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What I look for in an HR Manager: Jenneh Thomas, HR Director, Mondial UK

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Jennah Thomas
In an exclusive interview with Annie Hayes, Jenneh Thomas reveals what she is looking for in an HR candidate, why the CIPD qualification plays second fiddle to business experience and the secrets to her recruitment success.


“I’m not always tactful and my expectations are very high,” Jenneh Thomas, Human Resources Director for Mondial UK tells me.

Finding the right person for the job is the perpetual quest for recruiters and it’s not all about what’s on paper.

Mondial UK is a leading provider of travel insurance and assistance products. As a member of the global Mondial Assistance Group, Mondial provides service to customers 24 hours a day and it takes the right person with a strong personality to fit in.

Chatting about what she looks for in an HR professional, HR Director, Thomas explains that simply having the notorious CIPD qualification won’t cut it, if the realities don’t match up.

“Candidates have to be commercially aware, this is a fast-paced environment. When I’m looking for an HR professional therefore I need to consider what is best for the business.

“What we’re trying to do here is align HR with the business rather then the other way around. It’s key to our operation.”

And finding a candidate who is not afraid of engaging with senior members of the organisation at a high level is crucial, says Thomas.

“They can’t be frightened of a good debate. They need to be able to converse with Directors at a high level. I’m also looking for people with sound technical ability that can apply theory and align themselves with business objectives.”

The HR operation of 12 looks after 1,100 staff located within the UK. A sister outfit based in Dublin of 20 employees also falls within their HR remit and with a large customer service operation in the North of England, together with approximately 300 or so field sales staff and a further 140 based within client operations the demands are varied.

Thomas puts her own HR career success down to ‘self-orchestration’ and says this was the real secret to getting to the top of the HR tree.

“I’d see where a gap was and put myself forward but at the same time I’d make sure the expectations were realistic. I didn’t just jump straight into every job opportunity made available to me. There was a lot of thought process behind each move,” she explains.

Thomas started out in the hotel industry fulfilling a personnel and training manager post for some eighteen months. This was followed by a stint in retail but Thomas soon realised that she wanted more exposure to blue-chip organisations.

“I took a job working for the Phillips Group, it was a temporary assignment. I then made a move to the public sector working for the Regional Crime Squad in the South East.”

This didn’t prove to be the right fit for Thomas who found the slower pace and bureaucracy too limiting. In August 1997 she joined Mondial working as a Personnel Officer mainly on the operational, call centre side of the business. After two years she became a senior personnel officer and moved to a non-support officer position working with finance, IT and technical services.

“I had my first child and came back within six months. I then took on a role as a recruitment and development manager; I did that for a further two and a half years. I then had my second child and came back and stayed within that role for another six months.”

After another post as an Assistant HR manager for a year, Thomas filled the boots of the HR Manager who had resigned and at the beginning of this year she became the Head of HR and Facilities.

With a solid grounding in working with different functions and various industries herself, Thomas believes that having a business background is vital for an HR candidate.

“We’ve recently taken on two HR business partners. One arrived in HR from a business background and the other took the direct HR route. I can see a difference in their talent sets and I have to say that the one with the commercial experience is the strongest,” admits Thomas.

For this HR Director, recruitment is very much about networking and knowing people within the industry, “If I know someone I will approach them. I’ve used a local Croydon-based recruitment agency for sometime, Catherine Johnstone. They’re a smaller organisation and I’d use them over and above the larger players such as Joslin Rowe or Frazer Jones anytime.

“I find that you can build up a better relationship with the smaller businesses. There are just too many consultants involved in the large ones. If you compare recruiting via an agency to advertising in the trade press I think you get a better deal too. With press advertising you only have one shot, with the agencies they keep going until they find the right candidate.”

And getting a job at Mondial is no easy task. Candidates must excel with a series of psychometric tests and two sets of interviews in which presentation is often required.

Reflecting on her vast experience, Thomas advises recent HR graduates to get some experience under their belt, “You have to get as much exposure to different kinds of industries and situations as you can. I’d suggest taking temporary assignments; HR can be so different depending upon which types of environment you end up in.”

One Response

  1. How refreshing! What I look for in an HR Manager
    How refreshing to read the article by Jenneh Thomas regarding what to look for in an HR Manager. I can’t tell you how many senior HR posts I’ve seen advertised recently where CIPD qualifications are regarded as essential criteria and commercial experience doesn’t get a mention. Many recruiters place too much emphasis on CIPD qualifications and under estimate the value of commercial experience when recruiting for senior HR professionals. If HR is to truly partner the business then the benefits of commercial experience far out weigh any CIPD qualification.

    Thanks for a well written article which was a pleasure to read!

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