Haely O'Neill

University of Technology Sydney

About you

What did you study at undergraduate level and when did you graduate? What are you studying now? Are you studying and working at the same time?

Executive assistant. Bachelor of Management in Leisure (an undergraduate business degree) Kuringai Campus. I graduated in 2010. I am not studying anything at present. I work full time at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

What have been the most important stages of your life?

Completing my HSC at St Scholastica's College completing my undergraduate degree at UTS. My first job out of university was an event coordinator at Arinex. Planning professional conferences, I traveled through Asia for 6 months and completed ESL teacher training to work in a Vietnamese executive assistant role at a not for profit Indigenous company called Aurora. Also went on a 6 week study tour through the US and UK, visiting Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Stanford and Harvard Universities with 20 Indigenous students applying for their master's/ postgraduate positions.

How did you get to your current (or most recent) job position and how long have you been working there?

I applied for a contract role as an executive assistant at a company called Strategy&. I knew they had recently been acquired by PwC, a company I knew through alumni and friends to be very popular for its great work culture. 6 months into the role I was hired on permanent basis to PwC and have worked there for almost 4 years (in July 2019). 

About your course

What made you decide to progress with further study?

Only my mother had completed a degree in my immediate family, and she did not get hers until she was a mature aged student. I always aspired to go to university. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in event management. I knew that with a degree, my job propects would not only be greater but that I would have choices on where I'd like to work, I would most likely have travel opportunities and I would secure a better salary in the future.

How did you choose your particular further study course (compared to others)? / Were you weighing up any alternative degrees or career pathways before choosing this qualification?

At the time of applying for my degree, I had also considered doing a TAFE course in event management. I put together a portfolio and submitted it to the Ultimo campus in Sydney. I also put UAC preferences in for a public relations degree at Sydney University, but later decided to choose the leisure course offered at UTS.

What was the process to get accepted into your course? What were the prerequisites?

After completing my HSC at St Scholastica's College, I needed to receive a minimum of 88 points to be accepted into my preferred UTS degree. After receiving acceptance from UTS I attended an open day at the university and officially enrolled to my course for the upcoming semester, which was in March 2007. 

What does your study involve? Can you describe a typical day? (if it’s difficult to describe a typical day, tell us about the last thing you worked on?)

A typical day at university would start with travelling out to the Sydney UTS campus to catch the university shuttle bus over to the Kuringai Campus. I would sit in the auditorium for my first lecture taking notes. I would then attend a tutorial following the lecture; here I would have a chance to ask questions. Then I would visit the library, print reference materiel from the journals and complete an assignment. At night, I would re-read my lecture notes and complete some compulsory and suggested reading.

Pros and cons

Will this course be beneficial in your career? Where could you or others in your position go from here? Please explain your answer.

The course was imperative to obtain a coordinator role at Arinex; without it I would need to join a very junior entry role and prove myself, learn on the job and move my way up the ranks by merit only. By getting my degree I was able to enter the workforce on $50k + and in a position that gave me freedom to be creative and to be client facing from the beginning. 

What do you love the most about your course? 

The lecturers and tutors are not only teachers but also industry professionals with practical experience to impart. They also actively help us find internships at their partner companies using their contacts to find us good fits. The curriculum for Management in Leisure is equal parts practical information on how to do the work and also the theory and psychology behind 'leisure' which makes the process make sense. 

What are the limitations of your course?

I felt like the degree was very well balanced in practical information that prepared students to go straight into the workforce able to run a large scale event with enough theory to understand the steps to take and why we do them. Perhaps, given a little more time for internships would be better? I ended up doing my last year part time so that I could enter the workforce earlier as I was living on my own and had rent to pay. My scholarship only covered some of my fees and half the year's books.

A word to the wise…

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current undergraduate student? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your studies, or even to one’s professional life. 

I would suggest you get a mentor, someone who works in the industry that you aspire to be a part of after you finish your degree. Do the suggested reading for all your subjects, as they make great reference material for assignments and a lot of the exam questions come from them too in my experience.