Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Gillian Bell, HR consultant, Handle 01/10/2012
Career interview by Gillian Bell, HR consultant, Handle.
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Brief CV history
List your last four jobs:
- HR director, The Sanctuary Group PLC, 1999-2005
- HR manager, EMI Records UK & Ireland, 1996-1999
- HR advisor, J Sainsbury PLC, 1994-1996
- IT analyst Pprogrammer, J Sainsbury PLC 1990-1994
Q & A interview questions
Q. When you were a kid, what was your career dream?
A. Oh, I had huge ambitions to be a hairdresser – in an 80’s glitzy salon with Heaven 17 constantly playing. Perhaps it is something to do with the hours I spent trying to control my own unruly mop, so I felt naturally talented and qualified. None of the family were safe from my self-training – both my brother and father were subjected to various cuts (both hair and skin) and my poor mother even surrendered to a home perm. If it all went wrong, my fall-back position was just to be a Hollywood actress.
Q. How did you get to where you are now?
A. I often ask myself that question – how did I get here?
I started my career as a graduate in IT at Sainsbury’s head office. There were rows upon rows of desks of IT geeks coding systems to replenish stock and it amazed me how you could spend 40 hours in front of a computer and barely utter a word to anyone. Although mentally challenged, I felt my personality diminishing, so knew I had to change. I secured a secondment to the HR department as an in-house recruitment consultant. I was tasked with an enormous recruitment project, in the days before internet job boards, to hire around 100 IT specialists – it was a fantastic opportunity to quickly learn all aspects of the resourcing model and build a strong network of recruitment partners. After this, I knew my heart was in HR, and was lucky enough to be accepted onto the J Sainsbury HR fast-track programme and fast-tracked myself into a new career.
So now I was doing a job I thoroughly enjoyed, but not really in an industry that I felt passionate about. My days were spent facilitating beans on and off the shelves and my nights were spent watching bands and going to clubs, so when I heard that EMI Records was recruiting, I picked up the phone and convinced their head of HR to meet me. Lady luck was shining down and I got the gig. Three years at EMI was a crazy blend of learning, studying CIPD and going to gigs in the evening... it was such fun and I truly cut my teeth in all areas of HR as a true generalist role. I learned everything from running a payroll to designing and delivering management training.
I was subsequently headhunted to set up an HR function at Sanctuary, a hugely acquisitive media organisation. I worked at 100 miles an hour for 6 years, working with a very experienced executive team of entrepreneurs to help grow this unique international business. It was a roller-coaster ride from start-up to finish, but I learnt as much about running a commercial multi-revenue stream business as you can. I left to have my second child.
During the last 5 years I have consulted for a number of companies and my remit has diversified from pure HR to broader business management and more recently I have a number of executive coaching clients. I feel I have the perfect job.
Q. Who inspired you along your career journey, and why?
A. So many people, but generally business owners and managers rather than HR professionals.
Q. Why did you join your current organisation?
A. I wanted to become self-employed for a couple of reasons. I enjoy the variety of working with a number of organisations and of course, it allows me to manage my time around school holidays etc.
Q. Describe your typical day...
A. Most days I am lucky enough to be able to take my gorgeous girls to school. Then, normally I cycle to work. I try and regulate my hours at Handle Recruitment, working long days on Mondays and Tuesdays, then slightly shorter days as the week goes on so that I can be at the school gates (the hub of information) once or twice a week. On weeks when I am also working for other clients, I weave them in and out of my other work so that I can fit everyone in. On a Friday, I alternate between having a day off and meeting my executive coaching clients.
Q. What’s your greatest achievement?
A. Achieving work-life balance.
Q. What are your biggest challenges?
A. Maintaining work-life balance.
Q. What career advice would you give someone aspiring to your role?
A. Work hard, very hard to ensure your knowledge base is there and continually force yourself outside your comfort zone, and then you will learn to quickly think on your feet and develop a strong instinct for what will or will not work in different situations. Don’t forget, nothing is insurmountable; it’s just a case of working out the best way to do it. Never ever be afraid to ask others – those who don’t ask don’t get.
- Business book(s): Try to avoid them – I talk to people instead and do spot research on the internet
- Website(s): Amazon
- Music: Luckily my friends in record companies keep feeding me new albums, to keep me up to date. Currently listening to the Rizzle Kicks album
- TV programme/film: Enjoying my TV fixes: Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy... and Made in Chelsea (what does that say about me?)