direct impact on Merryn’s career. She was promoted while still completing the program and has since received another promotion/secondment in another team working on a dynamic and impactful project, which she believes will have a strong, lasting legacy across the organisation.

“If I had never asked for feedback, I probably would never have had this opportunity. The program’s emphasis on presentation skills and also the interview method for obtaining frank feedback from colleagues and managers in a supportive and impactful way was excellent.”

Merryn credits the Women’s Career Advancement Program to her having the most successful work year to date. “This course made a dynamic change to my outlook professionally and personally. I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for career advancement or to just break out of the rut and learn how to approach things differently.”