When it comes to career progression, your natural inclination might be to look for the next “step up”. But what about a step sideways? A lateral career move could, in fact, be the best step you take in your career.
We spoke with Rachel Fong, Integration Lead at BHP, about her unconventional career path going up, down, and sideways on the career ladder.
With eight years of experience in resourcing, working globally in Australia, North and South America, and Canada, she has diverse experience in a variety of roles – from finance and HR to business planning, strategic supply, and projects.
Her strongest belief is that your background (education or otherwise) shouldn’t define your career goals or interests.
“Some people might describe my career path as sporadic or lacking stability, but I see it differently,” said Rachel. “You have to be okay about making side steps. Push yourself outside your comfort zone, work with different teams and try different roles.
“A successful career doesn’t have to be linear – it’s one where you genuinely enjoy what you do and have the opportunity to continuously learn.”
So, if you’re at a point where you’re unsure about your next career step – rest assured, it’s perfectly normal, and in Rachel’s mind, possibly even the best place you could be.
Here are Rachel’s best tips for making unconventional career moves that pay off.
Step forward: Push past the fear of failure
In her current role, Rachel reports to the Head of WA Asset Projects, supporting the management of BHP’s iron ore and nickel asset projects portfolio. As a member of senior leadership, she defines, delivers, and supports the delivery of key company initiatives (think safety, sustainability, team culture, productivity, and more!).
Some examples of her proudest achievements centre around spearheading the way social value is embedded within her department, and supporting the department better connect with their customer needs through streamlining a number of processes.
Also, as a proud Torres Strait Islander woman with connections to the Aboriginal communities both in the Pilbara (where BHP work) and in the Kimberley (where Rachel is from) she’s been incredibly proud of the way her work has and continues to increase the business’s collective understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and champion greater internal representation and deeper external relationships.
But these achievements weren’t anything she was expecting at the beginning of her journey. Rachel joined BHP as a graduate. After originally applying for a finance role, she was invited to apply for a role in human resources.
“I had no idea what HR even stood for, let alone what it would entail. When they offered me the role, I learned my first lesson: overcome that fear of failure and don’t be afraid to say ‘yes!’”
Even though her goal was to work in finance, she embraced HR, working FIFO between BHP’s corporate office and remote sites.
“This was one of the biggest pivot points in my career. It was surreal being so green at 21 years old, working with experienced people who were asking me for my opinion on how they should run their team. It sounds cheesy, but it truly accelerated my personal and professional development.”
Step out: Consider a boomerang move
After two years in HR, Rachel moved into a finance role, mixing her “people” skills with her new “number” skills.
Then came something unexpected.
Rachel accepted a position at a start-up consultancy. It was an exciting, but scary decision for her to leave one of Australia’s largest companies to join one that was barely off the ground.
But the risk paid off.
During her time in this new company, Rachel worked in supply chain optimization programs across Australia, the US, South America, and Canada, and was part of global business expansion negotiations.
“As a consultant, I combined my love of analytics with my love of stakeholder engagement, all the while traveling extensively around the world. It was a huge career milestone. I learned the importance of hard work, but also the necessity of balance to avoid burnout.”
Rachel then left this role to spend a few months travelling Europe before she and her partner decided to move back to Australia.
In another surprising plot twist, an old colleague invited her to apply for a role back at BHP.
“I re-joined the company in a role where I was able to engage all of BHP’s Project Delivery Group stakeholders. This involved identifying value, risks, and bottlenecks to our iron ore production targets. It was another moment I had to push through the fear of failing to say ‘yes.’”
It took just a few more steps for Rachel to move into BHP projects, then into her current role as Integration Lead – supporting managing BHP’s asset projects portfolio.
Step with others: Find shared values
Admittedly, Rachel was first in awe of BHP’s head office for being ‘shiny and big.’ But after admiring the floor-to-ceiling windows and hardwood floors, it was the friendliness of the team that stood out to her most.
And she’s witnessed first-hand how company values are carefully integrated into decision-making.
“It’s such a friendly, supportive company. BHP truly cares about your mental and physical safety. Flexible work, mental health, and diversity of thought is embedded into our decisions, just like our Charter Values. Our values aren’t just a poster; they’re entwined in everything. We’ve embraced new ways of working and are all genuinely committed to creating a supportive environment.”
Read more about BHP’s benefits, including flexible work arrangements, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and more.
Find our more about their benefits and policies.
What does this look like in practice?
When Rachel was part of an organizational restructure project, the way she saw everyone approach the problem was unparalleled.
“The team stretched themselves to ensure that every decision made aligned to our Charter Values. They were referenced every meeting. People debated because they cared. There was genuine respect and integrity from the leaders. It was a hard task but seeing that genuine culture of care and alignment to our values throughout all levels in the organization was a standout moment.”
Additionally, diversity of thought is enabled through inclusion.
“To continuously improve and innovate, people are open to sharing different (and often opposing) views, work styles, and experiences that challenge the norm. This ultimately leads to better outcomes.
“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. By working in a company where there’s always something new to learn, you get to surround yourself with amazing people who can help you reach outcomes you may not have reached alone.”