Career view: Nick Worrall, group HR director at Countryside

May 28, 2018 / Keith Osborne
Career view: Nick Worrall, group HR director at Countryside

With a senior role at highly respected housebuilder and regeneration specialists Countryside, Nick Worrall focuses on recruitment and training across the company, speaking to us here about his own job, his career path and how much he enjoys working in the industry.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your current role.

Having worked in HR for more than 20 years, across a number of sectors, I joined Countryside in September 2014. I’m based at the Group’s head office in Brentwood but generally spend a couple of days each week at other offices, whether in London, with our teams in the north at our Warrington office, or on any of the sites across the UK.

What education/training/job path has brought you to this role?

Like most other HR people, I kind of fell into it. Having graduated with a degree in German and Russian, I joined the Barclays international graduate programme, gaining experience across a number of disciplines and including an 18-month stint in Frankfurt. After being in a number of junior leadership roles, including running a cluster of branches, I was given the opportunity to run the graduate programme that I had joined seven years earlier. It was that exercise – seeing the difference that leadership can make to the performance of a team and an organisation as a whole – that brought home to me my love of working with people and solidified my feeling that HR was the area I wanted to pursue. I then studied for my professional HR qualification with CIPD.

Prior to joining Countryside, I was HR director for retailer BrightHouse and I have also held HR roles in a range of other organisations including National Grid and British Gas.

Have there been any particularly inspiring projects/mentors in your career to date?

There are numerous individuals who have taught me a lot during my career and to whom I have turned to for advice, coaching, or to talk things through.

In terms of projects, there have been many and I learn from each one but my first HR role transforming the graduate programme at Barclays sticks in the memory for being a steep learning curve and for the impact my work had.

What is it about your job that you most enjoy?

I was initially attracted to join Countryside by the growth potential of the organisation and it hasn’t disappointed: it’s an exciting environment where there is always a lot to keep me busy.

Linked to this is the variety of the job. I’m a generalist HR person rather than a specialist in reward or learning and development, and the reason is that I love diversity: I can be pouring over a spreadsheet around executive pay one minute and then coaching someone or going into a meeting looking at company culture the next. That diversity – all with a people element to it – is what I love and what keeps me interested and stimulated.

I also find my job incredibly rewarding: a major element of what I do involves helping line managers to get the best out of people, which in my experience they’ve traditionally been quite poor at. Often, they’ve been promoted for their expertise in their specific area rather than because of their leadership qualities so working with them to ensure they get the most from their teams can make a huge difference.

Is there something to differentiate the new homes sector from working in the rest of the property/construction market?

When I joined Countryside, I was bowled over by the level of passion at all levels within the business. The concepts of home and community are emotive ones and they are created by everything we do in terms of design, construction, landscaping and management. There is a real sense of pride here – creating places people love is what drives us and it is a good feeling to be part of an organisation that is making a difference by regenerating areas and creating high-quality new homes.

Do you take a ‘hands-on’ role in recruiting the best candidates for your own team and what qualities do you look for?

We are very hands on, having moved far more to an in-house recruitment model recently. 18 months ago, it was 88/12 agency vs direct; it is now not quite 50/50 but not far off. Doing this is delivering time and cost savings, speeding up the process of getting people into the roles we need to fill and putting us at the centre of our recruitment process.

We get line managers involved in the process early to ensure they are recruiting for their team and comfortable that the new recruit will fit in. I am also personally involved with interviewing for senior appointments. Getting different perspectives from multiple team members is important to us as, while the specific qualities we look for vary depending on the role, team fit is always essential. Whether they can do the job is normally evident from their CV, but there is a pace and an intensity to the work we do and knowing that they are up for that challenge and will perform well as part of the team is vital.

For a major listed housebuilder, people are often surprised by how warm and welcoming our culture is. We ensure that everyone has everything set up and working on day one, as although it’s a small point, it makes a real difference to a new starter, making them feel included and setting a tone of efficiency from the outset.

Is there a USP to Countryside’s approach to recruitment, training and staff retention?

We perhaps have more of a focus on ‘growing our own’ than others might do. That’s why we set such great store by our graduate and apprenticeship programmes. We have our own sales people directly employed on Countryside-branded sites, which is unusual for housebuilders but important to us as it means they are fully immersed in the Countryside brand.

Our sales academy has been a huge success in the north since we introduced it in January 2016 and we are now rolling it out across the south too, ensuring our employees have a managed career through various levels within sales.

Is there advice about studying, CVs and interview techniques that you’d give to young, potential candidates for sales careers?

Don’t get out of the habit of studying: you’re only going to get busier so get your qualifications sooner rather than later – writing a dissertation is a lot easier when you don’t have a six-month old vying for your attention!

In terms of CVs, less is more: keep it brief and think hard about every word. Any more than two pages is too long and get your summary short and punchy as it’s the key to grabbing the recruiter’s attention.

As for the interview – smile! I cannot overstate the difference it makes if you give the recruiter the impression you want to be there and that you can bring energy and enthusiasm to the role.


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