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How Did I Get Here? Alison Lewis, Oxfam

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HR Zone member Alison Lewis is Corporate Learning & Development Manager for Oxfam. Here, in our regular 'How Did I Get Here?' feature, she spills the beans on her HR career to date.


What's your current job role?
Corporate Learning & Development Manager for Oxfam – which I do 3 days a week. The other 2 days a week I do freelance management and organisational development for other organisations.

What did you do before this job?
Immediately before, I was Oxfam's Learning & Development Manager for their Trading Division (the part that runs all the Oxfam shops – over 800 – through the UK). Prior to that I was the Trainer Development Manager, Europe Middle East and Africa, for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Describe your route into HR?
As an Executive Officer in HM Customs & Excise, working in Civil Litigation (making people bankrupt for their VAT debts), I went on my first management training event. I looked at the trainers and thought "that's the kind of job
I'd like to do", talked to them about how I could get involved, then moved across through internal applications and promotions.

Did you always want to work in HR?
No, but I have been working in HR since I was 21! When I first worked (in the Executive Officer role described above) I wanted to go to drama school and took the job in London as a 'stop-gap' until I re-auditioned. I now realise that I was hopeless as an actress, but did like the psychology and group dynamics involved in trying to understand people and relate to an audience.

What would you say has been the most significant event in your career to date?
Taking the job with Oxfam. It opened my eyes to a sector where I feel really at home with the purpose and values of the organisation, and know where I want to make a difference through my skills and experience. The voluntary
sector is also incredibly flexible about working patterns, so I've been able to pursue my interests in working freelance alongside employment in a large organisation.

How do you think the role of HR has changed since you began your HR career?
It's more integral to and involved in the business planning for an organisation, and taken more seriously as having an important contribution to make in business decision making.

What single thing would improve your working life?
Having a Star Trek style transporter so I could travel to places quickly. I currently commute between Brighton and Oxford and hate the journey. If I could do the journey in a few minutes I would be a much more pleasant and productive colleague to have around!

What's your favourite part of the HR Zone site?
Any Answers. The generosity, willingness to help, and creativity of the community that appears in this section continues to amaze and delight me.

Have you made contact with any other members?
I'm ashamed to say – only those I knew already through my other networks.

Do you have any advice for those looking to embark on a career in HR?
Be clear about what motivates you to do this work, and if you have certain values and beliefs about the kind of HR function you want to be part of, network like crazy to find out which organisations have that kind of HR function…
then network some more to get a job there!


If you're willing to share your experiences of working in HR to date with other members, we'd like to hear from you – e-mail us to receive a copy of this questionnaire.

Previous 'Introducing…' features:

Jessica Diggins, HR Manager, Chartered Management Institute
Linda Klassen-Brown, Group HR Manager, The Logic Group
Keith Hanlon, HR Manager, Quantum Business Media
Andrew Mayo, frequent speaker and writer on HR issues
Jim Brooks, HR Manager for ServiRail Ltd
Jean-Bertrand de Lartigue, Chairman of HR2all
Karen Caddick, Head of HR, Channel Five
Madeleine Tate
Keith Luxon, HR Policy and Reward Director, The Laurel Pub Company
Jeremy Thorn, Chairman and Director of QED Consulting
Roger Pattison, HR – Training & Management Development Consultant
Verity McVarish, HR Manager for Sift Media
Rus Slater
David Kelly, Head of Development and Training for Aventis
Jenny Kevan, UK HR Manager for Abbott Laboratories
William Martin, HR Manager, Telewest Broadband
Craig Truter, HR Manager, The Body Shop
Martin Stockton, HR Transformation Leader, Towers Perrin
Nick Heap, Consultant, New Directions
Crispin Garden-Webster, HR Specialist, Asian Development Bank
Sandra Walsh, HR Delivers
Carole Leslie, Director, IT Learning Ltd
Shaun Dunphy, Project and Process Manager, EMEA HR Service Centre for MCI
Debra Artlett, HR Officer, NGJ
Dianne Miles, HR Manager, Rollalong Ltd
Jacqui Mann, HR Manager, Integra NeuroSciences
Isabella Montgomery, Human Resources Officer at The new Housing Association
Iain Young, Head of HR for Cofathec Heatsave

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