“A journey without challenges wouldn’t help us develop the resilience we need to succeed.” – Natalie Ellis

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Natalie Ellis, HR Consultant & Director of Rebox HR. She talks about her varied career journey, her career decisions, and how she stays driven and determined.

I didn’t know what to do when it came to the world of work, all I ever wanted to do from a young age was to join British Airways Cabin Crew – there was no plan b!

After being rejected several times due to my height, I felt lost and wasn’t really fussed about work. After a few years in customer services and a terrible breakup, I felt that was the right time to pursue a career and create my own path.

The relationship ending was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was told that a career wasn’t for me, that I should just stick to customer services and just settle.

After a lot of research, I decided that a career in HR was for me. After over 300 applications to prospective employers, a wonderful lady saw potential in me and gave me a chance.

I had no HR experience, I was just very good at admin and organising things! 17 years later here I am running my own successful and multi-award-winning HR business.

“17 years later here I am running my own successful and multi-award-winning HR business.”

In a typical working day… I never know what kind of day I am walking into – that is the beauty of working with my clients, there is always something going on!

I have a strict morning routine; I like to call them my non-negotiables! This is when I take time to exercise, journal, or just have a nice coffee early in the morning to appreciate the journey so far and to be grateful.

The rest of my day is spent speaking to clients, supporting them with their employment law questions, training their managers in people management essentials and helping them be the best employers that they can be.

The reason why I chose this career/industry… I love the people focus, I enjoy meeting people and I’m a keen problem solver. HR gives me a variety that keeps me interested, employment law changes regularly so there is always a new challenge.

Currently, I’m really focused on supporting better mental health practices within workplaces, I love educating managers and business owners with my training courses and now I am able to do it at our new office training facility which is incredible and very exciting!

“HR gives me a variety that keeps me interested!”

How did you get to where you are now, and did you face any challenges along the way? Oh my goodness yes! A journey without challenges wouldn’t help us develop the resilience we need to succeed.

When I applied for my first HR job, I sent over 300 handwritten applications and CV’s to get a foot in the door. Out of the 300, I was invited to 9 interviews – on the 9th interview, I got offered the job on the spot!

As I advanced in my career, I was exposed to board meetings, all because I put my hand up and offered to do the tasks that no one else wanted. I was honest and said I don’t know how to do it, but we learn by doing. Before long, I was presenting HR data and explaining to company investors how the HR department could add value and what the next challenges for the business were.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I had imposter syndrome kick in, but you have to ignore the noise, it’s not about you, it’s about getting the job done. You are capable otherwise you wouldn’t be in that position.

There are other times that I have messed up, made mistakes, and sent the wrong email! We all do it, we are human after all, but those mistakes don’t make us bad at our jobs, nor do they define us, it’s all a part of the journey.

When we are exposed to rejection/challenges, I used to get frustrated and think “why me?” As I have progressed and matured in my career, I look at things differently and wonder ‘what is this trying to teach me?’. Mindset is an incredibly powerful thing once you learn how to approach it.

“A journey without challenges wouldn’t help us develop the resilience we need to succeed.”

How did you overcome those setbacks? To be told you have failed something that you are passionate about can be taken one of two ways, you either let it eat you up and knock your self-confidence, or you can learn from it, dust yourself off and try again; I’m choosing option two.

What I have learnt so far is that failure is not a step backwards, it can actually be a sideways stepping stone to success. If we are succeeding all of the time, we are not learning anything from these experiences. It is, of course, nice to be successful, but it is the journey itself that creates that success. Therefore it is important that we recognise that balance.

I often blog about getting out of our comfort zones to learn, develop and grow as HR professionals but I’ll be honest – it’s difficult when you know you need to take your own advice which leaves us being highly critical of ourselves sometimes, which can damage our self-confidence and doubting our abilities.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but if we remain in our comfort zone then we won’t overcome our fear of failure.

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role? A lot of HR consultancies work on the premise of getting as many clients in and providing a minimal service. When I created Rebox HR, this was the last thing I had in mind – I prefer a quality over quantity approach. Our clients always comment on how refreshing our approach is and love our way of working as it doesn’t make HR seem so scary.

My business is completely bespoke ton each client and is cost effective for small businesses so everyone can get the right level of support from us. By doing this, we help them to grow their business and that is the best feeling!

“If we are succeeding all of the time, we are not learning anything from these experiences.”

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed? I am heavily inspired by the Spice Girls, as a young girl in the 90’s I saw their drive and passion to succeed. They were rejected so many times by various record companies, yet they found the right one by storming a meeting and dancing on a boardroom table!

The lessons I took from them were to never give up, be determined and surround yourself with those who believe in you. By doing this, you’ll create the right opportunities for you. They never sat and waited for offers to come to them, they created their own platform and these are the lessons I use every day in my business.

What’s great about being a female in your role? I love being my own boss, having my company brand is incredible and to be able to say that I created it is incredible.

I think that feeling comes from a place where all of the times you’ve doubted yourself, or suffered with imposter syndrome all just fade away. We are often our worst critics, sometimes we just need to trust in our capabilities more!

What is your biggest achievement in life? Professional life-wise, it is definitely being named on the HR Most Influential list in 2021, it was the most incredible night of my life. Also being named as a finalist in the SME National Awards which are being held in December at Wembley Stadium.

In my personal life, I’m so grateful to have an incredibly supportive family, but achievement wise it’d have to be marrying my best friend and rescuing our dog, Molly.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way? Trust your gut instinct, it has paid dividends for me in my professional life. I’ve put my hand up at opportunities that I didn’t have experience in, what’s the worst that can happen? They say no, keep trying and keep moving forward.

Embrace failure, if it happens, it happens, you cannot change it, but you can change how you respond to it. Think of what the experience is trying to teach you, not look at what you missed out on as that distracts you from your goals.

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  1. Don’t compare yourself to other people, comparison is the key to unhappiness
  2. Don’t believe in the Instagram profile lifestyle; none of it is real, create your own version of what makes you happy, don’t just do something because you think it is trendy!
  3. Work hard and be focused, if something doesn’t feel right, then look at what needs to change.
“Don’t compare yourself to other people, comparison is the key to unhappiness.”

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

When I speak to women who would like to progress, they often say they’re ready, and I know I did, which was a mistake, as I wanted to run before I could walk. Looking back now I was keen and had the right attributes, but I didn’t have the confidence I needed to get out there and show my employer what I was capable of. I made mistakes and that got me noticed for the wrong reasons.

My advice is to master the basics and own your craft, it doesn’t matter if it is a simple piece of admin, taking notes at meetings or creating something. Taking pride in your work is not to be underestimated and it makes us feel good when we do a job well.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self? Don’t worry so much about fitting in, take time to enjoy the present, keep studying hard and the hard work will pay off!

If you could do anything differently in your career, what would it be? I wouldn’t change anything, every experience I have had had led me to where I am now. I am grateful and proud of how far I have come.

If you enjoyed this Role Model blog from Natalie Ellis, check out our other #YesSheCan blogs with Cassy Nichols, Ramneek Sohal and Sinead Rose.

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