How a holiday became an exciting project management career

April 2, 2023
becoming a project manager

Sonja’s journey started with a self-imposed challenge.

“When I was 15 back in Germany, I wanted to earn some pocket money. So, I learned how to carry three plates and a full tray of glasses.”

This new skill helped her get a job in hospitality. What Sonja didn’t know then, was that this simple challenge was the spark that would fuel her career. A career that would take her to the other side of the world and to a world-class hotel and entertainment complex – The Star.

It all started with a career in hospitality…

The job led to the extra money she was after. And the extra money accumulated until there was enough to take a trip. So, German-born Sonja threw some things in a backpack and headed Down Under. That was 2013. 

sonja the star

“Fast-forward to 2022 and you can see I’ve never left or looked back! 

“I started my Australian work journey at a well-known German-themed restaurant at the Rocks district in Sydney, carrying those huge serving plates and up to eight of the 1L beer steins on the weekends in those famous Dirndl uniforms.”

After working across several hospitality roles, including five and a half years at the InterContinental at Sydney Harbour, and some study, Sonja got a big break when she was offered a tilt at The Star Entertainment Group.

… then came an exciting career offer

“I was approached by a previous colleague who asked if I’d like to be the Department Manager for In-Room Dining (IRD) for The Star Entertainment Group in Sydney. 

“IRD was the only area I’ve never worked in before and I thought this would be a great new challenge and accepted the offer.

“It sure wasn’t easy,” says Sonja. 

“I realized quickly; this was not your normal In Room Dining. The Star has three hotels with more than 600 rooms to operate, but we also did catering for up to 80 people and private events on our Superyacht, as well as special cocktail experiences and internal catering.”

But the fun was really only just starting for Sonja. Everything was about to change. In a word: Covid. 

Drastic changes brought a daunting career shift

Sonja shares that The Star made such an effort to support all its employees in every way possible. Not only financially, but they also tried to be as transparent and emotionally and mentally supportive as possible.

For Sonja, this support led to some new work experiences within the project team at The Star

becoming a project manager

“During the first lockdown I got to know our project team as we continued with some projects around the building, and I was very fascinated with the work they do and started to build my relationships.” 

Even after re-opening The Star, Sonja says she could not stop thinking about the work she did with the project team.

“I ended up having quite a few conversations with my then manager who very much encouraged me to investigate a project course. I’ve decided to go with a face-to-face TAFE diploma for Project Management.”

These conversations with her manager continued, until in October 2021, Sonja said she was ready to take on a new challenge and step into the Property Development space. 

The Star didn’t have a role available right then but was able to offer her a role within the Property Operations team – which she was happy to accept.

She was however aware that this was a male-dominated area, commonly thought to only be populated by grizzled tradies — traditionally not a space for women to wade into. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t always the case!)

Not surprisingly, Sonja was uncertain about a permanent shift away from her comfort zone in Food & Beverage. But in the end, she discovered she needn’t have worried. 

“The team has been nothing but amazing in supporting my journey, people constantly taking the time and explaining all details of the building. I have never learned more than in those 12 months.”

Did you know Star Entertainment has its own gender equality program?

Take a closer look at all their benefits and policies here.

In November 2022, the Property Development team had a role available which I applied for and that led me to my current role as Assistant Project Manager. 

As for the “male industry” stereotype, Sonja is happy to skewer that myth “I learn something new every day and I get just as much support from my current team as I have from all the previous teams I worked with,” says Sonja with her usual enthusiasm.

What it’s like being a project manager

Sonja’s role has her coordinating and developing projects at the facility with a focus on hitting project deadlines and budgets.

There’s a lot of moving parts Sonja needs to keep in check and “ensuring the expectations of internal and external stakeholders are met and balancing the financial aspect of those expectations to stay within budget” are some of Sonja’s most exciting daily challenges. 

It’s clearly this sort of non-stop activity that motivates Sonja. She tells us even her partner is in hospitality, and they can take their shared interests into their respective workplaces every day. 

becoming a project manager

“With our Food & Beverage backgrounds my partner and I enjoy going to different cafes, bars, and restaurants to find the newest trends or most unique spots.”

What it’s like working for The Star

Thinking back on her amazing journey, from Germany to management in one of the best food and beverage facilities in Australia, Sonja still has to pinch herself. 

She laughs when she recalls her first few days at The Star, “My very first thought was ‘what did I sign up for? I’m way over my head here!’ There was constant action, and every day was different to the last.”

But the constant that has kept her going, she says, is teamwork. 

“I feel very privileged because so far in my career I have had amazing mentors and I think you can always learn something from someone.”

She emphasizes the support from more senior male colleagues who have been central to her career trajectory, especially in her male-dominated workspace.  

“The biggest positive for me working within my team, is that no matter what there is always a solution and I never get the feeling of being on my own.”

Reflecting back on the journey so far

Sonja laughs a lot, and she smiles when she thinks back to her pre-Australian life, back home in Germany. 

“I would probably be asking myself ‘how did you do all of this in a foreign country?’ 

And I would probably reply with ‘well, I never gave up on my dreams and stayed determined to always try to find the positive in any situation.’ 

sonja the star

“I would tell my younger self, how surprised she would be at how much there is to discover and grow when you step out of your comfort zone.”

Sonja’s story is evidence that sometimes the most profound rewards come as the result of facing your fears and discomforts. Life for her, is a project in itself. 

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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