London-based project management consultant Jenny Humphreys tells us how jumping into high pressure situations has helped her thrive.
Where did your career journey take you?
It’s involved a couple of war zones and not much training. After 10 years in recruitment I decided there was more to life than hitting sales targets, so I took a six month internship as a project assistant at Save the Children where I helped recruit 10 child protection in emergencies’ trainees. We whittled 640 applicants down to 24 and then appointed the final 10 through holding a final selection stage “mock emergency relief operation” in a wood. I loved it!
When the Arab Spring hit Libya they needed someone in the country to prepare funding proposals. I jumped at the chance. It was all hands on deck – I did everything from resourcing projects to acting as a media spokesperson. From there I took a programme manager role with a small British charity in Afghanistan. With just four full-time staff we ran some really big projects in a place where nothing is simple.
When I left the charity because of the deteriorating security situation in Kabul, a friend told me about an opportunity in the private sector – I talked up my ‘working under extreme pressure in Libya’ experience and here I am!
What are the key elements of your current role?
I’m working with events company UBM, as a portfolio analyst. I was brought in to define and implement various project management systems and processes and help techy project managers use them. I also perform management reporting across the portfolio of projects.
How has your upbringing helped you professionally?
My dad is of the job-for-life generation, so when I started moaning about my recruitment career he told me “nobody’s supposed to enjoy their work, Jenny”. I thought, that’s bullsh*t. Fortunately my mum has always told me I can do whatever I set my mind to, which really helped when making big career decisions. To be fair to dad, when I moved into the charity sector he was really supportive – he’d just retired and started to realise there’s more to life than a pay-packet.
Have you ever had a ‘eureka’ moment that changed your career?
I used to hate it when projects didn’t go to plan. But working in Afghanistan quickly makes you realise plans need to be flexible. There’s no point sticking to one when a vital part has radically changed – like the date of a major government conference you’ve been organising for three months! I learned to focus on the overall goal, and accommodate small changes. It’s also fine to have a little rant now and then.
What do you value most about your working life now?
Integrity. As a recruiter it was hugely satisfying when clients and candidates felt they could trust me. This approach was critical in my humanitarian career too – it was essential to support the most vulnerable even if more powerful groups felt their needs were being overlooked. In the long-run we gained the respect and trust of communities, which outweighed the discomfort of standing our ground.
If you could go back 20 years what advice would you give yourself?
Make hay while the sun shines and save as much as you can. That approach helped me take a career-changing six month unpaid internship.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Rising above the challenges. In Libya I had to deal with power cuts, gunfire going off in the streets and often feeling out of my depth. I was once asked to take the place of an education adviser when head office had been unable to recruit one – I showed willingness and compassion and it led to the country’s deputy minister for education asking me to come and work for him even though I was nowhere near qualified.
Have you had any career low points and how have you overcome them?
I was unhappy for about seven of the ten years I worked in recruitment – I needed to understand why and find solutions. So I travel around the world for 12 months and trained as a wedding and events photographer for six, both experiences helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses better. I returned to recruitment knowing what I needed to improve, so when the right opportunity came along I could grab it.
Who are your career role models and why?
I had a brilliant manager at Save the Children who taught me the value of collaboration, by bringing different experts together to see problems from multiple perspectives. At first I thought it was a waste of time and we just needed action. But I quickly saw how each expert picked up on challenges we hadn’t anticipated and re-energised us when we were stuck.
What’s your ultimate goal?
A simpler life in a country house with stunning views over the hills. And flexible remote working.
If money was no object what would you buy?
That house in the country.
What would your motto be?
What’s the worst that could happen?
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