Karen King, projekt202's VP of Talent Management, shares the value of creating a clear path for your career
In this "Pathways to Success" podcast with host Julian Placino, projekt202's Karen King provides tips and strategies for charting a clear direction toward a career you love.
As Vice President of Talent Management, Karen ensures that projekt202 finds talented people who are passionate about their craft, as well as partnering with leaders to develop their people and create a motivational workplace. She is passionate about helping companies develop more engaged, productive places to work. With over 25 years of experience as an HR leader, strategist and business partner, Karen has played a key role in establishing and developing HR processes, and enabling companies to grow.
Highlights from the podcast follow:
Julian Placino: Welcome everyone back to the “Pathways to Success” podcast. Today in studio, I have Karen King, VP of Talent Management at projekt202. Karen, welcome to the podcast, how are you?
Karen, I guess if you could tell our audience just a little bit more about yourself, about your career and your role with projekt202 so we can get to know you a little bit.
Karen King: Sure. I have been in HR since I graduated from college. I'm one of those people that found a career and stayed with it. Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to work with several well-known businesses and organizations, and I've helped develop and craft their HR programs. I really enjoy having an influence on the day-to-day lives of our employees.
Currently at projekt202, I'm the Vice President of Talent Management, which in some organizations means recruiting only, but at projekt202, it's really about supporting the entire lifecycle of our folks.
Julian Placino: I'm curious, what got you into human resources? You are very passionate about what it is that you do.
Karen King: I didn't initially know that I was going into HR. I was a business management major initially, and one summer I had a temporary position in an employment office. I really wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary, but I really liked the vibe, I liked the people, and so I started looking into HR as a profession. Back then, it was personnel and the major happen to be in the school of management, business management. I was already there, so I just focused my course work on personnel, HR. I just enjoyed helping people understand what they wanted to do from a career perspective, helping them find jobs, helping them unlock that curiosity and engagement at their companies.
Julian Placino: I love it, and that's the mutual intersection that you and I have. As you know, I am a recruiting professional for 11 years and that's what I do, is help people find opportunities. That's why I was really excited about the topic that we have here today, which is developing a roadmap to plan your career. Help us understand, why is it important to even have a roadmap versus kind of just feeling things out?
Karen King: I think that, in my experience, I found that too often, the folks in organizations basically expect things to happen for them, and then they get frustrated because they're not moving and growing in the way that they want or at the pace they want. Sometimes that frustration can manifest in different ways, and I don't think that individuals realize how much power they have to take control of their own career. It doesn't mean that you have to have all the answers at one time. You just have to actively be thinking about what are you doing to help yourself advance in your career and what could you inadvertently be doing that is stopping you from advancing in your career.
Julian Placino: When you speak about this, who are you addressing this to? Is it to someone right out of college, is it someone who's already at their career? Who's your audience?
Karen King: It can be anyone, really. I think the conversation may be tailored a little bit differently depending on how tenured the individual is, but I think it's something that can be applicable to everyone in all stages of their career.
Julian Placino: So let's start from the baseline, let's say that we're ready to go and start creating this roadmap to our career, where do we start?
Karen King: The first thing is to clarify what your personal goals are. You don't have to have your whole career planned out when you're 25, you just have to know where do you want to go next, what do you want to learn, how do you want to grow. Those can be the building blocks to really finding your passion and what you want to do.
Julian Placino: This is a fascinating topic. I was one of those people, after I graduated from college, I still didn't really even know what I did. What is a process to start gaining clarity on what you really want to do, what excites you – what would you recommend?
Karen King: Sometimes there are tests that you can take that can help you identify where your strengths might lie, but I don't think you absolutely need those. I know that I enjoy interacting with people, and so a profession, a career that helps me to interact with people is something that energizes me. I could not be a person that works from home all the time, for instance, where sometimes that motivates other people. What may be right for me may not be right for you, and you just have to kind of feel that out and understand, "OK, where am I finding the most happiness?"
Now, every job has its bumps and you just have to understand no position is perfect, but finding the one that resonates with you is the most important thing. I would say first, think about where you find your happiness.
Julian Placino: You mentioned tests a little bit, and I've taken a number of personality tests. Have you found any one or the other that provided a high degree of accuracy, at least a direction that you should go?
