A career in Social Housing: A candidates perspective

Christine Paxton, Assistant Director of Business Development and Communications at Karbon Homes talks of her experience as a candidate with NRG, her first six months working within the social housing sector and how she’s finding her new role.

I had previous experience of working with NRG from both a candidate and client perspective and more recently through their active participation professional networking events with CIPD. I always found the staff at NRG to be warm, accessible and empathetic to the needs and drivers of different people and organisations.

For the past 10 years I had worked at NCFE, a not for profit national education organisation headquartered in Newcastle. NCFE were a fantastic employer that provided me with plenty of opportunities to develop my skill set and career. My career profile was building with a focus on leadership in business development, stakeholder engagement, strategic partnership development and product development in businesses that had a social purpose.

“Dream Job”

I was not actively looking for a new role but I was keeping my eyes open as I was interested in a new challenge outside of the education sector.  I came across NRG’s advert for Karbon Homes and it sparked my interest. I could immediately tell that Karbon was taking the appointment seriously by the level of effort put into the process, a quality branded advert, a very detailed job specification and great microsite.

The role was a mix of all of my skills and social motivation and screamed out to me as a ‘dream job’.  It was such a perfect fit for me, but I still doubted that I would make it through to interview stage as I was not from the social housing sector.

I met Jim Allcroft at NRG’s Grey Street office and expressed my reservations about my lack of sector knowledge. Jim, who is extremely knowledgeable about social housing, explained that Karbon were looking for people from outside of the industry to bring a fresh perspective to a successful organisation that had gone through significant change

Jim was great throughout the whole process, his extensive knowledge of social housing really helped me to understand the sector and decide whether it would be the right fit for me. If it had not been for that conversation, I may not have had the confidence to put myself into the mix.

The interview process and on-boarding was smooth and swift. Right from the first meeting with their CEO and my line managers, I knew I wanted to work for Karbon Homes.

“It was a good first day!”

I started with Karbon in mid-January and my first day on the job involved attending a roadshow where the new business strategy was being cascaded to everyone in the business. I heard clearly from the leadership team that they were keen to have a strategic focus on customer experience and having come from the education sector where customer-centric business models were developing across many successful organisations, I was excited to see that Karbon was committed to this as a strategic priority. I was also very happy to see the level of effort that had gone in to the internal cascade of the interim business strategy. I could see a culture of real commitment to engagement and collaboration with staff. But more importantly, I could see that all of the information Karbon and NRG had presented to me during the recruitment process was real. There had been no smoke and mirrors to attract candidates – NRG and Karbon had presented a clear picture of the business and where they were and I could see it was authentic! It was a good first day!

“It’s not what you know, but how you approach it”

During my first few weeks I spent a huge amount of time out and about with our customers, external stakeholders, the executive team and internal colleagues, building my knowledge and appreciating the business and what challenges and opportunities it faced. I loved learning all about this new sector I had become part of.

I learned quickly that the challenges faced in the education sector such as change, growth, merger and acquisition, partnership working, delivering on increasing customer expectation, regulation, reduced funding and the impact of the EU were not sector specific, and that my experience and skills would be transferrable and could add value to the team of industry experts I was working with.

Despite my early concerns at recruitment stage of not knowing the sector well, I quickly learned that my lack of sector knowledge was a positive as I could offer a fresh perspective to colleagues and they were extremely welcoming of it.

It’s not what you know, but how you approach it and I find that the best way to learn is by doing – as it brings it all to life.

Beast from the East

During my first three months, surprisingly my biggest learning experience, challenge and achievement was during the #beastfromtheeast.

The business continuity situation that Karbon and our customers faced really helped me learn about the business processes in practical terms. I learned through this emergency situation what services we provided, and identified those that were valued and critical to customers.  I began to understand how the teams worked together to deliver the customer journey.

I was at the helm of an incident management team that was quickly formed, and had to work closely with the leaders of the business to think about customer and colleague impact, make decisions and plan and execute effective communications through myself and my communications team. Through this I observed that the leadership team was relatively new too, having formed through the merger of three organisations in the last year, and we were all learning and supporting each other. This worked incredibly well, and whilst we captured lessons learned, overall we felt incredibly proud of our response as a business and I was blown away by how colleagues across the business worked with integrity and agility in difficult circumstances to support each other and to ensure our essential customer needs were met.

One innovation that came out of this incident that we were all particularly proud of was a phone app developed by ICT to support the communication to remote staff workers. This idea was tabled and executed overnight, showing great dynamism and commitment to our internal and external customers. Truly inspiring.

My communication team are planning to build on the success of the app as a communication channel moving forward.

Looking forward

As I come up to my six month anniversary at Karbon, I am already proud of what I have achieved and excited about what I can achieve in the next year and five years! I am very happy I made the move to social housing. I find the sector full of good purpose and opportunity. It has the exciting challenge of politics to contend with and is focused on delivering a quality service to its customers.  Karbon Homes is truly committed to these challenges and has a five year strategy that excites me and colleagues that motivate me to do the best for the customers we serve.