Felicity Hughes

University of New South Wales
Senior associate
Felicity studied Bachelor of Engineering (Industrial Chemistry) at University of New South Wales

What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?

My name is Felicity Hughes, and I’m a Senior Associate at Port Jackson Partners. I studied Industrial Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 2011.

Where did you grow up? Important stages of your life (school, education, experience abroad, jobs etc.)

I grew up in Sydney, and throughout high school I studied a wide range of subjects – I loved maths and the sciences, but also enjoyed English and foreign languages.  When it came to university I chose to do Industrial Chemistry at UNSW, and I was lucky enough to receive a Co-op Scholarship. This meant that I worked for sponsor companies in most of my uni holidays, and full-time for a year between my third and fourth year of uni.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

Through my Co-op industrial training. I learned that while I enjoy the theoretical side of chemistry, the reality of full-time lab work was not a good fit for me.  So that began a journey of investigating what else I could do with an Industrial Chemistry degree that wasn’t chemistry! A friend of mine was pursuing consulting jobs and recommended the field to me, so I did some research and decided that it sounded interesting.  I was thrilled to get a graduate job offer from Port Jackson Partners, and despite thinking that consulting was what I would do until I worked out ‘what I wanted to do’, I have been at PJP for more than six years!

Your work

What does your employer do?

Port Jackson Partners is a boutique strategy advisory firm that helps senior leaders to solve their most challenging strategic problems.  We work for businesses across all industries as well as not-for-profits and government, and we most commonly serve the CEO, Boards or senior executives.

What are your areas of responsibility?

As a Senior Associate, I am responsible for the day-to-day management of the project I’m working on.  This involves engaging with our client, managing and coaching the Business Analysts on my team, managing the process to ensure deadlines are met and helping to facilitate the team’s problem solving with the Partner.  I also take an active role in office leadership. Being a boutique firm, we are all encouraged to pitch in on areas that we find interesting, so I am frequently involved in recruiting and training activities and have recently been helping on a rebranding project.

Can you describe a typical work day?

There isn’t really a typical day in consulting – one of the best bits about the job is the variety!  My day today is probably a good illustration though. I started the day reviewing some content with one of my team members, then spent a few hours working on an agenda and supporting materials for an executive meeting we’re presenting at next week.  This afternoon I had a series of one-on-one meetings with senior executives from the client to seek their reflections on how the project was going, and to get their input for the meeting next week. Then I finished the day by interviewing an experienced candidate who wanted to join us as an Associate.

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

If you are interested in consulting, there isn’t really a ‘standard’ path to follow.  We hire people from any academic background who show a track record of achievement and an intrinsic curiosity for business problems, so I would advise a student to study something they enjoy and will do well at.  Following extra-curricular passions that indulge your curiosity will often allow you demonstrate the soft skills we look for – the most important being clear communications skills and an ability to work well in teams.  Some professional work experience is a good indicator that you understand and are comfortable in a business environment, but we don’t look for any specific type of experience. Above all, we are looking for interesting, well-rounded candidates who we could see ourselves working alongside.

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

To succeed in consulting, above all else you need to be curious.  Curious people tend to be interested in a broad range of industries and topics, and they can engage their intellectual curiosity on whatever problem they are faced with at the time.  You also need to be adaptable to cope with variety and rapidly-shifting priorities, and to enjoy working with people given that the core of the job is to serve clients and work in close-knit teams.

Pros and cons

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

I love the variety in my job – every few months I get to start work on a new project, often for a new client in an industry I haven’t worked in before.  This means I’m always learning something new and makes it very hard to get bored! The tasks I enjoy most are the people-related ones – brainstorming around a whiteboard with my team, coaching a team member through something they haven’t done before, or taking a client through material we’ve produced.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Is your job physically demanding?

The biggest limitation of my job can be the hours and intensity – the nature of project-based work is that there are frequent deadlines. Combined with our desire to get the best possible answer for clients, can mean late nights (and very occasionally weekends) when there is a deadline approaching.  However, weekend work is certainly not normal, and I have found that the workload averages out to be sustainable over the long term, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here six years later!

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

If I weren’t doing consulting I’m not sure what I would be doing!  I could easily still be doing industrial chemistry in a lab somewhere, or doing a PhD, or any one of many other options.

A word to the wise...

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  1. Don’t worry too much about what to do “when you grow up” – opportunities will always come up and it helps to be flexible enough to take them.  It can be impossible to predict where you’ll end up!
  2. If you can afford it, take a nice long holiday before you start fulltime work, it gets harder and harder to take a lot of time off once you leave uni.
  3. Invest in your friendships at uni – it is a great time to connect with like-minded people and they will be important in your life for many years to come.