My best decision was beginning a career in HR, which I did in 1997. I had just returned to the UK after being in South Africa for 21 years. I had run a business there – I had several shops, retail outlets selling for baby goods and toys. When I came back to the UK, I was a single mother, and I didn’t want to work on Saturdays or Sundays, so I couldn’t pursue a career in retail.
I decided to do some office work, and had a series of temporary jobs. I worked in HR at the insurance company Royal & Sun Alliance. Of course, when you work in HR, you get to know how much everyone gets paid, and all the interesting things they’ve done. I thought: “This is alright – I’ll have a bit of this action.”
I wasn’t interested in staying at the bottom of the heap, in administration. I got myself qualified, slowly, starting with the CPP, then the full CIPD qualification. Then I discovered that I really enjoyed studying, so I did a degree in ancient history. Now I’m learning Latin, and driving my team mad by quoting Roman sayings.
Before HR, I sold advertising, I’d worked as a PA, and I’d had all sorts of jobs, but I’d never really found a job that did it for me. I think I’ve actually found my niche.
I’ve moved from a very large insurance company, all about profit-making, to a small charity with just 350 staff. But being a bigger fish in a smaller pond has given me much broader experience, and I really enjoy that.
I thought long and hard about what had been my worst decision. While this might seem trivial, it has stuck in my mind for a very long time.
I once went for a job interview, where I was asked how old I was. At the time, I answered the question – as the interviewee, I was on the back foot, and it caught me off guard.
Ever since, I’ve regretted not having asked how knowing my age fitted into their selection criteria. I don’t know whether it counted for or against me at the time. I withdrew my application. Looking back, being asked that question was probably connected to my decision, although not wholly responsible for it. It wasn’t the right job for me at the time, but I’m not certain that I would have been comfortable working for an organisation that felt that behaviour like that was appropriate. I’d be appalled if anything like that happened here.