Caroline Neame: forging a path from PA to Senior Investigator
Kōtaha: wāhine toa
Caroline is a Senior Investigator in the Censorship Unit at the Department of Internal Affairs and has enjoyed a varied and successful career in the private and public sectors.
Her role involves ensuring New Zealanders are kept safe from objectionable material in print, film and online. She also helps to catch the people that create, acquire, sell and distribute these materials. In September 2019, we had a kōrero with Caroline about her career path and the things that have influenced her journey.
Where did your career begin?
I wasn’t sure about university, so started as a receptionist in a small irrigation firm in Miramar in 1995. Looking to further my skills, I got a small loan from my Dad and took a personal administration course. This led to a new role as a secretary at a locksmith wholesaler until I joined the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in 1999 as a secretary in the Local Government Policy group.
I really wanted to be a personal assistant but the policy group at the time didn't have a position for me, so I undertook a brief stint at Radio New Zealand as the PA to the News Chief. Soon, I was back at DIA as the Executive Assistant to the General Manager Policy. While in that role I took secondment opportunities to get work experience in other areas. One secondment was as an Information Analyst in the Censorship Unit, an area of work that I developed a keen interest in and which used the skills I had gained from a previous secondment in IT.
When the permanent role was advertised, I successfully applied and was appointed as an Investigator. In 2016, I completed the exams needed to become a Senior Investigator.
What has been your career highlight so far?
In 2011 I was selected as the Australasian representative for a five-week residential course in the United States. This was truly a real privilege and highlight. The course was with the Violent Crimes Against Children International Taskforce led by the FBI, with 10 attendees from different countries. I'm currently one of four New Zealand representatives and the only woman.
How do you balance work and life?
I know the importance of taking breaks and appreciate DIA’s working policies that enable me to work flexibly. I believe it’s important to take time out to look after yourself, particularly given the challenging nature of the role.
Who have been the important people on your career journey?
My Dad has been a valuable sounding board and has always supported my decisions, and an overseas-based uncle has always encouraged me to travel. My current managers and former managers have also contributed enormously by sharing their knowledge, providing peer support, and encouragement. And I've had the privilege of three very strong female bosses whose guidance has helped me along the way.
“It’s important to take time out to look after yourself, particularly given the challenging nature of the role.”
What advice can you offer to others?
I would advise people to look out for opportunities, particularly secondments. They are a fantastic way to find out more about an agency and to potentially take a stretch assignment (a specific task taken on to develop experience and/or expertise outside a person's comfort zone or regular routine).
I also think it's important never to define yourself by your job and to avoid giving in to self-limiting talk and beliefs. I think it can be valuable to try jobs in different sectors which can help to broaden skills, outlook and connections. I recommend setting goals, achieving them, and then asking yourself, what can I do next? It's essential that we keep learning.
Having said that, I know that some people may have a greater focus on home versus work, so it’s important to figure out what your personal priorities are and review these whenever circumstances change.
What’s next in your career?
I can't say I have a career ‘master plan’ – I may pursue studies in IT Security in the future. For now, though, I'll continue to work on building my reputation and credibility in this specialist area.