Case study

General manager — Rachel Sené

Find out how Rachel used research, volunteering and networking to help discover her career interests

How did you get your job?

Throughout university I'd been involved in lots of volunteering so I had a vague notion of wanting to work with charities in some capacity.

Having spent some time in the Middle East I thought I would enjoy living and working abroad. After spending a year working as an information assistant at the Oxford University Careers Service, I applied to do a volunteer placement as a program advisor with a small Cambodian non-governmental organisation (NGO), Youth Star Cambodia.

The placement really boosted my employability as I was given a lot of responsibility and gained huge amounts of experience through my role. I then felt able to apply for paid work at a manager level and found out about my current position of general manager at Amrita Performing Arts in Cambodia, through a friend.

I've never felt that the effort I put into each project is pointless, or that I'm just a cog in a machine

How relevant is your degree to your job?

The communication and critical thinking skills I learned through my degree are useful, however I'd say what is more relevant is the experience I've gained through work and volunteering.

What are your main work activities?

As our work is very project based, it's very hard to describe a typical day as it depends on what project we're working towards.

We have a small team, so I often take on communications, marketing, project management and finance responsibilities as necessary.

For example, we have been working as line producer for a group of directors who are looking into staging a Cambodian-inspired version of The Magic Flute, at the temples in Siem Reap in 2017. Our role was to organize the auditions process, so I oversaw the auditions of over 70 Cambodian artists, musicians and singers.

During this time a typical day would involve me getting up at 6.30am to help set up the stage, liaising with the artists and stage management team on final logistics (e.g. moving an electric keyboard across Phnom Penh using a tuk-tuk), meeting with our project officers to discuss plans for the next few days and then reviewing our expenses in the afternoon to ensure we weren't going to go over budget.

When we don't have a specific project like this going on, my day-to-day work will normally involve meetings with the senior management team, discussing and creating strategies for projects, fundraising and communications, having supervision with staff members or working on on-going organizational development, such as editing and updating our employee manual or planning staff-training days.

How has your role developed and what are your ambitions?

When I first started I needed a lot of supervision from my executive director as I'd never worked in arts management in a professional capacity before. Now, having been in my role for six months, I feel more confident and need less supervision.

My director sometimes needs to be abroad for weeks at a time but I'm now more comfortable in managing general operations in his absence (give or take the occasional reassuring Skype call.)

I love working in this sector and have really seen the importance of cultural preservation in development.

I hope to eventually do a Masters in arts management and then continue working for a performing or visual arts NGO, either in the UK or internationally.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I adore my job for so many reasons. Every day is different and I've had so many opportunities to meet interesting and inspiring people from all over the world.

I love working in a small team, you become very close, especially after weeks of working all hours of the day towards a performance.

The job is extremely satisfying and although it can be stressful, I've never felt that the effort I put into each project is pointless, or that I'm just a cog in a machine.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The hours can be very erratic and it's often necessary to work late evenings and weekends.

It can be challenging to sustain momentum towards the end of a particularly labour-intensive project, but we try to encourage each other to take time off once a project has finished.

Also, as with most NGOs, sourcing sufficient funding and resources is an on-going challenge. Working in Cambodia can mean very country-specific challenges such as power cuts and flooding.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

I would say don't compare yourself to any of your peers. It's very easy to think that the only way to succeed after university is to go straight into a graduate scheme and to feel like you're 'failing' if you don't fall into the same pay-bracket as your peers.

Take time to research what it is you're interested in, volunteer wherever you can and take any and all opportunities for professional development, even if they're out of your comfort zone.

And network. I've learnt that the most interesting opportunities come from speaking with the most interesting people. If someone's career inspires you, make sure you let them know. I'm always surprised at how generous people can be with their time and contacts.