How James Hanley gave his business career an edge

Swinburne Bachelor of Business graduate James Hanley

Bachelor of Business student James Hanley shares how he secured work with some of Australia's top firms outside the usual channels.

"I came from the country and was guided into an engineering degree by a high school teacher. He saw something in me and suggested I focus on advanced maths and physics. So when I started university, I thought I knew where I was going: I needed to be a smart person, get a job, build a career and ultimately, live the good life.

About a year into my degree I hit a wall and questioned whether I was following the right path. But being the first of my family at university, I owed it to my parents, grandparents and high school teacher to push through. I didn’t realise I was giving up control of my life to these people and wasn’t living authentically.

The penny eventually dropped and I had to make a change. So I asked myself; who do I want to become, what kind of impact do I want to have and what do I value? I realised I was studying something I wasn’t passionate about and so I made an ultimatum – either continue down the path laid down before me or live an interesting life.

So I transferred to a Bachelor of Business (Professional) with a major in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I stopped isolating myself and started engaging with people. I ran study groups, regularly met with the careers team and took a genuine interest in the people around me. I saw there were so many people and programs to support students. It was the best thing I ever did.

"With every interaction I had with people – I never asked what they could do for me. I focused on fostering relationships first and then how I could make the most of opportunities. When I did that, my relationships started paying dividends."

My first opportunity came by simply being open with people. I started telling everyone I wanted to work with one of the big four consulting firms. I even told customers at my part-time job, and they connected me with a director at one of the firms. I bought him a beer and picked his brain about his life and career. After a few hours, he offered to put me in front of any service line manager at his firm I wanted.

My second opportunity came from being genuinely interested in what the careers team at Swinburne had to offer. I got to know the team on a first name basis. They saw my interest and nominated me for a spot at another firm.

My third opportunity at another big four firm came from persistence. I missed the first deadline for internship positions, but reached out to the firm’s HR team and made sure I didn’t miss the next round. After a gruelling five stage process, and plenty of insight from my network, I was successful.

With every interaction I had with people – I never asked what they could do for me. I focused on fostering relationships first and then how I could make the most of opportunities. When I did that, my relationships started paying dividends.

I’m focused now on how I can be of value to people and the person I want to become. I keep my life as open as possible – but focused on growth, personal development and being open to opportunities when they arise."