Admit it, we’ve all been there—stalking social media and LinkedIn profiles, trying desperately to figure out how the hell someone got their dream job.
It seems impossible and yet there they are, living out your career fantasy (minus the itchy business suit). It might seem hard to believe, but once upon a time, they were also fantasising about their future career, and with some hard work, they made it.
Welcome to How I Got Here, HerCanberra’s series that reveals everything you wanted to know about the secrets of career success. This week we meet economist Cherelle Murphy.
Existential crisis time: Who are you and what do you do?
I am the Chief Economist of EY (previously Ernst & Young) in Oceania and my job requires me to cover the economies of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. I am also Deputy Chair of the Australian Business Economists. I am mum to 13-year-old twins, Abigail and Alexander. My partner lives in Sydney and very occasionally the 300km, two jobs, four kids and dog are not enough of a barrier to prevent us enjoying dinner together.
I am an enthusiastic morning exerciser, but unfortunately also an enthusiastic cook and wine drinker! When I have free time, you’ll find me with a paint brush in my hand, sprucing up my mid-century Canberra home.
Let’s go back to when you were a kid, have you always dreamed of working in this industry?
No. From about the age of 6, I was going to be an architect! I drew everything, and constantly. I even enrolled and completed a year of architecture at the University of Western Australia and got pretty reasonable results.
But I was also interested in the economy around me and good policy. That was triggered by my migration to Australia in 1989. It was mid-recession and things were not great. It was not the life that mum and dad had imagined we would enjoy on our arrival from Scotland. The job offers did not flow for my dad.
But when things turned around a couple of years later, I got curious as to why jobs were sometimes abundant and sometimes rare. By year 11 economics I realised I was observing the business cycle. I also realised good policy could give everyday people a good life. A strong economy could give people dignity and a sense of accomplishment.
So, after my first year of study, jaded by the long hours of architecture studio torture and feeling like an inadequate fine artist, I changed university and changed course. Commerce, with a major in economics and commercial law, it was to be.
Tell us about when you were first starting out, what set a fire in your belly to get here and how did you do it?
I was fired up by the opportunity to be one of the policy makers; one of people who could build the framework that would make the world a better place. Idealistic, and without a hint of irony at age 22.
When I graduated, I wasn’t interested in working anywhere other than Treasury or the Reserve Bank, and my honours supervisor pushed me hard in that direction. I got offers to work at both but chose the Reserve Bank because it was in Sydney (and as a Perth teen I was keen to hit the big smoke). I was also awarded a Reserve Bank cadetship, which was my definition of hitting the jackpot at the time. I was paid a small salary to complete my honours year at university after completing a summer research project at the Bank – which meant I could give up my Saturday job.
Recall a time when you wanted to chuck it all in; what did you tell yourself when it got too hard?
I can be very hard on myself, sometimes feeling inadequate, and my role can be very challenging. In any one day, people might look to me to be an expert in everything from the Australian labour market to Middle East politics to the NSW Budget. When it all feels “too hard” I don’t tell myself anything in particular to break that negative mindset, I just “do”. I read more, analyse extra data and dig deeper. Action is the antidote to anxiety – and it works every time for me. I am also a determined person. Once I have my mind on a goal, I do not give up.
What was your biggest break?
Being chosen as the Austrade Chief Economist, although I knew it was only for a year. It elevated me into a leadership role which was a big step forward. I was probably ready for that a few years before I got there, but being the mum to primary school aged twins, I wanted to keep working part-time while my children were little, and that was the right choice for me.
The Austrade role was incredibly interesting, particularly because of the tourism aspect. We were trying to keep the tourism sector alive during the pandemic lockdowns – no easy task. I learned a lot in that year, including how lead a big team in an environment that was very fast moving, absent of BAU.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself. So many people have given me that advice, but I didn’t really hear it until I was in my 40s. What it means, for me and for anyone, is that your employer chose you out of many others not just because of what is on your CV, but for every experience that makes you who you are. My ability to make strangers in a corporate boardroom feel comfortable, explain economic concepts to non-economists and keep my cool during live media interviews are important to my employer. I didn’t learn to do these things by sitting behind a desk for hours. They came from having supportive parents, surviving the frustrations of newborn twins, moving cities several times, and deliberately talking myself out of my comfort zone. They are my set of experiences, and I am (now) proud of how they have shaped me.
What is it about your industry that you love and what makes you want to pull your hair out?
I love the scale of my industry. We macroeconomists – whether in business, academia or policy – are concerned with the whole world. We need to know how one change translates to another to another to another. Few things happen that are not somehow relevant to a macroeconomist: a war in Israel and Gaza, a Taylor Swift concert tour, a collapsing construction company – they all tell us something about the economy. We are the ultimate sticky beaks, our noses are in everything!
What frustrates me is that young people don’t seem to want to be economists. Enrolments in high school economics are falling – and the enrolments are much worse for girls, and those from low-income communities and outside cities. This is a huge problem because economics needs the cognitive expanse that comes with a diverse group of professionals. Being an economist is a fun and important job, and I hope your readers with children in high school, or those who may be high school students themselves, consider it. I am personally willing to sit down for an explanatory coffee to peddle this profession with anyone who is interested. Email me!
Tell us how you ‘stay in the know’, what media do you consume?
I listen to The Squiz, Fear & Greed, and the ANZ and NAB podcasts at the gym most mornings. I rotate through The Australian, AFR and SMH day to day, but if I am flying in the morning, I read a bit more. I scan EY’s morning media clips and often one or two of the morning notes from the banks. I listen to AM if I get time (but as a mum, this often does not go to plan!). Weekend is usually a bit of The Economist and a scan of The Australian, AFR and SMH. And finally, whatever my media adviser tells me to read…she has eyes where I don’t, and never misses anything important!
Fantasy me reads the WSJ, Financial Times and New York times too!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
That is around the time my children will graduate high school, so I am hoping “slightly better off” as the school fees disappear! I will still be in my “executive” career phase, learning and contributing, but this will be around the time I would like to start transitioning to mentoring, strategy or advisory roles. My partner and I also plan not to be travelling 300km for a dinner date – I’m working on getting him to Canberra!
Why should people follow in your footsteps?
Because at every dinner party you will have a toolbox in your head that will help you reason through, broaden and better specify your arguments. You will understand more about how the world works than most around the table, and after dessert you will have many more dinner party invitations.
What advice would you give your past self?
Stop thinking you are not good enough, you numpty. You are!