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A day in the life of – HR leader, Virginia Perkins

by Kerry Norman | 21 October 2019

Are you currently working in HR and wondering how to climb the career ladder? Or are you thinking about your options and think HR might be the right career choice for you? In this Q&A, Principal Consultant Kerry Norman talks to one of our most experienced HR candidates to find out exactly what it takes to be a success and why so many people are choosing HR as a viable career choice.

HR is a rewarding career choice, and candidates that are committed can enjoy a long and incredibly successful career. As a HR recruitment specialist I work with experienced HR professionals every day, and am often asked what it takes to be a success. To answer that question I sat down with Virginia Perkins, a candidate of mine and an experienced senior HR professional to find out about her experience to date, why she chose to work in HR and her top tips to anyone wanting to carve a successful career in the sector.

Can you describe your current role?

My most recent role was a Director of People and Organisational Development for a medium sized private health care company. In that role I was ultimately responsible for aligning HR strategy with the business strategy to achieve transformational change, increase financial income and implement a high performing culture through creative and innovative people approaches. I led and developed the people team across the UK with my main responsibilities being to develop and implement the human resource strategy, learning and development initiatives, succession planning, resourcing, payroll, advising the board on strategic HR matters, change management, reward and recognition, wellbeing and overseeing employee relations across multi sites.

In a few words, can you describe your job experience prior to your current role?

I have gained extensive experience partnering executive leaders in the private, public and third sector operating across multi sites, shared services, matrix and unionised environments. Businesses I have worked in include further and higher education, private health care, housing, a main energy supplier and a large global charity.

Why did you decide that a career in HR was the path for you?

I’ve always been passionate about working with people and have worked tirelessly to create the right organisational culture for the business I work in. The HR role is extremely varied and provides me with the opportunity to solve organisational problems in tandem with leaders to create a better employee experience which in turn creates real and tangible results for the business. I realised that I had lots of transferrable skills to work in human resources following a period in a management role.

I wanted to make a difference and HR provided me with the opportunity to use my organisational and project management skills; build my resilience; interpret and understand data; to be results focussed; work collaboratively with internal and external stakeholders; understand the challenges of a business and communicate effectively at all levels.

When I got my first HR role I realised the number of challenges a business is presented with and how my role and that of the HR department can support the business through these periods. The role of HR is such an important contributor to any business and that’s why I also voluntarily chair a local Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) branch to keep abreast of changes within employment law and the world of work but also to network and share experiences with fellow professionals to champion better work and working lives.

How did you achieve the success you have enjoyed?

Teamwork has been crucial to developing the success I have enjoyed but also ensuring the team supporting me and around me have been developed with the right skills and knowledge to deliver the end result. Achieving success has always been as a result of effective internal and external collaboration; I like to be exposed to the external environment within the sector I am working in to look at best practice and inspirational ideas I can bring back into the business and implement. 

As a leader I have a passion to inspire and lead by example through role model behaviour in order to create a culture of continuous improvement and one that is values led. Being resilient and tenacious has definitely helped me in the pursuit and accomplishment of some really great successful accolades for the business. Being awarded the prestigious Investors in People Platinum, with only 2 percent of companies in the UK achieving this was a huge success together with being recognised by the London Stock Exchange as one of the top 1000 inspiring companies to work for.  

What is a typical day like for you working in HR?

It is very true when fellow professionals say that no two days are the same when working in HR. I usually start the day catching up with the central team for about 10 minutes. I then ring the other sites and update the team on any issues or priorities. I will send and respond to emails before attending a meeting to discuss quality performance improvement with the senior leadership team.

Throughout the day I receive lots of phone calls from external professionals asking for my attendance at workshops and conferences and to work with them on challenges affecting the sector. Early afternoon I will monitor the HR dashboards which provide me with an update on KPIs for recruitment, absence, learning and development and employee relations so that I can keep abreast of team performance. I will monitor workforce budgets with the Director of Finance and conduct a one-to-one session with a member of staff leading on a wellbeing project.

In the middle of the afternoon I will travel to a local site to catch up with a senior leader concerning their talent acquisition strategy to see its effectiveness and make recommendations where necessary. Every day is different and it certainly is a job which allows you to use an array of skills on a daily basis.   

What is your favourite aspect of working in HR?

Conducting a piece of work around change management is one of my favourite aspects of working in HR. It can be extremely challenging but very rewarding when the results start to materialise into positive outcomes, for example when staff engagement and morale is increased which then translates to increased productivity.

In my latest role we were able to introduce a high performing model centred around seven key areas of what makes a successful business together with building and implementing stretching competencies at every level from the Board to individuals, this was a great way for every individual in the business to understand how they contributed to achieving the vision and strategic objectives of the business.

What skills do you think are essential for working in HR?

Some of the skills that I think are essential to work in HR are project management, good knowledge of employee relations, influencing skills, excellent communication skills including verbal and written, team working, personal resilience, ability to operate IT systems, ability to negotiate in challenging situations, role model leadership behaviours and flexibility.   

Is there anything happening in the HR sector that you think is amazing right now?

In the world of HR there’s always a flurry of activity and exciting new concepts ranging from a huge surge of new people analytics to a rise of self-service tools and what the future of work will look like for different sectors but also not forgetting the rise of artificial intelligence and what this will mean. Then we have the uncertainty of Brexit and how this will affect labour markets and businesses.

Are there any companies/people currently working in HR that you admire for their people management?

I think it is easy to admire the well-known HR Directors of big global companies that have achieved phenomenal success, however there are a lot of unsung HR heroes operating within smaller companies and achieving fantastic results that we may not know about. It’s difficult to pinpoint a few people when there are so many dedicated HR professionals achieving fantastic results across all sectors.

What advice would you give to anyone that may be considering a career in HR?

I would advise that if you enjoy achieving results through the efforts of individuals and teams and are able to inspire, develop and engage well with people then HR will be very rewarding. 

What advice would you give to firms that may be looking to employ HR professionals?

I think employers need to be more aware that the skillsets of HR professionals are transferable from one sector to another. I have seen many discussions surrounding this area and personal conversations with the general consensus being that employers tend to employ HR professionals from similar business backgrounds rather than choosing an individual from a totally different sector. I would welcome employers to challenge the status quo on this topic.

Can we help you?

If you are interested in a career in HR and would like to discuss our latest HR jobs or your options, feel free to contact Kerry Norman or our wider HR recruitment team today. Or if you are interested in speaking with Virginia about any roles you currently have available, please get in touch.

Alternatively, if you are a HR professional and would like to share your story with up, get in touch with our marketing team by emailing marketing@sellickpartnership.co.uk.