Do you remember sitting down in a university auditorium, being stomach-twistingly intimidated by the literal hundreds of other students alongside you, and thinking, ‘How am I ever going to secure a job at the end of this, when all these other brilliant people will be vying for the very same roles?’
I had this thought many times over throughout my degree. And, as I found out earlier in the week, one of the brilliant people I was referring to was more than likely Ashleigh Chaffers. We studied the same degree, at the same place, at the same time: Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) at Deakin University in Burwood… can you believe it?!
Unlike me, Ashleigh majored in Public Relations. During her course, she took up several marketing and events internships upon the recommendation of her tutors, including at Geelong Football Club, the Burwood Autumn Traders Festival, and Chadstone – The Fashion Capital. She also further bolstered her CV with volunteer roles at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, styling, ushering and helping behind-the-scenes.
Her first position was as a part-time Online Communications Assistant for RSPCA Victoria, advertised through our university’s online student portal (I actually interviewed for the same role; I’m not even making this up!). It was the internship at Chadstone, though, that led to a full-time Marketing Assistant position upon her graduation. Ashleigh was then approached by the Jeanswest marketing team (also at Chadstone) and became their Retail Marketing Coordinator. Though learning a great deal, she admits that she quickly discovered that her passion wasn’t for fashion (though we think she looks pretty cute in her Cassie Byrnes for Gorman skirt and Ochre earrings here!).
A year-and-a-half in Berlin,‘learning German, falling in love, and working as a cake baker’ helped Ashleigh hone her plan for a purposeful long-term career. When she returned to Melbourne, her former manager and mentor from Chadstone was working an ‘absolute dream job’ in the marketing team at Zoos Victoria. Invited to apply for a coordinator role within that team, Ashleigh got the job, and was promoted to her current position as Marketing Campaign Manager two years later.
Now she spends her days befriending butterflies, among other things…
The most important verb in the get-your-dream-job lexicon is…
Find ways to reach out to organisations that you think are doing amazing work, and start building relationships with people that inspire you. I definitely credit my career path to the people I met along the way who opened up opportunities for me, so I don’t think there is anything more valuable in this industry than relationships.
I landed this job by…
Being thrown into the deep-end. While I was in the Marketing Coordinator role, a gap in our team during a busy period for the zoo forced me to figure out my strengths (and weaknesses) pretty quickly. I was able to really figure out what I had to offer the organisation, and gain the confidence and initiative that helped me later secure the Campaign Manager position.
I also have some incredible mentors at the zoo who have helped me find my feet and understand what it takes to be a good leader. I definitely wouldn’t be in this position without them.
A typical day for me involves…
I love starting my day (one day per week) with a walk and breakfast at a nearby café with our Content Manager, Georgia, and Business Development Manager, Ash. It’s a good opportunity for us to debrief on the week and prepare for the meetings ahead (of which we have a lot!).
I’ll spend a large chunk of the day working closely with our creative and media booking agencies to plan campaign approaches, and meeting regularly with our incredibly talented experience and events teams across the three zoos to understand what our audiences want and need.
A day at the zoo definitely wouldn’t be complete without visiting an animal either, I have a different favourite every month and at the moment it’s the tree kangaroo baby at Healesville!
After work I’ll usually enjoy a beer in the backyard with my housemates (there are five of us – they’re fantastic), see a horror film at the Westgarth Palace, or grab a pizza and wine on High Street in Thornbury.
The most rewarding part of my job is…
Knowing that all the hard work my team is doing is truly helping to make a difference for wildlife – not only locally but also on a global scale. I work with some seriously talented people who are out in the field reintroducing threatened species to the wild, or lobbying government for change. Marketing has a big part to play in ensuring this organisation has the funds it needs to continue doing this amazing work and I’m so proud to be part of that.
Another highlight for me is being able to collaborate with other inspiring community groups and institutions to find creative ways of connecting people with wildlife. Melbourne Zoo has just teamed up with ACMI and 3RRR to host an after-hours ‘Block Party’ of local DJs, old footage from the ACMI archives, and an outdoor wildlife photography exhibition by National Geographic. I’ve dreamt of working with organisations such as this my whole career and being able to combine music, arts, and events to benefit wildlife conservation is the absolute sweet spot.
On the other hand, the most challenging aspect is…
Getting people to fall just as in love with our local threatened species as they are with the ‘hero’ animals.
It’s easy to motivate visitors to care about elephants and tigers (and so they should), but there are a huge number of Victorian species that people don’t even know about who need our help now more than ever, which is a big part of why Zoos Victoria exists.
A great example of where we have really been able to change public awareness is through Zoo Twilights, our summer concert series at Melbourne Zoo. We use both the communications campaign and the event experience to tell the story of the endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot – one of the local threatened species that Zoos Victoria is fighting to save from extinction. All proceeds from the event support the recovery program of this species and we’re doing a lot of work to ensure that ticket holders leave the zoo knowing and caring a little bit more about this tiny marsupial.
The culture of my workplace is…
Collaborative, progressive, quirky, and full of some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
The zoo family is made up of a really diverse range of people with differing skills and opinions, all bringing their passion and brilliant minds together to do some serious good.
There are a lot of people who’ve been at the zoo for decades (I think we have all found our dream jobs) and I feel like I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface of this eccentric, animal-loving community.
Smiling. I’m pretty energetic in the office and if I’m not hosting a silent disco through my headphones while I work, I’ll be round at my colleagues’ desks chatting through ideas in person, rather than via email.
On Job Day at school, I dressed up as…
An acrobatic, rock-climbing painter. I couldn’t decide between the three career paths so decided I was going to hang from trees at the top of mountains and paint the view.
Sadly I’m not very artistic and I definitely don’t have the figure for acrobatics or rock-climbing (probably due to all the pizza) but hey, I’ve still managed to land a job worth writing about.
My idea of the perfect workplace is…
A creative space that celebrates teamwork, is open to change, and is full of passionate people.
A workplace that allows you to get outdoors and amongst nature has also become really important to me since working at the zoo – it’s incredible what a difference that can make on your peace of mind. Being able to spend a few days a month in the Yarra Valley at Healesville Sanctuary or on safari at Werribee Open Range Zoo is undeniably another big part of why I love my job so much.
The best piece of advice I’ve received is…
Always find a way to take responsibility when something goes wrong, even if you’re not the root cause. Identifying ways that you could have helped someone else avoid a mistake is just as important and allows you to reflect and learn from every situation.
For inspiration and professional development, I turn to…
My team. I’m lucky enough to share a pod with four incredible young women with varying strengths and experiences that I can draw inspiration from every day. I still have so much to learn from my boss, Jareen, who is constantly surprising me with new ideas and supporting me to grow.
Over the years, working in marketing has…
Completely transformed. Digital marketing barely existed when I was studying, let alone social media advertising or influencers. I haven’t even been around long enough to know how to use a fax machine and I still feel as though the landscape is evolving at such a rapid pace that it’d very easy to get left behind if you don’t stay on top of changing digital trends.
In the next five years, I’d like to…
Be doing something that I could never have predicted today. There’s still so much I’d like to contribute to this organisation. I want to really strengthen the position of our three zoos as important cultural institutions in Victoria for both conservation and events, and ultimately better connect the community with wildlife and the environment.
Oh, and finally paint the view from atop that mountain!
The Zoo Twilights 2019 series is being announced later this month and all proceeds support Zoos Victoria’s fight to save the Eastern Barred Bandicoot from extinction. Register for the presale at Zootwilights.org.au.
Melbourne Zoo’s Block Party is running on Saturday nights in November and tickets are on sale now at Zoo.org.au/blockparty.