FitT Interview with Melissa Occhipinti

Melissa Occhipinti
 Executive General Manager, Paxus

Tell us about your current role

I’m the Executive General Manager of Paxus, one of Australia’s first and largest tech and digital specialist recruitment companies. I took over this role in August 2020, in the midst of COVID, in what I can only now describe, looking back, as the hardest time we’ve ever experienced in both the tech and recruitment industries. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to capitalise on this downtime to reassess our strategy and add some innovative service offerings, including differentiating our permanent recruitment services to support our SME and scale-up customers, to establishing our Talent Academy and merging our Talent Solutions team into the Paxus business, all of which will enable us to continue to meet the changing needs of our customers.

Day to day, I am responsible for overseeing our recruitment and account management teams across the country and for supporting and promoting strategic development and business growth. This includes sales strategy and leadership, financial management, culture and engagement, and quality management. I get to witness every day the tireless effort our teams go to around the country to support both our clients in achieving their strategic initiatives, as well as see the impact we have on the lives and livelihoods of the candidates when we assist in helping them secure their next contract or dream permanent job.

Alongside my position at Paxus, I’m a Representative Committee Director at APSCo Australia – the professional body for the white-collar recruitment sector in Australia, focusing on Government advocacy and maintaining an industry specific ethical code of conduct. I’m passionate about ensuring high levels of integrity and ethics are practiced by my teams and have a goal to contribute more broadly to the industry, being a champion of change and contributing to initiatives that will see APSCo continue as a staffing industry association of choice.

Tell us about your career journey

2021 marks my 20-year anniversary at Paxus, and my 22nd year in the ICT staffing industry. Like many of my peers, very few of us set out to develop a career in recruitment. As it turned out, I went for an interview for a HR role via a recruitment organisation after completing my Bachelor of Business majoring in HR and Business Management. Instead of sending me to their client, they offered me a role as an IT Recruitment Consultant to help build their Brisbane presence. I joined Paxus two years later and haven’t looked back since. I have held almost all the client facing roles available including Account Manager, Senior Account Director, QLD State Manager, Regional Director across QLD, WA and subsequent inclusion of New Zealand, to my current role of Executive General Manager.

I feel fortunate to have landed my career within the tech and digital industry as it’s constantly evolving, and we get to contribute to building teams who deliver meaningful outcomes to both the businesses they work for and the community at large. I have always lived by the mantra to come to work every day being the very best I could be, to push the boundaries and challenge myself, no matter which position I held. 

The industry has changed dramatically since 1999, and I am pleased that we are no longer hovering over the fax machine for client purchase orders to arrive in order to know if our candidates were being offered a job, or printing and racing down to our client’s offices to hand deliver resumes – I can tell you that many heels were lost to those cobbled Brisbane streets in the rush to ensure our candidate’s applications made it in before the 2pm deadline! The pace of the industry has certainly increased dramatically over this time and as such; my role now is to ensure that we continue to evolve to keep up with increasing client and candidate expectations. I can only see great things in the horizon as automation helps remove the administrative processes within the industry to allow our staff to spend more time where it counts: engaging with our candidates and clients.

In addition to leading and mentoring the next generation within the business environment, I have always been driven to use my skills, knowledge and experience to give back to the community. I’m an advocate for change and driver of new ideas, especially those around social initiatives for supporting women in ICT, women entrepreneurs, charities, and fostering recruitment as a profession in general.

What top tips would you give women pursuing a career in IT?

The advice I’d give women pursuing a career in IT is:

1) Be courageous, back yourself and be yourself. There’s no need to take on the persona and traits of men in the industry to get ahead. Be authentically you and no matter what, don’t wait to be given an opportunity for advancement. Women in the tech and digital industry are highly sort after with many organisations having a focus on ensuring their recruitment processes support their diversity and inclusion initiatives. If a role is of interest to you, put your hat in the ring, even if you only meet 50% of the requirements. I can assure you that your male counterparts certainly don’t wait until they meet 80-90% of the criteria before they apply.

2) Network! Make connections, attend industry events, keep abreast of recent news and join industry associations. You never know who may hold the key to your first or next step into your IT career.

3) If you’re keen to grow your career within your current organisation, and looking for the next promotion, start working in the job you want before it becomes available.  By that, I mean find someone who is currently working in that role to mentor you. Take on additional responsibilities and duties to show your readiness and interest to advance your career. When an opportunity then becomes available, you’ll be a step ahead of your peers.

4) Read, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers”, by Lois P Frankel. This book discusses the 101 behaviors that women learn in girlhood that sabotage them as adults and gives some great advice on how to eliminate the unconscious mistakes that could be holding you back. Side note: after reading this book, I stopped bringing home baked goods in to the office for my team to partake in….. I’m not sure they were that happy about this, but in all seriousness, the advice in the book is invaluable to helping you develop and get the promotion you deserve. 

If you had the chance to speak to your younger self, what would you tell her?

If I had the chance to speak to my younger self, I would tell her to find a leadership / emotional intelligence (EI) coach much earlier.  For anyone who is seeking to move into a leadership position, this is crucial, however, even in your day-to-day role, the ability to influence, bring people along the journey and to buy into your vision, EI is extremely important. Leading and inspiring a team to deliver to your extremely high expectations is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have. Developing your EI skills will help you navigate some of these challenges.