Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Mary Ita Heffernan from Health Service Executive to give some advice for people considering this job:

Mary Ita Heffernan

Social Worker

Health Service Executive

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Mary Ita Heffernan

Whilst in secondary school, I changed my mind many a time regarding the career path I wanted to pursue! I always knew that I wanted to work with people but was unsure about the profession which would most suit my interests and skills in this regard.

While in school, I definitely found that being unsure about the type or area of work you want to pursue is a very difficult and confusing position to be in, especially given the array of career choices now available and the pressure one feels in trying to make one’s mind up.

To this end, I would strongly advise anybody in this position to research courses and job descriptions well in order to make the most informed decision possible at that time in your life. 

I recommend one tries to gain as much work experience as possible as it will provide you with valuable insight into your skills, ability, likes/dislikes for certain areas of employment!!!!

Also I would research the courses and job areas as much as possible so that you can make an informed decision regarding your choices. If you can't gain enough information in school, contact the college directly or arrange to talk to somebody who facilitates the course. In particular, it would be really valuable to talk to somebody in the profession to gain a realistic and practical insight into the job.


Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be drawn towards the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.
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Careeer Stories: From Nutritional Sciences to Purchasing

Clíona Irish talks to Smart Futures about her experiences on the Abbott Ireland Professional Development Programme (PDP).

What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?

As part of the PDP programme, which is a two-year graduate programme, I am required to change position every six months. As a result, I must be flexible and able to adapt quickly to changes in my role. Good communication skills are also important as the change in job roles mean I am continuously meeting and working with new people!

I am currently working in the purchasing department and my main tasks include working with suppliers, negotiating better prices and assisting the various departments on site with purchasing tasks. I am also working on several projects that try to improve purchasing processes and procedures. I work closely with other Abbott sites in Ireland to determine what supply chain projects and ideas they have implemented and to see if these solutions would work at our manufacturing site.

Describe a typical day?

Every day I am in contact with various suppliers, evaluating how they can add value to our company in terms of the goods and services they supply us. I also attend meetings with other departments and work on purchasing related projects.

What are the things you like best about the job?

I like that the PDP programme gives me the opportunity to try a new job role every six months. Changing roles like this helps me understand what goes on in the different departments and I can use this to help me decide what area I want to work in long term.

I find working in the purchasing department is a very sociable role. I get to work with many different people, both Abbott employees and suppliers. As there is so much interaction with other people, every day is different. I love this part of the job because it keeps me motivated and prevents my daily tasks from becoming repetitive.

What are the main challenges?

I am not always dealing with people who are working in the site like I am, so it can be difficult to get in contact with them when required. This can result in tasks being delayed which can be quite frustrating, especially when deadlines are due.

Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

As part of my degree I had to complete a six month work placement between 3rd and 4th year. This gave me a great taste of the industry and I knew that when I was finished college I wanted to get back out into the working world to pursue an exciting graduate programme.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

On the whole my job does allow me to maintain the lifestyle I want. As with all jobs, it can be easy to get wrapped up in projects, especially when deadlines are due, and I have to keep a good work life balance in mind at all times. I am willing to put in the long hours when needed, but I make sure to make the most of my evenings and weekends when the work load is not as heavy. My role also gives me the opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally, which is great! I get to see parts of the country/world that I may not get to visit otherwise.

What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?

I studied biology, chemistry, German and business studies for my Leaving Cert. Biology and chemistry in particular were the most influential subjects that guided me to follow a career in science. My guidance counsellor was also very helpful when it came to selecting Leaving Cert subjects and CAO courses.

What is your education to date?

I attended secondary school in Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig and studied Nutritional Sciences in U.C.C. This was a four year degree which I have only recently graduated from.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

The work placement I completed as part of my degree was very beneficial as it highlighted aspects of working life that I really enjoyed, as well as those I didn’t really like. This was really helpful when I was looking into career paths for after college.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

The PDP programme is open to those who graduate with a science or engineering degree. It requires you to be flexible in terms of job role and location as you are expected to work in three different locations over the course of the two years. These locations are not limited to Ireland and six months abroad is also an option. You must be motivated and willing to work hard to gain as much experience and benefit as you can as each rotation/role only lasts six months.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

As this graduate programme involves rotating through different job roles any work experience you have will be relevant over the course of the programme. Each role typically requires the completion of a large project or a number of smaller projects and therefore any experience in project work is beneficial.

Article by: Smart Futures