Kerry Smith

Meet...Kerry Smith

We work among extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; get to know some of them by reading these quick-fire interviews.

Name: Kerry Smith
Job title: Head of HR

What are you currently working on?
I am new to the Department of Physics and have been meeting staff and going to events to get a good understanding of all the functions and sub-departments. We are currently recruiting within the HR team, as we had two vacancies just after I arrived, so I will be interviewing over the coming weeks. An important part of my role includes supporting the ED&I strategy for the department, so I have been getting up to speed with all the initiatives and it is great to see how much is happening in this key area. I am also working on a recruitment project with the Technical Services Group and other members of Professional Services who have found it challenging to recruit staff. We are hoping to identify more effective ways to attract candidates to come and work at the Department of Physics and look at future opportunities to develop and retain key talent.

Describe a typical day
I start my day by catching up on emails, planning for the day ahead and checking in with the team. I try to go for a walk round University Parks at lunchtime to break the day up, as we are so lucky to have such a great outdoor space on our doorstep. A typical day will involve a range of meetings, which can be committee- or project-related or meeting with functional managers or staff who need HR support. Meeting people is a key part of my role and it is much easier now that we are more site based and can meet in person. I joined the University of Oxford just before the pandemic and it was a really challenging time trying to support staff remotely. Areas of HR support can include advising managers on a range of topics including policy-related queries such as recruitment, contracts, grading or managing leave. Other areas include staff development or wellbeing. From a staff perspective, working in conjunction with Occupational Health, I am available to provide guidance on health-related matters, including mental health and disability support. I also have extensive experience of assisting employees on long-term sick leave and ensuring the right support is in place when they return to work. Other areas can include career advice or training and development. I also work closely with the divisional teams to keep up-to-date on developments in HR policy, training, and ED&I initiatives.

If you had an entire day at your disposal (not at work), what would be your ideal way to spend it?
Breakfast is one of my favourite meals, so I would either go out to somewhere special or have a leisurely breakfast at home, something like eggs and avocado. I would plan to spend the day doing something special with friends or family. A day trip somewhere I have not yet visited or getting out in the countryside, as I really enjoy walking. The ideal day would be either a circular or a hill walk followed by a nice pub lunch.

What is your favourite place in Oxford?
I really enjoy walking along the river and stopping off along the way for coffee or lunch. I cycle along the river to work and feel incredibly lucky to have such a scenic route. It was certainly one of the attractions of working in Oxford and giving up commuting by car in my previous role.

Plan B: what would you be if you were not doing the job, you are currently doing?
I would probably still be working in purchasing, which is where I started my career – I fell into HR after working for a purchasing recruitment consultancy. When I joined Abbott Diabetes Care, it was only meant to be a temporary role until I found a new role in purchasing but they kept persuading me to stay to pursue a career in HR. It turned out to be worthwhile, as I stayed there for 17 years and had an amazing time supporting a range of HR related projects.