CIPD tutor and fiction author Julie Heslington explains her rich and varied career path. Her previous roles include L&D Advisor, Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager, and Enterprise Coach in companies like Lloyds TSB and Nestle.
Could you give us an overview of your current job?
I’m a Personal Online Tutor with ICS Learn. I tutor on two of the Foundation CIPD subjects. This involves marking and giving feedback on the formative and summative assignments that students submit, answering email queries, and running webinars explaining how to tackle the assignments.
What made you choose HR as a career?
I originally planned to be a bank manager and managed to secure sponsorship from a high street bank, TSB, to study a BSc in Banking and Finance. Once at university, I enjoyed – and was far better at – subjects such as HR and Marketing than the banking and financial subjects.
Part of my sponsorship involved paid holiday work in local branches and a year out. I’d expected to spend my year out in a branch too, but an opportunity arose for some of us to work in Head Office in Birmingham instead. The plan was to spend six months in HR then six months in Marketing, but a mix-up meant I spent the whole year in HR and I absolutely loved it.
I experienced three different aspects of HR during that time and relished the diversity the career offered. After that, I knew that HR was the career for me.
How did you get started in HR?
On the back of my first year in HR, I was offered a position in TSB’s HR graduate trainee scheme where I undertook four placements, lasting six months each. I saw this as an amazing opportunity to move around the country and experience different aspects of HR.
I started working in an operational L&D role setting up Learning Resource Centres around the country. I then moved into a generalist HR role in East Scotland where I was heavily involved in a huge recruitment campaign, returned to Birmingham for six months in training design and then finished in a training delivery role.
What were your next career steps, and how did you progress to these roles?
By this time, I was certain that the specialist route was the one for me, but I loved resourcing and L&D in equal measures and ideally wanted to continue with both. My dream role was to be a Graduate Recruitment & Development manager where I’d be able to combine my two passions. However, the graduate recruitment activity in the bank was so considerable that this role was divided across three people: one handling the advertising and sifting, another running all the assessment centres, and a third being responsible for the L&D side.
After the graduate programme, by which time TSB had become LloydsTSB, I secured a role as Assessment Services (Manager) with the bank which meant I was responsible for all activities involving assessment and development centres.
I became Level A and B psychometric testing qualified during this time and I ran all the graduate assessment centres as part of the role, so I was the middle person in the process. Because I was based at the bank’s training centre, I did get involved in a lot of the training activities too, but I still had the dream of having that whole role.
After six years with the bank, I took voluntary redundancy and secured my dream job with Thames Water in Reading. I worked there for 2.5 years. It was everything I’d hoped but it’s an exhausting role as there’s a lot of travel and a lot of hours.
Quite often, individuals will do this position for a few years and move on, letting someone come in with fresh eyes. A change in my personal circumstances meant I put myself forward for voluntary redundancy again. I relocated back to my roots in the North and took a career break; opening and running my own shop.
It was really hard to get back on the HR career ladder after that because I’d taken two years out, but I’d also moved to a part of the country where there weren’t many HR opportunities. Those that arose were mainly generalist roles and it was clear I’d have to commute some distance for a specialist one.
The first role I secured was part-time on a massively reduced salary, but I knew it was the only way I was going to be able to work my way back up the ladder. For the next couple of years, I moved through a series of short-term roles. Some were fixed-term contracts, some were simply stepping stones for me, and I did get made redundant a couple of times too.
It was good to undertake a few generalist roles during that time, but I don’t get the buzz out of them that I get out of the specialist side of HR. I’m also not as good at them!
I finally secured a role as a Recruitment Specialist with a large food manufacturer in York. I had over an hour’s commute each way, but it was a role I loved and a return to a salary more in line with where I’d been before, although the cost of commuting by train did eat into that. It was a fixed term position and the plan was that it would become permanent.
Then the recession hit and nobody was leaving a stable job, so recruitment activity pretty much ceased. I thought I was going to be made redundant yet again but managed to take a side-step into a role designing and managing development centres for factory staff who had the potential to become shift managers or engineering managers of the future.
This was probably my favourite role of my career so far because it was so varied. I’d interview nominated individuals to check their suitability and commitment to progress through a three-day development centre, and then develop their career beyond that, which satisfied my love for recruitment.
I designed the development centre activities, trained the coaches who would run the activities, then managed the centres. Those three days were hard work, very intense, but incredibly rewarding. I’d then keep track of how they performed back in the workplace and ensure they were being supported and developed.