Karen King: I would say I found one that provides accuracy, but it's not designed to tell you what career you should be in, it's designed to tell you where your strengths are and how you can be the most engaged, it's called the predictive index.
I have been rolling that out to the folks in the projekt202 mentor program over the last two months. I have been having the best conversations with people about understanding what motivates them, because that could also be an absence of those motivators, frustration points, and how in my role can I help eliminate as many of those frustration points for some of our top performers.
Julian Placino: Let's say you start to gain more awareness about your strengths, some of your weakness and your interests. At this point, is it important to figure out a particular industry or kind of job? Where do you go from there?
Karen King: Sometimes people aren't open-minded, because there are a lot of different careers, positions, occupations where you could apply your strengths. I would say be open to entertaining all types of opportunities where you could find that happiness. I would say you don't have to get specific about an industry. I have provided HR consulting and services across multiple companies in multiple industries, and many times, finding your strengths can be in multiple roles, multiple industries across different companies. Just because I'm in HR doesn't mean I have to stay in HR. I choose to stay in HR because that's where I find my happiness. I would say the most important thing is be open to the opportunities that are presented in front of you.
Julian Placino: So the next step would be engaging and trying? What comes next?
Karen King: Yes, I think you understand first, who can you leverage to help you? Once you identify where you want to go, how you want to grow, what you want to learn, and you are open to those opportunities, let people know what you're looking for. Networks are very positive and powerful things, and someone you may not think could help you, you'd be surprised and they probably can help you in some way.
I would say leverage your manager. Too many times, people rely on their managers to chart their path for them instead of using the manager as a person to help you achieve your goals. Too many times, it's like, "I've hear, you know, if someone is going to be promoted, then my manager should just be telling me that I'm going to be promoted." It's like, "Does your manager know that you want to do this? Have you had those conversations?" They're like, "No. If they wanted me they would just talk to me." They're very reactive in controlling their destiny, and I'm trying to get people to be more proactive in controlling their destiny.
Julian Placino: Interesting. I'm curious, do you think sometimes an employee might come off as opportunistic? How do you actually live that philosophy without intimidating others, and perhaps your immediate manager? Because if your vision is growth, how do you do that the right way?
Karen King: That's a great question. A couple of thoughts there, one is by engaging your manager as a partner to help you grow. That can be a less confrontational, intimidating conversation. It's like, "I want to learn how to do X, can you help me get those opportunities in the organization?" If there's a project that you can volunteer on, raise your hand and ask to volunteer. That's one thing.
The second thing is that you really need to do your current role well. Too many times, people get focused on the next step and then they get frustrated because they're not getting the opportunities that they want. They have to excel in their current role, so don't get too far ahead of yourself, but understand, "OK, I can do this well, and then these are the things I want to add to my plate to further round up my experience."
Another thing is to ask your manager how you can help them. Is there something that you can take off your manager’s plate to free them up to do something that they may want to do for their career growth and be that, again, partner with each other? I've also seen some success where folks have identified a gap in the organization and have said, "I think as we grow or develop, we're gonna need this person." I've worked with them to create this job description for them, and then we've socialized it, and they've ended up moving into the organization. There are so many things that people can do.
Julian Placino: Is there an appropriate length of time to be in a role, succeed, add a lot of value, and then start having those conversations?
Karen King: That's a tough question because I think it varies by organization, and the individual, and the culture of the company. I worked for a company in the past where it was kind of an unwritten rule that if you weren't moving to do something different every two years, you weren't growing. That's not very common. But understanding those cultures could be a catalyst to unlocking that secret, what is the right time.
I would say, once you feel like you have been competent in achieving the level of success in your current role and what's currently on your plate, and you feel ready to take on more, it's up to the individual to assess, perhaps with their manager's help on how they are doing. It doesn't mean that they have to be doing everything perfectly before they take on more responsibility. No one's perfect, but I would say there has to be probably a 75-80% competency in the current role before someone starts taking on more, because otherwise it may be too much at one time if you're working on things that you currently have on your plate.
Julian Placino: As far as the actual roadmap goes, do you have a proprietary process, like a definitive step-by-step? Tell us a little bit about that.
