When we meet someone like Susan Hervey, with an interesting career or life story, we’re always keen to share it in this series of articles. It’s amazing to think we are up to twelve stories in the series already!
Susan Hervey is well known in her field and if you ever get the chance to ask her yourself, you’ll be stunned, as I was, by the variety of 20+ different jobs she has had in her lifetime. I first met Sue a bit over 3 years ago at my very first NAGCAS conference, where she and her team were so warm and welcoming. It’s taken a while to get this story – she’s a very busy woman! – but worth the wait.
Thank you, Susan Hervey, for answering our ‘What’s your story?’ questions.
What’s your current position and what do you do?
My current position is Director of Career Services at The University of Adelaide. I manage a team of 14 staff and we have four major portfolios for a student body of approximately 25,000. These portfolios include Careers Education and Counselling across our five faculties, Industry Engagement and Events and Careers Information provision to students and staff. We also provide specialist support for students on campus from China and engagement and liaison with industry in China.
Is this what you expected to be doing when you were at school?
My father was the first careers counsellor I ever met disguised as a fitter and turner, a job he did for his entire working life with ETSA. At 5 years of age, I had been to school for just one day when my Dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. At that stage, I only knew of 2 jobs that existed, my teacher’s job and my Dad’s job.
I still remember considering carefully whether I wanted to be a teacher or a fitter and turner. I told my Dad I would like to be a teacher and he said “I will start saving for college from today.” We had very little money and I realised this was a very big deal that my Dad was committing to. From that day on, I just knew I would be going to University, it never crossed my mind not to take that pathway. I was the first in my family to ever attend University but my sister and nearly all of my cousins followed the same path.
My father believed that education was the answer for any problem. I always knew that my father harboured a desire to train as a school teacher but his family were unable to support him to attend teachers college. As a career professional I note that my sister and I both have teaching degrees amongst other qualifications.
Our dad was very proud of us when we graduated and he would carry our business cards around in his wallet. I don’t think he realised how much we listened to his message about education and that we would return to University quite a few times. When he passed away I found an entire collection of our business cards from the first job to the current roles we had.
Apart from having a careers adviser at school, I wasn’t aware of the Career Development Industry at all, which was probably in its very early days at that time. The careers adviser was also the maths teacher and sometime PE teacher, so Career advice was quite a low priority at my school. As a teenager, I entertained my share of the usual uninformed daydreams about careers that students still present with today. Some of the ones I remember include wanting to be a physiotherapist, a journalist and a fiction writer. Of course in the back of my mind was the discussion I had had with my father about being a teacher when I was just five years old.
What was your first job?
I had a part time job throughout high school and University but my first full time job was in assisting physiotherapists and occupational therapists with their clients. Most of the clients had suffered a stroke or an injury to a body part and we were assisting them on the road to recovery.
Craft was one of the ways we trained people to use their arms and hands again and I trained as a ceramics teacher. Many beautiful items were fired and artistically decorated by our clients and I still have some of the ceramic dishes in my kitchen cupboards that I created in my first professional role.
Can you tell us about a significant turning point in your career/life?
A significant turning point in my career was meeting my mentor Don Dobie. I remember meeting Don in 1999 when I was employed by Spencer TAFE. I was on the cusp of quite a dramatic career change. At 32 years of age I had won the Campus Manager’s position at a large regional TAFE campus and would be responsible for 82 staff and 2,300 students on campus and via distance education. Don had been contracted by the Student Services support team to introduce us to Harrison Assessments and train us so that we could use the assessment with students.
As part of the training, of course, we had to undertake the Harrison Assessment ourselves. I had never undertaken a career assessment before but the Harrison Assessment not only showed that I would be successful in my role as a Campus Manager but that I would probably be an even better CEO. I could definitely see how useful the Harrison Assessment would be for students trying to navigate their career pathway and I have now been using HA for 17 years in the higher education sector.
I have trained in the use of many tools since but I have never found a resource that helps clients more than the Harrison Assessment. Of course, a significant and unexpected outcome is that I have had the privilege of having a very experienced and insightful mentor and friend for most of my working life, thanks to a chance meeting at a training session.
Who do you admire? Who has inspired you?
Parents inspire me, my own parents, parents in general. I chose not to have children but I greatly admire anyone who does. I’m in awe of my sister who is a full time deputy district attorney in Nebraska, her work takes her into very dark places working with child victims of crime. She also has 7 children ranging in age from 7 year old twins to a 23 year old son.
If there were no limitations, what would be in the future for you?
If there were no limitations, I’d really like to return to University full time and complete my PhD. I would also like to complete the novel that I’ve made a few attempts at. I think with writing you need to fully immerse yourself in the process and surround yourself with like-minded people at every opportunity. At least that’s what I think I would need to bring a novel to fruition. So for the time being, my novel is on hold.
Finally, what would you tell your younger self about work and careers?
If I was able to speak to myself at a younger age, this is what I would say…
In between describing to her the many fantastic work opportunities that were coming her way in the future, I would say “My best advice is don’t be afraid – of anything.”
I would speak with great excitement about all of the amazing projects waiting for her to work her magic on and the teams and individuals that she will have the privilege to be part of and more often than not, lead. I would say “As a manager be consistent, be fair and lead by example. Take the time to develop your team members and they will follow you anywhere. Bring a sense of fun to whatever you do and inspire people with your ideas, your words and your actions.”
I would also say “Find a mentor or 3 and seek their wise advice whenever you feel you need it.”
I would tell her to never stop learning, to look for ways to add value to whatever she is working on and to take more time than I did to travel for leisure or work purposes. I would encourage her to take up work opportunities even if they weren’t exactly what she was looking for or hoping for. I would say “Some of those offers will turn into opportunities that you can’t even dream of”.
Finally, I would say “Stop worrying about the future and enjoy your youth. I know you think it will last forever but the future will be here before you know it. There is no need to worry – you will create an amazing life and it will be more than you had ever hoped for. Enjoy.”
1st March 2017