Top job: Sandra Parsons, HR director, Institution of Civil Engineers

Where were you working before, and what were your responsibilities?

I was head of HR for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. This was a global role with a remit to create a values-based, performance-led company that would enable the organisation to meet its strategic intentions.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a master’s degree in managing HR, and am a graduate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management.

What are the duties in your new role?

To enable the Institute of Civil Engineers to be a great place to work, through fully engaged people who have the capability and commitment to exceed business plan and strategic aims.

What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?

Retaining the right people and preparing our people to embrace the waves of uncertainty and ambiguity and just enjoy the thrill of the ride. Additionally, being able to demonstrate the impact people have on the bottom line.

What is the most overrated tool in your job?

The job description – some people get too hung up on the written word rather than just ensuring that they do what needs to be done to ensure success. And the BlackBerry/e-mail.

And what work tool would you like to see invented?

Magic shoes so that people could click their heels and appear at work or home in a nanosecond and not have the woes of dealing with public transport or exposing themselves to a flu bug, instead arriving at their destination ready to face whatever comes their way.

What is the worst thing about HR?

Being expected to listen very patiently to absolute twaddle when you really just want to say: “Get a grip and just make it happen.”

How do you wind down after a bad day in the office?

Total indulgence – champagne, chocolate truffles and a good movie.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

Having to ask an ex-boss if he had a fetish about women’s feet, as he had a habit of always looking at a woman’s shoes when they went into his office.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Change agent, pragmatic and ebullient.

What was your lucky break?

Being introduced to the world of HR as a Saturday personnel receptionist at Debenhams Oxford Street (we’re going back more than 20 years).

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Family (deceased and alive) and close friends.

What advice would you give someone starting out in HR?

Don’t rely on the text books – build effective relationships and be pragmatic. It’s all about enabling the organisation to succeed through its people.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

Just roll with the punches.


  • June 2008-present: HR director, Institute of Civil Engineers

  • Nov 2003-June 2008: Head of HR, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

  • Nov 2001-Oct 2003: HR manager, British American Tobacco

  • May 2000-Nov 2001: Interim HR manager, Starbucks Coffee Company UK

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