Career pivots: how to make it happen

“Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, but success comes where preparation and opportunity meet”

This excerpt is by MEC Mining’s Technical Services Manager, Erin Sweeney: A results-focused and experienced mining professional who has worked across a broad range of commodities including gold, base metals, iron ore and coal operations. Her background lies in geotechnical engineering, designing, modelling and implementing cost-effective, innovative mine solutions in both site-based and in consultative roles. Erin has leveraged these skills into project management and then leadership roles with a focus on adding value, ensuring safe sustainable cash flow and growth through technical influence.

“Growing up in Wagga Wagga NSW, I was never pre-exposed to the idea of a career in mining. When I found myself on my first mine site in Queensland’s coal basin as a graduate exploration geologist sitting on a drill rig logging core while being entertained by drillers antics, I surprised almost everyone who knows me – including myself. 

When I graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science,  which I originally intended to use to pursue a government department role, I found myself graduating into a mining boom, where I was quickly given an exciting offer to head to an Anglo American site near Middlemount to be a Graduate Exploration Geologist with a consulting company. From an Exploration Geologist to Geotechnical Engineer, to Mine Planning and Technical Services management and now managing the growth of MEC Mining WA, I have had my fair share of career pivots. Some were easy due to the demand in the market but there were a few where I really had to work hard to make it happen.

Here are a few things I have learnt along the way that stack the cards in your favour:

  • Is the position you want inside your organisation already?

It is far easier to pivot inside your organisation than to leave it and find that new role. Being a known quantity is everything and organisations are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the devil they know. However, you still may need to undertake additional study to seal the deal.

  • Get your elevator pitch ready

It is important to share your ambition. Tell everyone that you know where you are going consistently and frequently. The more people you tell the more the opportunities for pivot enabling work will come your way. But be patient, it takes time for this seed planting to show green shoots.

  • Find a great mentor

Find a sponsor higher up in the organisation – higher than your immediate manager. Decisions about who fills roles and what opportunities are available get made behind closed doors every day. If you have an advocate in the room who isn’t biased by their own need for you to be in your current role then you have a good chance of winning the opportunity.

  • Be open to taking baby steps

Look for a sidestep role if a promotion is too much of a leap, you don’t necessarily have to move backwards to establish a new career in a different area. There are many transferable skills that you can apply to a new role; you can learn a lot by taking a sidestep if you are willing to throw yourself into a steep learning curve.

  • Be open to pushing yourself.

When you pivot you aren’t going to be on the same page as your peers, so you need to make more time to listen and learn. Fail fast, maintain resilience and be open to feedback. All feedback you receive is filtered through a modicum of bias affecting the giver, but you must still develop a good filter to find the grain of truth and a potential lesson.

Career pivots are becoming a new normal and the Australian mining industry is now more flexible than ever before on this issue. Diversity of thought is the number one asset you bring to a new tack. Take some time to map out your new journey so you can fully understand what gaps and overlaps you have and stay determined.”