My brilliant Career – Jennifer Nilsen

by 25 Nov 2008

What is your current role?

I am the HR director Asia Pacific for URS. I report to the managing director for Asia Pacific and work with the global HR vice president based in San Francisco. The critical area of my work is to deliver HR solutions, strategy and organisational design which assist in the delivery of the organisations business strategy.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a Bachelor of Social Science from the University of New England, a Graduate Diploma in Employee Relations from UTS and a Masters of Business in Employee Relations from UTS.

How did you get into HR?

When I finished my undergraduate degree I wasn’t sure what career path I should take, but I knew that I wanted to do further study. I went to a career counsellor who suggested that I look at HR. This was at the time that HR was evolving out of payroll/personnel function and coming into its own. You could say I got in at the ground floor.

Why did you get into HR?

I wanted to do something with business and people and HR provided me with the best of both worlds. Once I had my foot in the door, I found that HR was exactly what I wanted to do. It suited my career objectives.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

One day, maybe not in five years, I would like to be on the Amalfi coast sipping a glass of wine. Realistically, in five years I see myself developing the next generation of HR professionals to take over the reins at URS. This is a great organisation with a lot of interesting challenges and opportunities for an HR consultant.

What has been your biggest career high so far?

There have been ups and downs along the way but I will never forget my first promotion – that was a huge buzz. I felt like I was on the way in my career. That feeling has stayed with me all this time and I try to always remember what it felt like when I’m coaching a member of my team.

What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?

You need a pragmatic business approach and you have to really understand the business you’re working for, and what they need to succeed. You also need to know how to influence without authority. HR is a business partner – you have to earn your seat at the table, so being able to influence the decision-makers is key.

How do you manage relationships with senior executives?

I like to think that I treat all relationships the same, regardless of their level in the organisation. It’s all about respect, attention and professionalism.

Who is your biggest professional inspiration?

I have two people that stand out in my mind; the first is Fred Bolling, my HR director from days working at KFC. He gave me the opportunity to learn more about HR and the business in my three years there than I could have possibly learnt in 10 years anywhere else.

Second is Jim Linn, the senior vice president of operations Asia Pacific for AMEX. I worked with Jim during my first director role and he was my business partner and a great coach. He was inclusive and made sure I understood the business and what he wanted to achieve, making it so much easier for me to do my job. It was a great learning experience.

What advice would you give to graduates considering a career in HR?

Make sure you have a good grounding in business, because you will need to understand what and who makes the business tick. You are working in order to support the company’s success. Remember, this industry is all about credibility.

Describe yourself in three words:

Down-to-earth, pragmatic, honest.