From HR Graduate to HR Director

4 Minutes Read

Starting my career in a chocolate factory

When I reflect on my career in HR, the first thing that strikes me is that I didn’t actually start my career as a graduate or in the HR industry – I began my career in the field of IT. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I studied Human Resources at university.

My career began with a summer job in the IT department at the Cadbury Schweppes factory in Melbourne. The following year I was meant to begin an accounting degree, which I initially deferred, then cancelled to stay at Cadbury. I ended up working there for over 7 years.

During this time, I learned a couple of important lessons that were pivotal throughout my career in HR:

  • It’s important to have leadership that both supports and stretches you at the same time – having a sponsor, mentor or coach is invaluable.
  • Choose an environment that enables you to adapt, learn & grow.


Learnings from leaders around the world

Working across 4 different roles during my time with Cadbury, I was very fortunate to have a leader who saw my potential and asked me to lead a team who were great at what they did, at a time when I was just learning. That lesson has also stuck with me – as a leader, you don’t have to be an expert in the technical aspects of what the team is doing, but you do have to be a good listener.

My last role as Cadbury’s IT Trainer provided the entry point to a range of roles across the HR world.

As someone who loves travel, I moved to London for a few years, like many Australians, and worked in many different industries which is a constant that has stayed with me throughout my career.

Returning to Australia was the catalyst to starting my degree in HR and exploring the philosophy behind the HR roles I already had experience in. This was one of the best decisions I could have made, as it solidified the learnings I gained while working in the field.  Not only did I make contacts in the HR world, I also took away a couple of key learnings:

  • The power of networking & building relationships 
  • Good leaders take the time to listen to those in their teams & companies
  • Always be open to learning (you are not the expert on everything)


Adaptability & learning

An opportunity came up to take on a HR role in China in the early days of Australian businesses expanding in the region. It was one of the most difficult roles I have had, given the cultural & language barriers – but, I certainly learned a lot more than I could have imagined. I had to constantly adapt and adjust the way I worked, so I was always out of my comfort zone.

After that, I took on a Change Management position at CSR on a large SAP implementation. Not having done anything specifically around Change Management other than the Learning & Development component, this was another chance to learn and grow in a completely different industry. Through the networks and relationships I had built internally during the SAP project, CSR offered me the chance to move into Work, Health & Safety. This was yet another massive learning curve which enabled me to see first-hand the way culture and processes need to be aligned to establish a safe and healthy environment. This involved listening and engaging with the employees to understand what was happening and why. Doing this manually meant we could only interact with a small portion of the workforce which I learned was quite restrictive.


The importance of coaching

I then joined QBE Mercantile Mutual as Learning & Development Manager. When the Head of HR position became available, I put my hand up for the role even though I had never worked at that level before nor sat on the leadership team of a business. I wanted the challenge and wanted to learn. The CEO and I had a good discussion and he supported me to make the move. Here again, was a leader who was willing to allow me to step up and he provided the right level of coaching and support whilst pushing me to achieve more than I thought possible. 

That opportunity enabled me to understand what it’s like to lead a group of people and take on the responsibilities of being part of an executive team. Importantly, I understood the strong influence that an effective people strategy can have as an integral part of the business strategy. This is something that has kept me in the HR industry. 

By that stage of my career, I had worked with construction, superannuation, insurance, and banking. The connections and networks I had established throughout my various roles continued to offer more interesting and challenging positions. Executive HR roles at Luxottica (OPSM & Sunglass Hut) and CoreLogic followed.


Becoming a HR Director

It was apparent to me that the depth and breadth of the skills and knowledge developed in HR can be successfully applied to any industry – and that is how I arrived at The Evolved Group. Introduced to the company through someone I had previously worked with, I was quickly very impressed to see the positive impacts Evolved had achieved by using technology to really listen to employees.  It was clear from the beginning that the use of Artificial Intelligence as part of the Evolved Employee Listening product would help companies uncover issues and discover opportunities that underpin their employee engagement.

Evolved Employee Listening can give any leader a better understanding of the work environment as a whole, as well as each unique employee. With state-of-the-art dashboards and applications that facilitate real action being taken, leaders can move at pace and at scale with any challenges or opportunities that arise. Powerful for HR and all leaders.

It feels amazing to have arrived at a time in my career where I am working for a company that not only embraces, but develops technology around so many of the key HR lessons I have learned over the years.

Upon reflection, I have recognised that there were inherent attributes that helped immensely in my path to becoming an HR Director:

  • A real interest in people and their wellbeing
  • An absolute desire to listen and learn
  • A preparedness to find and be guided by leaders and mentors
  • Practice and enjoy networking
  • Taking chances and challenging opportunities
  • An awareness and supporter of culture


Find out more

If you’d to learn more about Evolved’s employee experience solution, visit our Employee Experience page or simply reach out to me via my LinkedIn.

Picture of Sharyn Schultz

Sharyn Schultz

Sharyn is the Head of HR at Evolved and is passionate about using data & analytics to improve our ways of working.