Inspiring Career Changes – from Diplomacy to Mining

February 10, 2015

Inspiring Career Changes – from Diplomacy to Mining

February 10, 2015

I’m really excited to be sharing another inspiring career change with you today after the great response to my interview with State of Green’s Jenny Tranter last week.

One of the things I have found in my own search for a new career, is that so many of the career change stories and resources focus on people who want to turn a hobby into a career, and in the case of women making career changes, it is often about finding a job that allows them to spend more time at home.

For me that wasn’t the case. I felt that it was time for a change, I felt stifled in the public service and I also wanted to change the way I worked.

I think a lot of people put off changing their careers because they don’t want to retrain, but that isn’t always necessary. As you’ll see in this interview, so many skills are transferable across industries. Sometimes it can be hard to identify what those transferrable skills are. I was certainly questioning how the things I did in my public service career would transfer into other sectors, but through my coaching sessions with Lisa from Multiples of Two, I was able to identify both my skills and strengths as well as getting really clear on what my passions were and what was important to me about the way I worked.

Today’s interview is with a former colleague and good friend Tamara Somers. Through Facebook, we have been able to keep in touch even though I was in Hanoi and she was in Noumea. I was inspired by Tamara’s career change during my posting. I also credit her with providing me with a push in the right direction, when she suggested after I had shared yet another career change related article on Facebook, that perhaps the fact that I was often posting these sorts of articles was a fairly good indication that I should be making my own career change.

Tamara Somers
Tamara Somers

Tamara’s story is really interesting and I think one of the key things I took from this interview is the importance of finding a role that allows you to exploit both your existing skills and fits with the way you want to work. Career changes don’t have to be about working for yourself or working less, but the key thing is to be doing something that you really enjoy doing.

  1. What did you do before?

I was an Australian diplomat for ten years before I made this change. I served overseas in Ghana and in New Caledonia, and in between worked on a couple of Free Trade Agreements (and had two children). Prior to joining the diplomatic service I was a strategy consultant with Bain & Company, and before that, I taught French at university while completing a PhD. I think I am up to my fourth career now!

  1. What are you doing now?
Tamara and her boss at the plant
Tamara and her boss at the plant

I manage shareholder and external stakeholder reporting for Koniambo Nickel SAS. Koniambo is a USD 7 billion industrial site in the North Province of New Caledonia, integrating a mine, a metallurgical smelter, a power station, a port and a range of other supporting infrastructure. We started producing ferronickel in 2013. We are a joint venture between multinational resources group Glencore and local shareholder the Société Minière du Sud Pacifique (SMSP). Glencore manages the facility but SMSP owns 51% of the shares and is, in turn, owned by the North Province, so we ‘belong’ to the community in which we operate.  My principal role is protecting our licence to operate – both in terms of our shareholders, by ensuring they are well-informed and have confidence in our management team, and our local stakeholders, whose support is key to the success of our business. I also periodically run internal workshops to help people to solve problems – everything from how to get spare parts to the right place at the right time, to what our overarching business plan should be for the coming year. I help people to talk to each other and analyse what I hear, which we then turn into action plans. My role is a combination of storytelling and strategy, and I love it.

  1. What made you decide to take the leap and change?

I found myself increasingly dissatisfied by the constraints of public service. I wanted more ownership of my own work, more opportunity to take risks and assume the consequences (good and bad) and more concrete outcomes. I enjoyed my diplomatic career, but I realised my conversations about work were increasingly taking the form of complaints about the structure within which I worked and I decided I did not want to become bitter and negative about my employer. I decided rather than resenting what I couldn’t change, I should act on what I could change and look for something with a better fit.  I am someone who needs to believe in what the organisation I work for does in order to really invest myself in something. I had stopped believing in what I was doing, so it was time to move on.

A spectacular view of Tamara's workplace
A spectacular view of Tamara’s workplace in Noumea
  1. What has your career change given you?

Above all, it has given me the freedom to be myself, rather than trying to fit into a mould that wasn’t a natural fit. It has also given me confidence that the skills I developed in the public sector are transferable to the private sector. It has opened up a whole new world for me – I knew absolutely nothing about mining or metallurgy or the industrial universe and it is fascinating. It has also showed me that there are lots of interesting career paths from this point onwards, and helped me to understand that above all, I am a communicator. I need to work in a role where I am either communicating or helping others to do so. I feel enthused about what lies ahead – I can easily see another 20 or 30 years of interesting work in this area, which is something I could not see before.

The change has also given me a sense of being valued by my employer, in a way I have never experienced before. I am fortunate to be working in a great team, where we own our failures but success is celebrated and praise is forthcoming. I am also lucky enough to be part of an extraordinarily talented team and to have great role models of leadership around me. Experiences like this are priceless.

  1. What have you learned?

More about electric arc furnaces, refractory bricks and ore processing than I knew it was possible to know! Apart from acquiring a huge amount of technical knowledge, I have learned a great deal about what I like (and don’t like) doing and the kinds of people I like working with. I love the fact that my manager gives me plenty of scope to make decisions, propose options, and devise creative solutions to problems. I need that trust in order to feel motivated. I also love the fact that we actually have a product at the end of the day: after the intangibility of diplomacy, there is something deeply comforting about knowing I am part of delivering something real.  I have realised that I am definitely a large-organisation team player. While I was doing my PhD many years ago I realised I don’t like working on my own, and this experience has confirmed that I am really someone who needs to identify with a team, a brand, or a product to feel motivated. I like being part of a global organisation – the sense of belonging is important to me. Much as I admire it in others, I absolutely cannot imagine starting my own business!

  1. Is there anything you would do differently?

That’s a tough question to answer. Sometimes I wish I had made the move sooner, but I am not sure I would have brought the same skill set to the business environment had I done so. But honestly, I’ve never looked back. Although there are days when I wish I had paid more attention in physics and chemistry at school!

  1. Inspire us – your favourite quote, mantra or piece of advice for anyone else thinking of a career change.

If you don’t like your life the way it is, change it. You are the only one who can decide to make it different.

  1. Where can people learn more about you and the things you are doing?

You can check my Linked In profile ( for information about me, and you can visit Koniambo’s website (in English and French) to find out more about Koniambo :

If you have any questions for Tamara, or if you would like to share your career change story, please leave a comment below.

Angela Pickett

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