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Joe Ffrench, HR Director, Microsoft Ireland

Joe Ffrench graduated with a BA in Business and Politics from Trinity College Dublin in 1993. He began his career with the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) before joining Microsoft in 2005.

Getting started

While I knew I wanted to go into the commercial world, I'd always been disposed to the people side of things – I studied psychology and sociology as part of my degree. My degree as a whole gave me a solid foundation that I was really able to build upon in my first job. The emphasis was very much 'learn on the job', but we were expected to make valid contributions to the business from the word go. This expectation has stayed with me.

A turning point

In 2006, together with a group of other senior leaders at Microsoft, I established the Business Inclusion Council to celebrate and harness the cultural diversity we have here. Recognising and pooling this diversity is beneficial not only from a business perspective, but also on a personal level – it has given me a clearer understanding of how business should be conducted cross-culturally.

Career highlight

I've been at Microsoft for just over four years as part of an HR team that's seen the company receive the accolade of best workplace in Europe for the last three years running. This is an incredible achievement and I'm very proud to have been a part of it.

Key skill

The one skill I've consistently been told I have is the level of strategic thinking that I bring to the table. I've always been interested in asking questions, reading background material, talking to people and gauging their opinions, all of which are prerequisites for strategic thinking.

It's also important to spend time outside of your own specialism. If you're in a particular function of the business it's very easy to get caught up in your own world where you're largely unaware of what's going on elsewhere. To play a leadership role you have to reach beyond your own area of specialism to see the bigger picture.

Challenges

One of the greatest challenges (but also the greatest rewards) is to understand and tap into the range of people and talent within the organisation and to recognise that innovation can be applied in different ways. It's not just about the end product, but the internal processes too.

Advice for graduates

Target a job and a company that will give you hands-on experience from the start. If you can make a measurable contribution from the outset and have an impact on the business you will make yourself invaluable.

Skills for future leaders

Firstly, top-notch communication skills are crucial. It's not just how you talk to people, but how you listen and learn.
Secondly, a thorough understanding of technology cannot be over-emphasised – being IT literate is really important so keep your technology skills up to scratch, both in and outside work.
Finally, be aware of the international dimension. Whatever size company you're in – large or small – you are operating in a global environment. Travelling before, during or after college can be a great way of acquiring international exposure and experience.

How to survive an economic downturn

To stand out in a competitive graduate market think about how to demonstrate achievement that you've personally driven. This could be anything, from playing a major part in college society, to pioneering a technological innovation at college, or getting involved in social work of some kind – something that shows you're comfortable with taking the lead.

Joe Ffrench was interviewed for Ireland's 100 leading graduate employers 2010.