Here at Jobs and Careers, we love hearing from the people at the top. This week, we interviewed Kathy Allison, Head of HR at online fashion retailer boohoo.com. She talks to us about where it all started for her, and what it takes to make it in the world of recruitment.
Jobs and Careers: Where did your career begin?
Kathy Allison: After studying at Liverpool University completing a degree in Sociology and Social policy I had my first taste of HR Management working for Moat House Hotels, before joining Radisson Blu where I had various HR roles.
J&C: How did you land the role at boohoo and what do you love the most about it?
KA: A friend actually saw the job advertised and recommended that I apply! This was the first HR position that boohoo had advertised for seeing as the business was still growing, I now head a group of 7 people within the HR team with nearly 700 employees across head office and the main distribution centre. I love working in a business that continues to grow from strength to strength, getting to work in the fashion industry is hard but also equally as rewarding!
J&C: Describe your typical day as a HR director.
KA: There aren’t really any typical days at boohoo as my role is so varied. I could be doing a full day of interviewing candidates for our senior positions, supporting with people issues or attending and addressing director meetings. What I can say is that I never have a boring day here!
J&C: Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to break into the industry?
KA: If you know what industry you’d like to do HR in, it’s helpful to gain experience in that area although this is not essential. Many fashion candidates tend to create blogs and websites related to fashion to showcase their interest and passion. These are also great to show off any experience you’ve gained. As with many competitive industries it is important that you show determination and demonstrate any skills you’ve acquired through practical experience. Make yourself stand out from the crowd in a creative way; after all, fashion is a creative industry.
J&C: What were you doing before you became Head of HR at boohoo.com and what prompted this change?
KA: Before I worked at boohoo I was at Radisson Blu hotel chain and so I worked the hospitality sector as a People Development Manager at their head office in Manchester. I looked after Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool hotels. The job gave me a really varied insight into HR which translated really well into my role at boohoo.
J&C: Can you describe some of the key skills/qualities you look for in a candidate applying for a job within HR?
KA: With HR being so competitive we see so many people but the candidates that have stood out for me have been the ones that can show me how they will benefit the business if they were to be employed. It’s also great to see individuals that have a real persistence and passion to work for the business and who have a great fit for our culture. Previous experience and an ability to demonstrate commercial thinking is also essential. In HR it’s important that an individual understands the ins and outs and it can be very useful to start from the ground up. It’s unlikely that you will come out of university and go straight into a senior management job.
J&C: What are the various roles available in this department?
KA: My team consists of a HR Manager, two coordinators, two resourcing team members and I have just recruited a Learning and Development Manager who joins us in a couple of weeks. I also have another coordinator who supports with one of the other businesses in our group.
Recruitment is key for those businesses that are expanding quickly. It’s important to have this role within a business so that the individual can plan and lead recruitment whether it’s internal or external. Benefits and pay are important for attracting and retaining employees. Boohoo prides itself on offering a competitive package to other retailers. . A good HR department need to ensure that its employees are well looked after, so employee engagement is important for us all to continually work on. As a HR department it also important to help employees further their learning within the industry to help them reach their career goals.
J&C: What is the most valuable piece of advice you would give someone who is looking to get into HR and how can they go about getting the best experience to do so?
KA: Chase after the job and don’t leave it to luck. HR is a competitive industry so persistence is important. It great to see people who have a true understanding of HR and it is usually the people who have started from an assistant position. Valuable experience is fantastic for making yourself stand out from the crowd.
J&C: When interviewing a candidate, what stands out most for you, and what tips can you offer with regards to the interview process?
KA: As with any role, we really appreciate candidates that have done some research into the company and the role they’ve applied for. It shows that you are interested in the job and it’s not just another interview for you. Showing us your personality is important as well as it gives us an indication whether you will enjoy this role and fit in with the company and our values. With us being an online fashion retailer you need to show your style, fashion is fun and creative so show us what you’ve got.
J&C: Do you think that you need a degree in HR to start a career in HR?
KA: My degree wasn’t in HR, but I have been lucky enough to gain plenty of experience. Having said that I do feel it is great to have a HR degree so you have a good technical knowledge about HR, and it certainly provides a great foundation. There are many different options to becoming CIPD qualified and it’s about finding the right solution for you.