How’d You Get The Job: Molly Whelan, General Manager of Programs & Events

How’d You Get The Job: Molly Whelan, General Manager of Programs & Events

How’d You Get The Job is FYA’s latest series where you get to meet the team behind FYA and find out, well, how they got their job!

At FYA we love talking about jobs, careers and the skills you need to get from one job to another. We know that a young person today is likely to have 17 jobs across 5 different industries. It’s no longer about the linear career path! We don’t have to look much further than our very own team to find out just what that non-linear path might look like in action.

Once you’ve found out all you can about Molly Whelan (including which Scottish national dish she may or may not have tried), head over here and meet Digital Coordinator Sam Danby. Then go for a digital wander over here to meet $20 Boss Program Manager Annie Buckeridge.

molly whelan general manager programs events fya

What’s your title, what does it mean and what do you do?

I feel lucky every day to be the General Manager of Programs & Events at FYA. Between myself & Dean (the other GM of Programs & Events) we oversee the operational delivery of all of FYA’s research demonstrations, programs and events. This includes all of our in-school programs, through to the social entrepreneur and startup space. As part of this role I’m on FYA’s Leadership Team; which has given me an opportunity to contribute and influence strategic conversations, to think about where the organisation wants to go and how we can get there.

What were you doing before FYA?

Right before I joined FYA, I was the program coordinator at White Night. I’ve spent the majority of my career in the arts industry; working with wonderful artists and creatives to put on a whole spectrum of things. From site-specific live artworks in the suburbs of Melbourne, to Stage Managing people, horses, camels and falcons in the Middle East for an Opening Ceremony of the Arab Games.

What did you study at uni (if at all)? Is it relevant to your job?

I’ve got a Bachelor of Creative Writing, an even more niche spin off from the Bachelor of Arts. My dad referred to my uni certificate as ‘a bachelor of unemployment’! I really wanted to be a novelist; I’d been lured in by stories of 1920s Paris and the Beat Poets. While the fast-paced, problem solving nature of my job doesn’t directly involve writing narratives, it’s certainly relevant from a communications perspective. From my daily emails, to proposal and grant writing.

How did you get started at FYA?

I’d previously worked with FYA’s Digital Manager at the time at another organisation. She knew I knew a few things about events. We had lunch one day and she handed me a crumpled Position Description she’d printed at the office. I emailed my now boss, with a ‘I’m Brianna’s friend’ line somewhere near the top, and from there we arranged a coffee, and I started the next week on a short-term contract to deliver FYA’s Unleashed Awards.

Favourite part of your job?

There are actually too many to choose from. When people ask me how I am I’ve started saying ‘I’m obnoxiously good’, so at least they know I know I’m really living well. A huge part of that is this job. Every day I get to come into an office to work with incredible, talented and passionate people on things that I genuinely believe are making a difference. It’s such an honour. If I had to pick one thing it would be telling the FYA story to people for the first time — how instantly they’re connected with our mission always feels like a tribute to the work we’re all tirelessly doing, and this resonating each time is both exciting and reassuring.

Least favourite part of your job?

As with all things in life, there’s always both sides of the coin. Sometimes the things I love the most about my job, can become my least favourite things. If I’ve underslept, putting on a bright smile and bringing energy into a space can be a massive burden. If I’m a little grumpy, constantly being interrupted from a task to problem-solve can become a real irritation. You constantly have to self assess, and ensure you’re in the right frame of mind; or have the tools to get you back there ASAP. Again if I had to pick one thing, it would be my inability to stay on top of my inbox… sometimes I get 100 in a day, so if I had anything else planned besides answering emails (which I always do) I’m instantly behind.

Is your career going to plan?

In one way. In all honesty two years ago I had the goal of one day being an Artistic Director of a major international arts festival, but as I’ve been presented with so many wonderful opportunities at FYA that vision has changed. This is absolutely not what I imagined for myself even 5 years ago, but I’m beyond thrilled it’s where I am. I’ve been very lucky, while I’ve worked hard and put in a lot of long hours, I’ve always been rewarded.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be as dedicated and passionate about what I do and where I work as I am now. I was recently talking to a ‘very near retirement age’ landscape gardener and he commented that he felt so lucky to still love what he did, having done it for 45 years! I want to be that guy.

In terms of a specific job, I have absolutely no idea. What I have learnt along the way is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Potentially my dream future role doesn’t even exist yet.

What is the single most valuable skill in your job?

Communication — at every level. My understanding of the importance of good, clear and constant communication has drastically increased in the last 12 months. I use to put much greater value on my project management skills, or financial acumen, however I now understand that both can quickly fall apart if communication is lacking.  It’s really important that everyone understands the same vision, and the pathway to get you there. I’m always thinking not only about what I say, but how I say it, when and how often.

What’s been your biggest career challenge?

Learning to say ‘no’. I was always that person who said ‘yes’ to everything, who stayed in the office until 11pm and backed it up with a 7am start. I’ve really come to appreciate that while sometimes you have to put in those hours when it’s crunch time, it’s not good for anyone when it’s consistent. I work way better (and quicker) when I’m feeling good, am well rested and I’m a significantly better manager to the people I work with, with greater patience and understanding. I’m still absolutely working on this, but prioritising, and knowing what to take action on, and what to put on the back burner has definitely been my greatest challenge to date.

What’s one piece of advice you can offer to someone who wants a job like yours?

Give everything a go once; I’ve had the strangest most unconventional career path; I’ve picked grapes, been a snowboard instructor, waited tables in restaurants, busked playing guitar, I’ve worked as a customer sales rep at a manufacturing plant, served drinks at the casino, run a queer festival in Melbourne, and my first gig… was at a Juice Bar. They all give me perspective on each person, and each role, each problem, and each deliverable and all add something to my greater understanding of the world and the impact I’m able to create.

What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who has no clue what they want to do?

It’s the same as above, give it all a go once. If you’d asked me in high school if I wanted to be the General Manager of Programs and Events at a foundation for young people I would have said, ‘no’ or potentially ‘no way’. Yet now, in this moment, I actually couldn’t think of anything better. The lesson for younger Mol there is: you don’t know if you haven’t tried it… another favourite saying of my Dad’s when he was putting things like haggis in front of us as kids.

Tell us something weird about you.

I once ate haggis.