Personnel Today reader Angela Edwards swapped her role as head of HR at a charity to become a presenter on home shopping channel QVC for the day. Kirstie Redford tunes in.
When Angela Edwards told Personnel Today that her dream job was to be a presenter on home shopping channel QVC, she didn’t think that just two months later she would be in the studio doing a screen test.
Edwards appeared in Personnel Today’s Careerwise feature in August 2005 after being appointed head of HR at St Basils, a charitable organisation in Birmingham that works with 3,500 young people every year to prevent homelessness by providing accommodation and support services. After revealing in the article her secret desire to show off her presenting skills on camera, QVC invited Edwards to try it for real, arranging a screen test and a tour of the studios in Battersea, London, so she could look behind the scenes of her favourite TV channel.
“This was all such a wonderful surprise,” says Edwards. “When I watch QVC, the presenters look like they have so much fun and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was asked what my dream job was, I had to say a presenter on the channel.”
Edwards is probably QVC’s most ardent viewer. “I buy so much! I’ve been watching QVC now for four years and I’ve bought absolutely loads,” she says.
But how many hours does she spend watching the shopping channel? “Too many. When the presenters come on and my young son knows all of their names, I know I’m watching it too much. But it is my time to relax. I actually find QVC educational and learn a lot,” she says.
Indeed, it was like home from home for Edwards when she was at the studios. “When I met the presenters, it felt like I already knew them. They often talk about their own lives on screen so I felt like saying ‘how’s your mum?'” she says.
Edwards took with her Samora Roberts, one of the charity’s success stories, to share the experience. The 24-year-old has lived in one of St Basils’ houses for the past 17 months and has been gaining work experience in HR alongside Edwards.
“I’m a member of the Youth Advisory Board of St Basils – a group of young people who work alongside staff to improve all the services offered,” she explains.
Roberts was equally impressed with the studio tour, saying she may even become a convert to the home shopping channel. However, some of the illusions of glamour were shattered during the day. Not only do the presenters have ‘newsreader bottoms’ – wearing jeans and trainers that aren’t seen by the viewers – but Edwards and Roberts saw the sheer amount of work it takes to put broadcasts together.
“There is so much hard work behind the scenes, which doesn’t come across at all on screen,” says Edwards. “There is a lot of running around and co-ordinating. I got to experience a part of that, working with various people such as the buyers, schedulers and planners. You take it all for granted when you see the glamorous presenters and the wonderful products and just pick up the phone and buy. You don’t have any concept of what goes on behind the scenes.”
Presenting on QVC is also harder than it looks. Presenters are given short paragraphs of information about products and have to improvise the rest of their spiel, without a stutter or a pause. QVC staff were impressed with Edwards’ natural presenting ability during her screen test. And Edwards says her work experience as a trainer, which she did prior to her current role, stood her in good stead.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the screen test and didn’t find it nerve-racking, just exciting. There are two elements to it. First there is knowledge about the products – which I already have from watching QVC. The second element is presenting, of which I’ve had experience through my training background, speaking at conferences and training events. You learn how to calm it down, speak slowly and breathe deeply. So there are a lot of similar skills involved,” she says.
Edwards also met with QVC’s director of HR, Frank Robinson, to swap notes on HR practices. Despite the two organisations being worlds apart, Edwards found that some of the issues affecting HR at QVC are the same issues she is dealing with.
“Areas such as sickness absence, performance management and recruitment and selection see the same problems, just within a very different environment. So that’s been a good learning point – at St Basils we’re not as niche in terms of HR issues as we like to think we are,” she says.
Edwards also found similarities in the working cultures. “There are no boundaries or hierarchy between the floor staff, the presenters or anyone else. Everyone is here for the customer. It is the same at St Basils, where the senior managers often spend time with young people, go out to projects and get their hands dirty. I manage the HR team, but often I’ll be found on reception. At the end of the day, there is a job to be done so we all do it, as we’re all here for the benefit of young people,” she says.
Back to the day job
Would Edwards want to swap St Basils for the bright lights of QVC? “For all that is brilliant about QVC, I love working for St Basils. I love what we do, I love what we stand for and I love the people. So as much as I love QVC, my heart is in social housing. However, having the opportunity to get out today and experience a different working environment has been brilliant. This has really shown me another side of the working world as I’ve spent a lot of my career in social housing. Seeing a commercial organisation and getting an understanding of the work behind it has been really interesting,” she says.
Since appearing in Personnel Today, Edwards says she has been inundated with calls from people wanting to know more about the work of St Basils.
“I’ve been contacted by other social housing organisations who want to meet up and share information. I’ve also had people asking how they can volunteer and I’ve been invited to a number of industry events. So it’s been great for raising the profile of St Basils, so more people can understand what we’re all about,” she says.
Edwards sees it as her personal crusade to dispel one myth that surrounds the social housing sector. “We have problems around recruitment because the skills are very specialised, but also because there is a perception that pay in social housing is quite low. However, this isn’t the case – we’re comparative, if not higher, than the private sector. We need to break down the barriers and get this message across,” she says.
Now that Edwards has had a taste of a different working environment, are there any other dream jobs she’d like to road test? “I did joke that if I’d known my wish would come true, I’d have said a steward on the QE2, so I could have enjoyed a cruise around the Caribbean. But I’m happy where I am – my vision is to make St Basils a great place to work and I want to see that through and make it happen. My role as a QVC presenter can wait – for now.”