Rising star: Tara Bowden

What is your current role?

I’m currently the HR operations manager for a large Birds Eye factory in Lowestoft, Suffolk. This means that I (along with my two direct reports) look after the operational side of HR for the site – everything from absence management to teambuilding away-days and restructuring activity. The variety of the role is the best part – I love not knowing what I’m going to come across next.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a psychology degree, and I’m a year away from the CIPD qualification.

Why did you get into HR?

When I was 15, I did some work experience in the HR department of a large company and really enjoyed it. It made me realise that I wanted a career with lots of interaction with people, working with the business to get the best out of them to achieve business results.

How did you get into HR?

After my work experience, I decided that a psychology degree would give me a good grounding in learning more about human behaviour in all kinds of situations. I also thought that having a scientific knowledge of processes, research and methodology would be beneficial to a career in HR. I then applied to Unilever’s graduate recruitment scheme, and was accepted into HR as a graduate trainee three years ago.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I see myself in an HR role where I am working with senior managers and mobilising staff to achieve the business strategy and objectives. I want to be in a position where I can make a difference through my knowledge, experience and relationships with people.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

Being appointed as HR operations manager in Lowestoft at the age of 22 after two years’ training at Unilever. It was recognition that I had performed well for two years. But it was also a massive challenge that was both daunting and incredibly exciting.

Returning to Lowestoft after my first trainee placement there was hard, but I think people remembered me as someone who delivered on what I committed to, so they accepted me in my new role coming back.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

When I work with senior managers I remain professional, deliver on what I commit to, and work on building a lasting relationship with them from the first meeting – as with any other person I work with.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

Derek Herbert – my first line manager at Unilever – who sadly passed away last year. He had an amazing amount of knowledge and always managed to stay calm and fair, no matter how difficult the situation was. He inspired me to always maintain that standard of professionalism and fairness in whatever I do.

What are today’s big challenges for HR professionals?

Getting rid of the perception of ‘tea and tissues’ personnel and gaining respect as HR – a function that adds value and delivers business benefits.

What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?

Make sure you know what HR means – it’s not just for those who want to look after people. If you want a career where your ‘materials’ to work with are people – in all their unpredictable glory – then HR may well be for you.

Describe yourself in three words

Honest, conscientious and happy.

Bowden’s CV

  • 2004 Appointed as HR operations manager for Unilever’s Lowestoft factory

  • 2002-2004 Business placements at Unilever

  • 2002 Graduated with 2:1 in psychology and joined Unilever on graduate recruitment scheme

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