Graduate Sinead Cunningham chats to Accenture’s Human Sciences Studio director Jess Majekodunmi in the first of our three part series ‘Meet the Mentor’, which takes a closer look at the myriad career paths within the organisation
As little kids, most of us decided we’d make a good nurse, firefighter or teacher. Director of the Human Sciences Studio at Accenture probably wasn’t on the list. Jess Majekodunmi – who grew up to do just that job – acknowledges that it “didn’t even exist” when she was a child.
But then Majekodunmi never had a defined career path in mind – having flitted briefly with the idea of criminal psychology, she also loved writing, so studied English in university and considered journalism as an option. Instead, she had a fulfilling career in the nonprofit sector before swerving into innovation.
She freely admits her career path has not been linear – rather, it was something of a “zigzag” and “full of surprises”, but acknowledges that, with hindsight, there was something of a method to this madness. “It’s only looking back that I can now see where all the parts fit together. But it still feels like a surprise to find myself in a corporate environment, I didn’t see myself ending up here.”
Majekodunmi’s bachelor degree was in English Studies in Trinity College Dublin and she began working for the Special Olympics immediately after graduation, having volunteered for the organisation during their World Games which were held in Dublin in 2003. “They had roles open in the fundraising department so that’s how I started my path in the nonprofit world. It never occurred to me to do a masters degree at the time, I just wanted to start working but I went back later to do one and that was probably a tougher route.”
Travel was also high on her priority list – two years spent backpacking around South America between 2008 and 2010 meant a break from working life, while a two-year stint in Africa later followed, as she took a role with Girl Effect Ethiopia in 2015. During this time, Majekudonmi and her husband travelled extensively around East Africa. “You learn a lot about yourself when you travel, how you handle different situations. It also gives you a massive appreciation for different cultures,” she says.
Yet the master’s degree she eventually studied for – design history in NCAD – meant she obtained a qualification in something that truly fascinated her. “I studied it because I was interested in it, not because I thought it would be good for my career but it turned out that it was good for my career,” she laughs. “The course covered design history and material culture – which someone described to me as ideas about objects and objects about ideas. I am obsessed with design and everyday objects.”
The zigzag route had taken her to Accenture at this point, where she started as an innovation designer and quickly progressed to an innovation lead role. Now, as director of the Human Sciences Studio, she gets to use all of her expertise and experience in tackling the myriad human and societal challenges impacting the business ambitions of Accenture’s global clients.
“I think I have the best job in Accenture – I would like to think and talk and research and figure out solutions to those even if I wasn’t paid to,” she says. “I work with an incredible team who provoke my mind in so many different ways, they have skills I don’t have, they come from academic backgrounds or disciplines that are very different to my own, they challenge how I think and how I approach ways of working with clients. So, every day is a challenge in a really good way.”
A typical day for Majekodunmi might involve facilitating a workshop or meetings with researchers. While there can be “a lot of emails”, all days involve “talking and listening and figuring things out with people. I always work in collaboration, I am very rarely doing solo work.” She is therefore thrilled to be back in the office post-pandemic, and listens to a podcast (design podcast 99% Invisible and Freakonomics are her favourites) on her 45-minute walk to The Dock, which is Accenture’s flagship global R&D centre. “I like the buzz of the office and just being around people, and I also like to make that distinction between home and work.”
According to Majekodunmi, her non-linear career path continued its surprising trajectory even within Accenture, where she feels has had “two different careers”. “There are a whole range of different moves you can make within Accenture because it is so large for one, but also because there are so many different areas and industries you can work in. I was surprised that those opportunities were available but also that we were supported and encouraged and made available to make those moves.”
She recalls a “great piece of advice” offered by a coach back when she first started working at the organisation. “They told me to ‘stop asking for permission’ because I would hesitate or maybe ask permission to ask a question. I still need to get approvals, of course! But now I don’t hesitate to do something or make a change.”
Yet Majekodunmi admits to “chronic imposter syndrome”, although she points out that its actual title is “imposter phenomenon”, making it less of a condition and more of a normal occurrence. “It’s that horrible feeling of you are not meant to be in the room or you haven’t heard your voice. I just get on with it but it can be exhausting.”
It hasn’t stopped her from climbing the ranks in Accenture and winning the Team Leader award last year. For those starting out on their career path, she advises they should be “memorable”. “Just trust in your skills and your CV and the one thing you need to do is make sure the interview panel remembers you. Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear – show us who you are.”
Sinead Cunningham was one of the first successful candidates for the highly-competitive two-year Talent Accelerator Programme (TAP) in Accenture in the autumn of 2021. She graduated from Dublin City University that year, having first completed an undergraduate degree in health and society, followed by a master’s degree in human resource management.
TAP is a unique rotational programme for human resources graduates, with successful candidates getting a flavour of several different projects and teams within Accenture.
“HR is so varied, there are so many different roles within it but I wanted to go for the TAP because of the variety, it was by far the most diverse of any of the graduate programmes I had seen advertised. Accenture is so vast and the chance to try out different teams and to potentially go abroad was so attractive to me,” Cunningham explained.
Having worked on a consulting project for the first four months, Cunningham then worked on two separate HR projects. She is currently working in marketing as part of this four-month rotation, and the next step is a four-month international placement in one of Accenture’s global locations.
Mentors for TAP are available to each candidate and Cunningham says she often linked in with them as they provided invaluable support and advice. “My line managers have also been great and they have also been really supportive of me doing external study, as I am studying for a diploma too.”
When the programme concludes, she will apply for the role that she feels best suits her personal strengths and skills.
“So far I am loving marketing, so I might even go for a role in that. I certainly don’t feel stuck in HR, but I also know I could always come back to it. There is so much opportunity within Accenture that you can start in one place and end up in another. You can pave your own way in Accenture.”