A picture paints a thousand words

Well, that’s how the saying goes. I recently had to dig out my good old ‘CIPD’ certificate to demonstrate that I indeed had ‘chartered’ status, and it got me thinking. That A4 piece of paper, albeit decent quality, was deemed the passport to my career.  

Leaving school at 16 and jumping into the ‘world of work’ wasn’t planned. I’d started College, picked the wrong A-Levels and always planned to re-start the following year. I had solid GCSE results, was ‘bright’ by all accounts, so why wouldn’t I do A-Levels?  I was lucky in that my parents really had no pressure for us from a work perspective, as long as we worked!  They didn’t place value on qualifications or degrees and “it’s a bit of paper” is one of my Mum’s favourite sayings.  When you live in a home where your Dad teaches himself to be an Engineer, then I guess anything goes.

I’d been working part-time in an office since I was 14. Every evening I would work from 6pm-8.30pm inputting candidate CV’s on to a recruiter’s database; it was just as the ‘IT Contractor’ boom took off.  They heard that I dropped College and offered me a full-time role, which I swiftly accepted. Earning my own money and being financially independent has always been important to me, from a very young age.  By the time I had passed my driving test at 17, I’d saved enough to buy and insure my own car and been on my first ‘girls’ holiday to Gran Canaria, with no help from anyone.

It was July, I had returned to work after having my tonsils taken out.  My employer had ‘automated’ the role that myself and others had been doing and I was made redundant; that was the death of the ‘admin pool’. I can still recall that feeling to this day and completely empathize with anyone going through it.

I had to decide, was I going back to College in September, or not. It was the latter. I’d had a taste of earning my own money and the independence that it brought. I secured a role locally in a growing organization, and it was there where I got my first ‘taste’ of HR & Training.

I always felt like I was on the back foot because I didn’t take the ‘classical’ educational route to gain my qualifications; in some respects, I still do. It always felt like I had to try twice as hard to prove that I was worthy, most likely insecurity in my own head. I took every opportunity to learn, most of which were via ‘open’ learning methods which meant I was working full time, working behind a bar until 2am on a weekend and studying in-between.

It was 2002 when I finally settled on ‘HR’ as a career route as opposed to ‘Training’ and had it clear in my own head what I needed to achieve from an educational perspective. It all centred around a professional body called the CIPD – Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development for those not in the know.

Four years, the time it would take to become as ‘qualified’ as someone who had taken a more ‘traditional’ route. Full-time employment, 16 hours of study per week……. for four years. I can’t remember the exact costs but with all the exams, books and tutorials it was close to £4k a year. Student loans weren’t an option for me, the thought of it gave me anxiety. We (my then partner, now husband) made sacrifices and paid it off monthly as I was studying. I know lots of people that became ‘stuck’ at this point, because to progress their career they needed to at least be ‘part qualified’ (regardless of experience) but to study it was expensive and extremely time-consuming.

When I look back now, I wonder how on earth I did it, I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it now, my attention span alone wouldn’t let me!  Back then, I’d get home from work at around 6pm, and lock myself away until 9pm, every single night for 4.5 years. I tried to keep weekends free but often I would end up writing assignments or revising for exams. For the most part, I’d have to use my annual leave to go to my tutorials for several days a month at Manchester Uni. 

Finally, in June 2007 I graduated and honestly, I had been so consumed with ‘getting there’ that when it arrived it felt surreal.  I had all this time on my hands and life took some twists and turns after that.  It took a while to adjust to a ‘new normal’.

I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the qualifications, but experience is imperative.  Demonstrating that you can use your acquired knowledge and apply it in ‘real’ terms where commercial needs and business risks are an everyday occurrence is where I would recommend anyone focus.  I was given some great opportunities to do that, but only because I pushed myself; things certainly weren’t handed to me.

If I was advising anyone starting out on their ‘CIPD’ journey it would be maintain balance.  The qualification is important, but it won’t get you your dream job without the experience to support it.  On that basis, take any opportunity that comes your way, even if it appears to be ‘none HR’.  Always put your hand up, even if it’s totally out of your comfort zone.  Always develop your ability to build relationships, you can do that every day – even when you are buying your lunch!  Take the chance to observe even if you can’t contribute, it will provide you with exposure to different problems and changing stakeholders.

My ‘Chartered’ status tells you that I can study theory and pass exams………………and if I put my mind to something, there really is nothing getting in my way. 

I need to find that fire again!