Principal for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) - New York
- Bachelor of Communications with Honours
- Public Relations
Studying communications doesn’t mean you’re confined to a career in corporate.
That’s the word from Briar Thompson, a University of Waikato Bachelor of Communications graduate whose career has included stints reviewing the environmental impact assessment legislation and process for the Kingdom of Tonga, and analysing food security options for a country in the Middle East.
Now, as Principal for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in New York, Briar’s work focuses on public sector and social impact projects, particularly in education. BCG specialises in strategy development, working with global organisations and leaders to effect change, and has 21,000 employees across 50 countries.
Briar says her varied career journey was helped immensely by the foundation she built studying at the University of Waikato.
“The communications degree did a great job building on both understanding the communications industry, and the skills needed to be successful. By graduation, I felt well prepared to use what I had learned.”
Briar made the most of studying at Waikato, joining several clubs and student associations, including MCSA, WMMSA, and Te Ranga Ngaku Māori Management Student Network, and volunteered at different events, as a Māori mentor and with Refugee Services to help families settle in New Zealand.
“Having a range of experiences – whether a job outside your studies, a leadership role in a student organisation, or involvement in the community – is so helpful for applying for jobs, as employers look for multiple proof points of your motivation, skills and ability to adapt and succeed in different environments,” she says.
Most importantly, Briar says, she developed good relationships with her lecturers. “I valued the relationships I had with my lecturers, who challenged and inspired me, and who took an interest in what I wanted to do next and supported me to get there.”
From Whangarei to Waikato and beyond
As a bright young high school leaver from Whangarei Girls’ High School, where she was Dux, Briar had vague ideas of what she wanted career-wise. Her high school kaumatua had issued a challenge to students to strive for strong academic performance as a pathway to opportunity, and Briar, of Ngāpuhi descent, took it to heart.
“I thought, that’s something I can do. I had aspirations before coming to university, and they were shifted and refined during my studies. Several of my lecturers were instrumental in challenging me to consider different paths, and to get deeper into areas I had growing interest in.”
It became clear to Briar during her studies that the public sector and social causes were where her interests lay. After completing her undergraduate degree in communications, PR, and Spanish, she wrote an honours dissertation on the challenges of visually representing poverty, focusing on the role of communication managers in international NGOs.
“The interviews I completed as research for the dissertation gave me a fascinating insight into what those career paths were like.”
In 2012 Briar received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in the UK. There, she completed a one-year Master of Science in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, followed by a one-year Master of Public Policy.
She then worked in Tonga as a consultant at the Ministry of Environment and Communications. Soon after that, New York came calling, and she joined BCG as a consultant, leading strategy projects for education and public sector clients.
Advice for students
Now Principal at BCG, Briar also serves as the New York Recruiting Director for advanced degree candidates. When hiring for new roles, she says she looks for graduates who are motivated, adaptable, and resilient.
“I also look for people who are able to build rapport quickly and collaborate well with others, and who communicate confidently and clearly,” she says.
And if you’re in the midst of agonising group work at uni, Briar says it’s worth it in the end.
“I remember sometimes being frustrated with group projects during my studies, but working life is – at least in my line of work - a series of big group projects! It is really worth putting in the effort and building those skills through your studies and extra-curricular activities, so you have clear examples to draw on in job interviews, and to make a strong start in your new job.”