Standing out against the competition

Emily Wu

6 minute read

Emily Wu is an acting Director in the Australian Federal Government. She has extensive experience leading diverse teams across policy, program and corporate areas, as well as engaging stakeholders and delivering high-quality outcomes for government. Emily has mentored and coached students, graduates and employees in the workplace, and has helped progress many junior staff into senior roles.

Emily studied a Bachelor of Commerce – Accounting at Macquarie University and completed a Master of Financial Management at The Australian National University (ANU) in 2011. With multiple graduate program job offers from private, banking and public sectors after graduation, she began her career by undertaking the one with the Australian Federal Government and has since held a number of senior roles across multiple departments and agencies.

During her time in the public service, Emily has received many accolades. She was awarded the Secretary’s Achievement Award for her contribution in the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers Meeting; the Secretary’s Achievement Award for her contribution to the Whole of Government’s Deregulation Agenda; and the Divisional Achievement Award for her contribution in the Commonwealth, States and Territory Environment Ministers Meeting.

In this interview, Emily reflects on her career progression, shares how one applicant can stand out amongst many, and reveals valuable secrets in reaching people’s career potential.

Q. How has your Master studies at ANU contributed to your career to date?

Doing my Masters at ANU benefited my career in many ways. It strengthened my ability to learn things quickly in a structured way, and to know where to look for resources and further information. As the old saying goes, “you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish, you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” 

In addition, it taught me how to think critically. Both the lecturer and tutor encouraged me when I proposed a different methodology to the one taught in class. Without critical thinking, I wouldn't be seen as the champion driving continuous business improvement at work that I am today.

Q. What’s your secret to fast-tracking your career progression?

Seize the opportunity, and embrace the challenges. 

In 2015, my supervisor left and there were several projects under critical delivery timeframes. I stepped into a role that was three levels above me and undertook greater duties and responsibilities. You can imagine how much pressure and how many challenges I faced. 

Because I dedicated myself to meeting the challenge, I was promoted to a senior officer within just two years with strong support from my Director and Executive Manager. In my experience, if you want promotions, you should seek more responsibility and deliver great work, and then promotions will follow. 

I also learned through the graduate program the importance of participating in corporate activities and social clubs in my organisation. For this reason, I helped establish the Young Leaders Network within our department to develop junior staff into leaders and accelerate their career progression. I also volunteered at the G20 Employment and Labour Minister’s Meeting to welcome international Ministers and Delegates and be their Liaison Officer. I was even the Treasurer of the Trivia Committee and organised all kinds of fundraising activities to help vulnerable groups of people. 

Through these experiences, I built valuable networks across my organisation – including with senior executives – and gained so much experience. Within your regular role, you may not have as much opportunity.

Q. You have been a recruiter or an interviewer for over eight years, leading the recruitment processes as the Panel Chair. What are the common mistakes you see students make in preparation for their job hunt?

People give up too easily. On average, it takes 20–80 applications to get one job offer. It’s tempting to give up if you haven’t received an interview after sending off five to six job applications. Take a step back to review your application, adjust your approach – talk to someone in the CBE Careers and Student Employability team and see where it can be improved – and keep trying. Your time will come. 

It is important to get your resume ready first, but some people struggle to understand how to create a proper resume. Don’t just look up a few online templates and populate it with some basic information. Consider consulting someone experienced to get a good understanding of key information required, and then think about the best way to highlight your relevant skills, capabilities and experience. 

Don’t take a rushed approach to your selection criteria – we can easily tell from your written response whether you’ve spent only 30 minutes on it. When writing the cover letter or selection criteria response, do your research about the organisation and even call up the contact person to find out more information about the duties or responsibilities associated with the role. 

As an international student myself, I understand the worries and concerns of non-native English speakers. If the interview was about Shakespeare and writing beautiful novels in English, then I’d be worried. But in most cases, the interview is only about communicating your skills, capabilities and work experience using your own examples with clear, plain English.

Q. If you could travel back in time as an ANU student right now, what are the top three things you would do while at university to prepare for your career?

Firstly, I’d connect with CBE Careers and Student Employability team straight away. I would participate in the career events and courses provided to help with my career planning, and talk to the consultants to action my plan. I have seen how powerful it is to have a clear career plan before entering the workforce, and I wish the CBE Careers had existed in my time. 

Secondly, I would find someone already in the industry and build a relationship with that person to be my career mentor. Something I have witnessed over the years is that people who have one or more mentors throughout their career usually progress better than the ones who do not. Having a career mentor before taking up a new role can help you:

  • have a good understanding of the industry, including what essential skills are required, what the industry outlook is for the next ten years, and where the career opportunities will be

  • know the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of the workplace – be aware of hidden pitfalls and understand how to put forward your best self from day one

  • have basic knowledge about organisational structure and hierarchy, understand how to communicate at meetings and how best to build relationships with managers and peers, and be able to dive into any projects assigned and perform well.

For these reasons, I am so pleased to see the professional-development initiative Momentum offered by the CBE Careers and Student Employability team – it is a great opportunity and provides invaluable benefits to students. 

Finally, when applying for jobs, I wouldn’t shy away from certain companies or certain positions just because I believe myself incapable. Preparation, determination and a strong belief in yourself can help you succeed in finding your dream job.

Momentum pairs CBE students with an industry mentor who will provide professional-development guidance and advice. Apply now for Semester 2, 2022.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click 
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