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Nikki Emerson

Head of People Operations

3 minute read

In her own words, Nikki Emerson, Head of People Operations, tells her story. 

25 years ago, I fell into recruitment. After studying Law at university in Cardiff and working in Bristol, I wanted to move back to London, and I saw an opportunity for a recruitment vacancy which required no previous experience. It was an opportunity to get myself in the place I wanted to be. I was working for an agency called Michael Page and I very quickly realised I didn’t enjoy the sales side of the work. I was lucky to be able to move into an on-site role which is where you look after just one client and you’re an extension of their team. I enjoyed the delivery work and looking after customers.  

Over the next 15 years I worked for two organisations and had the opportunity to work with some brilliant clients. I have moved upwards throughout my career, so I became an account manager, an account director and then an account director looking after multiple accounts. I then decided I wanted a bit of change and moved into leading the project management office. Although I wasn’t the technical expert in the area, the role was more about running the whole team. It was something different for me but kept me close to the client and their perspective which I loved as part of my role in recruitment. I then became change director at the same organisation.  

Then I became very poorly with early onset psoriatic arthritis and at points I couldn’t use my hands and could barely walk. I made the decision to stop working. The company I was working for was brilliant – I had quite a bit of time off and then came back very part time. However, I just wasn’t able to work and focus on my health. So, I made a difficult decision to resign and didn’t work for about 3 years. During that time, I had a lot of medical and surgical interventions. It was a difficult time for me, but it was the right decision. Looking back, I know it was important to focus on making a good recovery and finding a good balance in my life.  

I am fortunately on some amazing medication which has been completely life changing for me. I’m able to live a relatively normal life but the medication does wipe out your immune system. As a result, I’ve had several malignant and non-malignant skin cancers and quite a lot of surgery. All together it has been a tough time where I needed to just focus on getting better.  

I decided that I wanted to go back to work and the type of role I was doing before. I wanted to work for myself for a little while so I could be in control of how much I worked and what I was doing. I had lost a bit of confidence during the time I wasn’t working as the world had moved on and social media had exploded. Working for myself allowed me to back into work and strengthen my confidence, whilst doing some training to get myself up to speed on new developments.  

I started to get the feeling that I wanted to go back to working for a company. I missed the feeling of belonging. I was born and raised around Richmond and Twickenham so when I saw the role of Head of Resourcing pop up, I applied on Christmas Eve and had an interview on 2nd January. Suddenly, I was back in full time work which was quite daunting at first.  

The team at NPL are brilliant. I feel really supported. I’ve never worked in this sector before. I’ve always worked in investment banking and professional services, so it’s completely different for me. NPL is much more values driven than previous companies and that was important to me.  

When I joined NPL it was a start of a big growth spurt in terms of the company size. The focus for me was developing the team and continuing a direct sourcing model. My experience is working with an outsourced model but in-house worked much better for NPL. I knew that in order for us to continue to grow, we needed to really look at our systems, processes and digital enhancements. We brought in whole new methods of assessment, all values driven, a new recruitment system and we are always looking to the external market to make sure that we’re at the forefront and recruiting in an inclusive and efficient way.  

I was asked to do interim cover for the Head of HR at NPL which was a little bit of a surprise as I didn’t think it was an obvious fit with my recruitment and talent background. I knew it was only a temporary cover and I was happy to help out. Once I started, I realised that it was a good match for me and that what I had experienced in moves before, that attitude and approach, plus great technical leads around you can really work. When the role came up permanently, I applied and 18 months later here I am!  

Back in April, I was out of the business for about 6 weeks, with an unexpected serious illness, and the support I received from my manager and the team was incredible. I was blown away with how my health was so clearly and genuinely the priority. I felt so supported to come back to work and do it in a way that I was able to do my job and feel like I am adding value.  

It’s been a really big lesson for me. An analogy I use is when you’re on the plane and you’ve got to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others. It’s not selfish to do that. You have to do that to be able to help others. It makes me a little bit emotional because you look around at other organisations and lots of people just don’t experience this support. It makes me feel more connected to NPL and I want to do more at work.  

I never would have imagined I would be in this role. If I was looking at this role at an external organisation, they would most likely say that I needed X qualifications which I don’t have. It wouldn’t have been an expected career path for me but at NPL my strengths are taken into consideration. For example, I’m not the technical expert in some areas that I look after but I have fantastic colleagues that I can rely on. I think the interesting thing is a lot of my barriers have come from me, because I hadn’t seen this career path as an option.  

I have three pieces of advice to anyone who has similar experiences to me. First is from a health perspective. We need to remember that we’re all responsible for our own wellbeing. We need to make the right steps, hopefully supported by those around us, but we’re best placed to make those decisions.  

My second piece of advice is a career pathway perspective – really think about what your key skills are but also remember that the experience you have doesn’t necessarily define your career path unless you want it to. So many of our skills are transferable and we shouldn’t limit ourselves. 

The third piece of advice is about listening to the people around you. Often people around us see something in us that we don’t see ourselves. For example, with my current job, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind that I could do it. Others saw the opportunity and thought of me.  

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