“It’s important to find whatever it is that you’re passionate about – find your hook and go after it”. Michelle Hartley, HR Director at Multivac UK.

As part of our commitment to supporting candidates in developing fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.

This week, we talked to Michelle Hartley, HR Director at Multivac UK. We asked Michelle to give us some insights into her diverse HR career, which includes roles in a range of industries such as Fast Food, Financial Services, Healthcare and Manufacturing. Michelle began her journey working at Pizza Hut while studying, and rose through the ranks eventually getting involved in Training. She received her Master’s in Human Resource Management while working at Synergy Health. Michelle has been HR Director at Multivac since 2013.

Can you tell us how you got into HR?

‘Many moons ago, I started working at Pizza Hut alongside my studies. It was waitressing, and then I decided the best thing to do would be to have a career at Pizza Hut and worked my way through management. It was brilliant.’

‘I always say to people who worry about how to build a career, businesses like Pizza Hut and retail businesses will always throw a load of development at you. So if you’re ever not sure about what to do, I always recommend to pursue things like that because you’ll actually get all of the opportunities you could ever possibly imagine.’

‘As I went through all the management development there, I attended a session with the  area trainer and basically I fell in love with HR from there. At the time I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, people do this for a career. How does that even happen?!’”

‘So that started me off thinking about HR and people and business and how it could work. I decided to leave Pizza Hut and took a massive pay drop to go from management in retail to an admin role in an office.’

‘I’ve worked across a number of different industries now, and every single one is very different and unique in its own way. But good HR practices are similar across industries, and I quite like being able to see how my skills can fit into other business industries and different opportunities.’

Did you ever come across any objection about your lack of industry experience when interviewing for a new role?

‘I think the biggest jump was probably when I went from admin in Bristol Community Sport through to financial services. But actually what they were interested in at the time was the training skills that I could bring. It was almost like HR was the bit on the side that wasn’t as important or interesting to them.’

‘I’ve also had a bit of a theme. When I worked at Isotron, which was acquired by Synergy Health, it was a healthcare services provider, and I think I was of interest to Spire Healthcare because of the healthcare link. And I believe I was interesting to TE Connectivity because they had a healthcare arm, so there were a few small connections.’

‘You’ve got to make your own connections.  I had a very definite goal when I moved to TE. I wanted to move into the manufacturing business because I wanted to see what it’s like to work for a business that actually made something instead of selling something. I think as an individual going into an interview, it’s important that you find your hook with why you want it, because if you get the challenge from your interviewer, you’ve then got your answer straight away and in my experience, people value that, and like to see you make a connection with their business.’

‘TE had the biggest reservation because I didn’t have manufacturing experience. I think what they were concerned about was that I could have been too corporate. But having come through it now, it actually was a really good fit and I had a great time when I was there.’

What was it about HR that made it your career of choice?

‘I think I’ve always loved HR. Even from my Pizza Hut days when I was doing store management, I even loved the disciplinary and grievance side of things, and the recruitment piece. As my career has progressed, it’s been more about the strategic impact and the transformational aspect of HR. Initially, it was about the transactional side of things, problem solving, efficiency and admin. But as I’ve moved on and up, it’s been more about, “Why are we doing that?” and “How does that fit with our values?” and “How are we delivering revenue from this?”’

What challenges and key themes in HR are you or your peers facing at the moment?

‘The uncertainty around Brexit is just horrendous, and I think that will be a big challenge for us in our business and for our customers. In terms of HR trends, we would have challenges around engineering no longer being seen as a sexy career. What we find is that it’s always a challenge to find good quality engineers. We tend to look more outside of the food industry and go around looking at the right behavioural fit with our culture. We’ll go with complementary industries, rather than the immediate industry that we’re in. ‘

‘It would be great to see more engineers coming through, but particularly in Swindon where we are, there’s not a great investment in engineering careers and studies’.

‘The standard challenge that I see from a lot of my peers, and internally here, is working with management development, and increasing competence and confidence within our managers to deliver more every day. Years ago, managers wouldn’t have to manage in the way that they do now, so it’s a big change for everybody. Trying to wrestle managers out of their day job to come and have good solid training and development is really difficult. We try and do great things around e-learning, conference calling and video conferencing. I do fully believe that the value added management training is great, but it’s really hard to wrestle people away from their day job, so our challenge is creating and delivering value added training in a way that develops the individual and works commercially for our business.‘

Do you have any advice to anyone hoping to build a career in HR?

‘It’s important to find whatever it is that you’re passionate about, find your hook, and go after it. I think a key thing for me is, don’t be afraid to have a portfolio career. That’s something that I’ve been really passionate about with my CV. Even though I’ve experienced some challenges when recruiters look at my CV and they say, “Oh, you’ve moved around every couple of years.” My response is, “Yep! That’s been a deliberate act because I wanted to get around different industries and different roles and different specialisations.” And so, I would encourage people to do that.’

‘I also think it’s always worth doing your studies. If you haven’t thought about it, it’s absolutely key for me to do some kind of study to support your career. When I did mine, it was actually a bit later on in my HR career. I was studying when I was at Isotron. For me it was a bit of validation. I knew what I needed to do to get the day job done, but my studies validated the work I was doing. And then when I came to Multivac, I was able to utilise the stuff I did in my Master’s in real life. So I would always encourage people to do their studies. I also think, at the very least, CIPD membership gives you access to great resources and it’s a great support system. ‘

‘If you’re going to go into a profession, you should be really passionate about it and keep yourself up to date. I think HR people traditionally may have been kind of lazy about the professional development side of things. That’s something I’m really passionate about for my team’.

‘I think it’s important that when you’re in a business, you have to get geeky about it. One of the things, I do with my team, every month, is that they’re charged with going off and doing what we call a commercial day, so going off and spending a day in the business, be that with an engineer, with the sales team, or with the product manager, on the customer’s site. And then, come back and tell us what you’ve learned. I don’t think you can partner a business if you don’t know about it. If you don’t go out and see that you’ll never get it, and that’s really important. It adds volumes of respect and knowledge not only for yourself, but also respect from the business as they see you out in the business, getting it, and seeing the real world.’

Michelle has been at MULTIVAC for the last 6 years and is currently responsible for all aspects of HR which includes recruitment, learning and development, employee relations and strategy.

If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.

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“It’s important to find whatever it is that you’re passionate about – find your hook and go after it”. Michelle Hartley, HR Director at Multivac UK.