Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Premier awards keep on giving

The awards process enhances entrants' understanding of their career progress and strengths. Photo / Getty Images
The awards process enhances entrants' understanding of their career progress and strengths. Photo / Getty Images

So you want to be Young Horticulturalist of the Year, Fitness Mentor of the Year, or Emerging Professional (Insurance) Broker of the Year?

Awards can help careers in all sorts of industries. Just look at Mark Nicholas, who won the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards' Dairy Trainee of the Year in 2009. The award helped ease Nicholas and his wife Cathy into his first sharemilking contract, which was a step up from his previous role as assistant manager on a 140ha farm at Matata, Whakatane.

Erica Guy, communications adviser for the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards, says the profile and networking opportunities that come from winning an award are really important in the industry.

"Dairy farming it is about leveraging off the bankers to buy the herd," says Guy. "One of the big things is having a reputation to gain credibility."

Nicholas' ultimate goal is to own his own farm. "The win resulted in a 288-cow, 95ha, 50:50 sharemilking position in Tokoroa which we are in our third year of now," he says.

"We intend to double our cow numbers in the next year, ideally staying in the South Waikato region, to enable us to get to the ultimate goal of farm ownership. This vision has been helped along by the Dairy Industry Awards process ... We learnt more about our business in the preparation for the event than we ever thought we would. And to top it off, three judges give you positive advice [on] how your business can improve."

Entering awards helps people understand their value proposition in the workplace. Invariably, it's necessary to complete an application form, perhaps include a presentation, and to be interviewed. This all helps identify core strengths and competitive advantages.

What's more, attending the awards ceremony can be thrilling. It's also great PR for someone who wants to be noticed in an industry.

The money that comes with awards can sometimes be very important. The AMP Do Your Thing awards, for example, come with significant cash prizes, which have helped launch many a talented young person into a career. The awards have been running since 1998 and more than 112 Kiwis have gained scholarships.

Film-maker Reina Webster set herself a Herculean task when she turned 29 - to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Webster won an AMP Premium Scholarship worth $30,000, which was the first large sum of money she was awarded towards her four-year course of study.

"Essentially, what that scholarship did was give me confidence and choices," says Webster.

She is currently working on the Fair Go television programme and writing two feature films, which she hopes to complete this summer. She was the first New Zealander to study the Film Production Masters programme at the prestigious Tisch School, which lists Spike Lee, Martin Scorcese, Oliver Stone and Billy Crystal among its graduates.

Even if there is no cash involved, having an award under your belt can help fast-track you up the salary scale. "Winning awards enhances your CV," says Jane Walker, director at H2R consulting. "You can add it to your marketing collateral as an individual." Still, not all awards are created equal. The awards Walker rates the highest are industry awards which are judged by peers. Walker is not as convinced that sponsored awards are as useful. "If this is a localised award [for example], it may not be statistically valid."

One young person who benefited from winning New Zealand Young Engineer of the Year in 2007 was Tyrone Newson, who is now an associate director at Beca.

"Entering the awards provided a great opportunity to benchmark my career to date and assess my performance and contribution to the engineering profession," says Newson.

"[It] gave me the confidence boost to pursue my dream of taking on big engineering projects overseas and being benchmarked on an international level."

He subsequently transferred to Beca's Dubai office to project-manage the construction of high-rise developments and started an executive MBA programme. A bonus for Newson was that he was able to highlight his passion for the promotion of Maori and Pacific participation in the industry.

Tips for award entrants include:

* Know how the award works. Will it be a panel of judges?

* Do your research. Look at who won in previous years and why.

* Don't give up at the first hurdle.

* Stick to the brief and keep your entry simple.

* Write a great submission. If you can't write well, get someone to help you.

* Hone your story and your unique selling point and make a list of bullet points that outline why you should win.

* Use your face-to-face time with the judges efficiently.

Another way to promote your career through awards is to judge them or be an award event organiser.

- NZ Herald

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