Insight Series: Karen Turnbull – HR Director at the Teenage Cancer Trust
In our new series of interviews and profiles, we recently caught up with Karen Turnbull -Director of HR from Teenage Cancer Trust to ask her a few questions on Teenage Cancer Trust, her career and everything in between…
1. How long have you worked at Teenage Cancer Trust and what is your background?
I have been at Teenage Cancer Trust for 8 months now, and I love it here, it’s a great place to work. My role is to provide the HR expertise to create an environment that enables us to achieve the maximum benefit from our people, so that they can deliver the very best services for teenagers and young adults with cancer.
I have worked in the charity sector for 10 years. My first position in a charity was as HR & L&D Manager at Whizz Kidz, where I was brought in to set up the whole function from scratch, a great introduction to the charity sector. My next role was Head of HR at the Zoological Society of London, a conservation charity best known for London Zoo. I have certainly had a lot of variety in the charity sector!
Originally, my background was in sales, in the commercial sector. I started in Insurance, then I spent 6 years in Sales Management for Granada before moving across to my first role in Personnel and Training, as it was called in those days.
2. What do you enjoy the most about working in HR?
Knowing what difference an effective and high performing HR function can make, and seeing that put into action always brings a smile to my face.
3. Describe the major challenges of working in HR?
Getting the right balance between effective operational delivery and delivery of the strategic plan is always a challenge. Because HR is about people, problems can be immediate and placed right in front of you, and it is easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day demands that you lose focus on the bigger picture. When resource is tight, deciding what has to ‘give’ to enable you to deliver that balance can be challenging.
4. Since you have been at Teenage Cancer Trust, you have introduced a recruitment portal, a new career site and completely automated your recruitment processes, how has it improved your hiring process?
It has made it so much easier to manage as we have everything in one place. It is easier for us as a team because we now have a central point to go for information, which is always up-to-date. Also, because it reduces the possibility of mistakes and duplication of work, we deliver a more professional, consistent service.
5. Given that you now have applicant tracking, analytics, interview and agency management, as well as social networking, which single feature of the portal do you feel has been the most beneficial both in terms of time and money and how ?
For me, the applicant tracking facility is the one that has brought the biggest benefits. We can see at a glance at what stage each applicant is at and helps us to deliver a smooth and professional service, both internally and externally.
6. Summarise if you can, the biggest challenges facing HR and recruitment in 2012?
I think that attracting and identifying people with the right talent who are a great fit for the role and the organisation is crucial, and I expect that to become more difficult in 2012. At Teenage Cancer Trust we like to develop people internally where possible, but sometimes there may be specialist skills, or a level of skill, or a geographical need that we can’t meet internally and we need to bring in new people. The dual challenge is to identify, attract and select the right people in the most cost-effective way, within a relatively low budget.
7. If you weren’t in HR, what would you be and why?
I would probably still be in sales, although when I was younger I wanted to be an actress! Lights, camera, action….
8. Name two famous people you would invite to a dinner party, and why?
David Attenborough, because I find him absolutely fascinating and could listen to him for hours. He has led an interesting life and has such a breadth and depth of knowledge – what he doesn’t know about the world around us is not worth knowing.
Professor Brian Cox would be the other guest, as I am interested in the way the universe works. He explains things in such an engaging way that I am convinced I understand it – until I have to explain it to someone else! So at a dinner party I might have time to learn something and practice it until I got it right.
9. We recently wrote a blog piece about strange interview questions, so we couldn’t resist, which car best represents you and why?
A four by four because it can go off-road (creative and flexible), gives great visibility (feedback) – and is smart enough not to get stuck in the snow.
10. Finally share with us the most unusual interview question that either you have been asked or that you have come across?
I was once asked, many years ago “If you saw a squirrel in your garden and you had a gun, would you shoot it?” It was a real question, completely unrelated to the job, the MD who was interviewing me just hated squirrels!
I said no, I wouldn’t shoot it. I didn’t get the job.