Why saying yes to the small things matters:
Q-and-A with alum Sarah Gundlach

By Tessa Shaw

Without a clear career plan in mind, Sarah Gundlach (BCom 2011; BCom Hons 2012; MCom Marketing 2013) has succeeded in pushing boundaries and unlocking new achievements. Here she shares her thoughts on responding to change, keeping an open approach and understanding yourself, especially in times of uncertainty.

Sarah is part of a group of Public Relations (PR) and Communications professionals at Character + Distinction.  “We work with some of the best tech businesses in Australia, and consequently, with some of the most inspiring leaders,” she reveals. “As a consultant, you get the benefits of being involved with both strategy and execution – it’s never boring, and when you throw client variety into the mix, you’ll see why two days are never the same!”

Sarah credits her personal and professional growths to getting out and about, which encourages learning and creates opportunities to meet people with similar interests and values. “What you might think is a new hobby could turn into a career, or a friend with shared interests could introduce you to their colleagues who are looking for someone just like you,” she explains.

We find out why Sarah does what she does, and why she’s so good at it.

Sarah Gundlach
BCom and MCom graduate, Sarah Gundlach
Why did you choose to work in Marketing and Communications?

I love consulting because it offers great variety and lots of opportunity for creativity. Every day, we’re thinking about new ideas to bring to our clients, how best to build traction, increase credibility, or better communicate on their behalf. Our work spans PR, Brand, Communications, Marketing and Product Management, involving everything from product launches, brand partnerships and events with media and influencers to working directly with CEOs and senior executives on business strategy and positioning, key speeches, and thought leadership content.

What I love about marketing in particular is that it’s a blend of both art and science. It’s about understanding or predicting consumer behaviour and then working out how to best articulate what is remarkable, newsworthy or relevant about your brand, product or story. At its core, it’s about understanding and building relationships with people.

My clients vary in size from start-ups and scaleups to ASX-listed and international organisations. Because they are predominantly in the fields of business and finance, I often think back to the foundational learnings from my Commerce studies at university. (Who knew finance subjects would come in handy for a Marketing and Languages major?!)

What are some of the principles you espouse to succeed in an ever-evolving industry?

People matter the most. This is a critical fact about the world of work. Having strong emotional intelligence and building strong relationships will help you produce great outcomes. It’s the people you work with, not the brand name or the job title that will have the most influence on your happiness and success at work. When you work with great people, everything falls into place. You have opportunities to learn from them, they encourage you to bring your full self to work, and you find your own way to contribute and succeed.

Secondly, always be open to learning. Marketing never gets boring because the environment is constantly evolving. People’s attitudes change, the market evolves and so too must your response. If you want to succeed in marketing or communications, you need to keep your eyes open to these changes and keep pace.

For me, this means understanding how the field is developing and how new technologies are shaping the industry, but also looking further beyond that. Great communicators bring different perspectives and life experiences to their work. Reading widely, engaging with pop culture, travelling (when possible!), exposing yourself to new perspectives and cultural phenomena will all help you to make better value judgements on behalf of your brand or clients.

Sarah Gundlach hiking
Sarah hiking in the Dolomites, Italy
Have you always had a career plan in mind, or do you make a plan when opportunities arise?

At Uni, I purposefully kept my studies broad as I loved the variety and wanted to keep my career options open. I studied everything from Marketing and Management, to Media & Communications, French, Spanish, Cultural Studies and Literature. It took me a while to realise the commonalities of the subjects and how I could adapt them to a career path or particular roles.

I still don’t have a clearly defined career plan, and I think that’s okay. None of my jobs started out with a plan. One started with a research project that turned into an internship, which grew into a paid role that was created for me. In another role, I went for one job, they had someone else in mind, but we were a good fit so they offered me another role before it had been advertised that suited me even better.

It doesn’t have to be scary if you don’t yet know exactly what you want to do or be. Especially when you’re in the early stages of your career, keeping an open approach, looking for either an industry, or an organisation or a team you’d really love to be part of can be a great starting point.

Be curious and be open. You don’t always have to have a clear roadmap to follow, just start by saying yes to small things.

With an evolving career path – rather than one that’s all laid out in advance – you can really explore what makes you happy, what fires you up creatively or what you find rewarding about work and where you excel, and build on that incrementally. With each role, you get closer to understanding where your skills and strengths lie, or even where there are gaps or areas you’d like to challenge yourself next.

You’re a strong believer in mentoring. Can you tell us more?

It’s so important to have mentors – and they don’t necessarily have to be formal relationships or senior to you. Many of my best role models have been peers and former colleagues whom I now count as friends today.

I’m fortunate to have worked with many incredibly talented, fun and generous people over the years. There’s nothing better than when you really click with colleagues, and you can collaborate and engage creatively and intellectually. When you find your ‘people’, it gives you an added level of confidence, because you can look out for each other, encourage one another and find opportunities to celebrate and put each other forward.

It’s also great to have someone you can count on in the work environment to have a laugh with, and someone who’ll give you a reality check when you need it.

As one of my amazing mentors often reminds me, “It’s not rocket science; don’t overthink it.”