Career Transition With Jessica Andrew

Residential Property Valuer, National Australia Bank

Jessica Andrew PMAPI is an alumna from the Ballet Academy - the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich who holds a Bachelor of Business (Property and Real Estate) from Deakin University - Melbourne. She is currently employed with National Australia Bank as a Residential Valuer conducting valuations for mortgage security purposes.

We asked Jessica to reflect upon her career transition.

At what age did you leave home for professional ballet training? Had you completed high school education?

Jessica Andrews: I left Perth, WA for Munich at the age of 16. Upon arriving in Munich I was stocked with all the required readings/DVDs to keep chipping away at the distance education framework for grade 12, however that was all put on the back burner when I realized how intense the ballet training would be. From about my second week, I don’t think those textbooks were ever reopened.

You had a tentative offer from the Bavarian State Ballet upon graduation, can you share more about that offer?

Jessica: Approaching graduation from the school, we performed a series of pieces in what was an end of year performance at the Bavarian State Ballet. I was notified post-performance that the artistic director was interested in offering me a contract, however, he needed to see me in some sort of modern/contemporary class. I waited and waited (and upped my game for the next few weeks in those classes) however never heard back from him despite multiple attempts to make contact. By this stage, it was a few days from me leaving Munich and heading back home to Australia at the request of my parents. I had done 4 major auditions prior to this (with no luck) and had ultimately decided that unless I received an offer from a major EU company, I’d prefer to return back to Australia with the hopes of securing something on home soil.

After auditioning back home, what led you to decide to stop dancing for good?

Jessica: Having done two auditions (after what was probably too long of a break), I received a partial contract at the company in Brisbane, though declined probably due to the fact that I was being unrealistic in what I was expecting. That, combined with the then global financial crisis, I decided to stop dancing altogether. There was a lot of uncertainty in the market which restricted business growth and likely had a flow-on effect with ballet companies not overextending themselves an offering too many contracts. At the time it didn’t feel as if I was really giving up. I was living for the moment and was really just looking forward to ‘living a normal life’. In the back of my mind, I think I was expecting to go back to ballet after a bit of a break, though this never happened.

Did you have any idea what you wanted to do post-ballet?

Jessica: When I had stopped dancing, I knew that it would be somewhat of a struggle for me to get into university; however, I was young and had both the time and encouragement (strong encouragement) from my parents to follow this path. In my mind, studying something somewhat related to ballet, felt as if I hadn’t given up completely. This is what pushed me to enroll in Biomedical Science (with the intention of doing a Masters in Physiotherapy and working with dancers later down the track). After about a year of this, I realized I actually had no interest in the field whatsoever and saw that enrolling in this degree was purely a stepping-stone to firstly, narrow my options down to what I am interested in, and secondly slowly disengage from the ballet world. I did, however, meet my husband who was studying medicine at the time, so not a complete waste of time?

Unlike most dancers, you were one of the fortunate ones to have graduated with a degree from a professional ballet school, did you find that this qualification helped bridge your education gap?

Jessica: Not at all. Although I knew that the German Diplom (equivalent to a Bachelor's degree) awarded to me would hold some weight, the idea of translating a foreign document and convincing the enrollment department that my qualification within the music and arts sector was valuable in my application for BioMed seemed ridiculous. I didn’t bother using this when applying and instead took the long road of doing bridging courses prior to sitting the undergraduate entry exam, which in the end served me well. It had been too many years between studying basic maths and science etc. for me to excel in my enrolled degree—so personally, it was a good move.

During your time at university, you took some time off and switched degrees—from Biomedical Science to Business - Majoring in Property. Can you explain your decision to switch and to such a male-dominated field?

Jessica: After realizing my lack of interest in Biomed/Physiotherapy, I took a few months off to really focus my energy on finding something I was interested in. It was a matter of taking note of where my mind would wander when I had downtime. I soon found that interest to lie in the property field. The thought of working every weekend, managing tenants or being a salesperson put me off being a real estate agent very quickly. This is when I enrolled in the property degree, with the end goal of being a property valuer. In terms of valuation being a male-dominated field, this has started to change. Yes, 15 years ago this was the case (and still is with some smaller, private valuation firms), however working with such a large company (such as National Australia Bank), there has been a notable shift toward the male/female balance. Having said this, I still get a few strange/confused looks when arriving at construction sites to conduct inspections.

As a recently qualified property valuer for the National Australia Bank, did you ever see this path for yourself?

Jessica: No, certainly not. Property valuation is such a niche, specified field. I can’t imagine too many young girls dreaming of becoming valuers, especially when the original ‘dream’ was to become a ballerina. Having said this, I’m very happy where I am today. I have the luxury of working from home, with flexible hours and am able to maintain a good work/life balance.

What advice do you have for dancers who are thinking about career transition or about to start on the journey?

Jessica: I’ve never really been a good one for advice, especially as I don’t consider myself a dancer who was completely engrossed or 100% committed to the ballet field. Ballet for me was one of those things that I was somewhat good at and just kept going/got swept up with—I believe this is what made my career transition a little easier. Knowing how small and all-consuming the ballet world can be, I really feel for those dancers who are forced to leave such a familiar space for reasons outside of their own control. Knowing that no matter how well prepared you are for the next chapter, the road will be bumpy and emotionally consuming. However, it will be well worth it in the long run. It’s not until you are well and truly removed from the industry, that you can see how much of a bubble it can be.