Head of HR - Corporate
Growing up in a small town in the north of Ireland, my parents did everything they could to encourage their children to go to university. They were hardworking and wanted us to have the opportunities to explore life, so when my application to study law at Queen’s University in Belfast was accepted, it was a dream come true. In order to pay my way I held down three jobs, and in my second year, I accepted a job in a local call centre as a call centre agent. I didn’t take well to telesales. I loved talking to people but the sales side of the role didn’t suit me at all. When an opportunity came up in the HR team a few months after I joined, I jumped at the chance to apply. I was successful in my application and soon after, joined the employee relations team and my career in HR was born. A few years later, I moved to Manchester with the company to take up the role of HR generalist, as I wanted to see the other side of HR. After 3.5 years in Manchester, I sought to broaden my experience further, personally and professionally, and moved to London.
In 2012, I joined the employee relations team at A&O. I loved everything about the role and completely threw myself into it. No two days were ever the same and whilst undoubtedly challenging, it was a lot of fun. Over the years, I have worked with many hard working and talented people who have made even the most difficult days enjoyable.
My husband and I met at A&O, and married in 2015. We talked about seeing the world together, which fit nicely into my long-term career goals. I wanted to continually develop my generalist HR skills, rather than specialise too soon and experience living and working abroad. With all of this in mind, I maintained an open dialogue with my manager about exploring different roles within HR, including international secondments when the time was right.
In 2017, the right opportunity came along and I found myself seconded to a generalist HR role in the Johannesburg office. Thanks to the international nature of A&O, it was possible for my husband to be seconded there at the same time, which made the opportunity even more appealing.
When we arrived in South Africa, it was obvious that we were in a very different culture than anything we had experienced. Amazingly though, when we stepped into the office, it immediately felt like A&O. Along with safari adventures and visits from loved ones, we developed a strong group of friends quite quickly, which made our stay very enjoyable. Professionally, I was challenged in lots of different ways and was exposed to every part of the HR lifecycle, which was exactly what I wanted. I loved working in a generalist role again. It was a truly rewarding experience, and I learnt so much.
When the secondment ended, I returned to my employee relations role in London. Happily, I enjoyed the work as much as always. Alongside my day job, the firm sponsored me to achieve a formal accreditation in mediation, something I had always been keen to pursue. At the same time, I continued to be open with my manager about my eagerness to fulfil another international secondment, if the right opportunity were to arise. As always, my manager listened to my aspirations with an open mind and we agreed to keep talking.
When a Head of HR role in Belgium was advertised in 2019, my interest was piqued, and after some internal consultation and weighing up the pros and cons, I decided to apply. After meeting with a number of stakeholders, I was thrilled to be offered the role. My husband had his own career to consider, so we agreed that I would take on the role for a year, commuting to Brussels during the week, and spending the weekends together in either location. When I arrived at the office, there was lots to do as many of the HR team were new and we were all learning together. However, being surrounded by hardworking and talented people made the days go by very quickly and enjoyably. Stepping into a Head role for the first time in a new country was much easier because of the strong A&O network I had developed during my time at the firm. I was able to call my trusted colleagues at any time, which was invaluable.
I have since returned to London, taking on the role of Acting Head of HR in the Corporate team. I am relishing the new challenge and the opportunity to experience another part of the firm. I think I have unintentionally developed a personal policy of saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that allow me to experience anything and everything the firm has to offer!
I would advise anyone interested in an international career at A&O to engage in open and honest conversations with their manager about their ambitions. Be open to trying something new, even if it’s outside your comfort zone. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and take on a new challenge, there is a network of people here to support you in making it happen.