Sadly, there was a massive restructure in HR and I was restructured back into my recruitment role. The whole of the team had been made redundant and the former Head of HR was building up a replacement team, then leaving herself. As the only remaining experienced member of staff, I needed to get the new team up to speed, do my job and also do the role of graduate recruitment manager (as she’d left too). On top of this, I still had to hang onto my old role as my successor had no experience in it so was struggling and be acting Head of Recruitment while my manager was replaced.
That’s a lot of jobs for one person to do and I confess that it broke me. What didn’t help was that my previous role had been home-based with travel, so I’d moved to a new house and was no longer close to the train station. Returning to my old role, I had to commute again but this time it was a 4-hour 15-minute round trip. I had a young daughter who’d just started school and I never got to see her, so I felt I had no choice but to resign.
After that, I spent some time as a freelance graduate recruitment interviewer, spending all my days interviewing graduates on the phone on behalf of large companies. After doing that for over a year, I secured a job at a local college as a business coach, but the funding was pulled and I found myself out of work again. It was then that I first came across ICS Learn and secured a very part-time home-based position as an internal verifier.
This only involved a few days’ work bi-annually, so I needed to secure something else. There was nothing around and I didn’t want to commute again. I ended up doing the Christmas season on the tills in my local garden centre, hoping something would arise and was thrilled when an L&D role arose in a more local food manufacturer.
It was a step back again in salary, but a much higher salary would have required a big commute and a large chunk of that salary increase would have gone on train fares, so it seemed a reasonable compromise.
My favourite part of the role was that I had responsibility for the recruitment and training and development of the company’s engineering apprentices. This meant I was able to bring my graduate recruitment skills and knowledge into play again. I worked collaboratively with a colleague doing a similar role for the southern-based factories. As most of my roles had been very specialised, in that I was the only one in the company doing the role, it was really great having that chance to work closely with a like-minded colleague.
Guess what happened next? The company restructured and I got made redundant!
This was the sixth time I’d been made redundant (twice had been voluntary). It’s always a shock when it happens but my experience has always been that it’s worked out for the better, even if not immediately. I was fortunate enough to walk straight into another job at a local employment agency but this turned out to be a big mistake. I assumed that my recruitment expertise would really help me, and they were excited about my background in volume recruitment and L&D which fit with future plans for the business.
The reality was that the day job was a sales role and I am not, nor will I ever be, a salesperson. It was a definite case of a square peg in a round hole. They did their best to support me and I tried my hardest to be a success, but it really wasn’t working and we parted company. I’d been exploring in the meantime with ICS Learn as to whether I could become a tutor with them, so plans were already in place and I’m thrilled to say I became a full-time tutor three years ago. I haven’t looked back since.
My career since then has gone in a slightly different direction. I’m also an author, writing contemporary women’s fiction under the pen-name of Jessica Redland. I’ve written eleven books and released nine so far. I have therefore cut back on the amount of tutoring work I do and tend to spend about six hours a day undertaking my tutoring work but spend the rest of my time writing.
The wonderful thing about the job I’m doing now is the flexibility I have which enables me to balance my day job with another career.
What helped you most in your career progression at each stage?
When I was on the graduate trainee programme, part of this involved studying CIPD so I’ve had the full qualification since early on in my career which has helped to secure roles. TSB were very good at supporting development too.
While I worked for them, I also secured my Level A and B psychometric testing qualifications, became an MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) practitioner, and became a coach and a career development counsellor. All of these have been very helpful in securing future roles.
I’ve had some supportive managers but also some incredibly unsupportive ones, although I’ve learned just as much from them … about how NOT to be a manager! I’ve never had a mentor. I’m pretty self-sufficient and quite focused so I’ve really been my own main driver.
Why did you become a CIPD tutor?
I’d been working with ICS Learn for several years already as an internal verifier (IV), so I knew how the programme worked and, of course, I have the qualification myself. As part of that IV role, I also observed weekend workshops, giving feedback to the tutors running them. One weekend, I was scheduled to observe a tutor but, due to illness, was asked if I could tutor it instead.
It was great being back in a classroom setting. I knew we were growing and that some of the tutors would be approaching retirement so I asked if I could be considered for any positions that arose. A few months later I became a tutor.
I love the flexibility the role provides and the opportunity to be home-based. This enables me to balance my other commitments as an author and my own studies (I’m studying an MA in Creative Writing). As a tutor, I really enjoy supporting students on their journey into HR and get such a buzz from knowing that I played a small part in them securing their first HR position or to progressing with their HR career.