Karen King: I think it's more of some things that people can think about as they're creating their roadmap, so it's more points to consider versus a proprietary product.
Julian Placino: Got it. Walk us through some of those points.
Karen King: I think we already started clarifying those personal goals, prioritizing them, what's most important for you to achieve right now. This could be both in personal and professional development, but it's important to understand where you want to go, prioritize all of those things, and then put tasks, what are you going to do to make them happen.
Julian Placino: Specific, measurable things.
Karen King: Right, and when. When do want to learn this process at your organization? When are you hoping to learn that? When are you hoping to learn a new coding language if you're a developer? Things are changing rapidly in that world. That could mean some personal time that you invest outside of work in order to achieve your professional goals. I think people sometimes put an expectation, "I can't grow unless I'm doing it on company time," and I think that inadvertently hinders their growth because they've got this box in when growth can occur.
Julian Placino: Any other common mistakes?
Karen King: One is getting ahead of yourself, which we talked about a little bit. I think the other is understanding that when your company comes to you, and maybe for personal reasons or family reasons or other things you say, "No, I can't travel" or "No, I can't relocate," that that is putting some barriers around your growth. That's OK, those things may go away if a personal situation changes down the road, but just be aware that by saying, "No," you could be shutting a door.
The other things I would recommend is entertain lateral moves. Sometimes people think that growth only occurs if you're going up, and it doesn't. You can grow your strengths, your career sometimes by going laterally. I've seen people grow taking a step back and then going up if they decided they are wanting to maybe change their profession.
Julian Placino: Yes, absolutely, I’ve seen that happen many times actually. Especially design and also engineering, a lot of times there's an overlap on the front end, and some people will discover their passion along the way, and then excel much further because they're doing something they love.
Karen King: Exactly. I think sometimes people make a mistake in moving only for money. Well, money is important, it is not where many people find their satisfaction, and so really thinking about the reasons why you want to move. I have asked in my career many times, "Why do you want this position?" If I hear, "Because it gives me more money," I will challenge the individual to think about why they really want the job and is that going to make them happy. Do they understand if they think they want to be a manager, what being a manager is?
It may not get them the satisfaction and happiness that they're thinking it will. I would say be aware of some of those things where you could be inadvertently inhibiting your own growth.
Julian Placino: Anything else, any other best practices to really effectively plan out your career?
Karen King: Yes. I think you have to understand what you to do when you have a roadblock. You're maybe in an organization and maybe something has changed, and you're not growing as quickly as you would like, I think you need to assess, is this a temporary roadblock or is this probably longer-term one that I may not be able to overcome? For instance, early in my career, I worked for a quasi-government agency, and my boss was a very nice man, still friends with him today. He told me early on, he's like, "I only expect you to be here for X amount of time because I am not leaving, and at some point you are going to be ready to take my role."
Julian Placino: Wow, that's very straight-up.
Karen King: Yes, and I appreciated that. I'm like, "Great," and he's like, "I'm going to grow you, I'm going to do all these things and we're going to work toward that," because he knew that that's what I wanted to do eventually. I ended up staying longer than he had anticipated. He still wanted to stay, he was not intending to leave, and so I had to make the choice. That was a longer-term roadblock. I could stay and work for a man that I really enjoyed working for, but my career wouldn't advance the way that I wanted to, or I could make a move and go to another company.
Sometimes, you hit those roadblocks where you may not see the opportunity as quickly as you would like for your career advancement and you may have to make the choice to leave. Oftentimes, especially with the evolution of organizations today, there are shorter-term roadblocks. Maybe there isn't a position now, but because of growth in the organization, because of expansion, there may be something in six months to a year. You may decide, "You know what, I love the culture here. I'm going to stick it out because I am enjoying what I do, I am growing, I'm hoping for this opportunity to materialize, and I'm not ready to go yet."
Assessing where those points are and what are you willing to give up and what are you willing to keep, what are the pros and cons, and having that inner dialogue. Sometimes, I've actually written down on paper pros and cons so that I could see it. If you're not happy, life is too short to stay in a role that's not fulfilling you, or to stay in a company where you might not fit. I think sometimes people get this “woe is me” mentality and don't realize you have control.
If something’s not going right at work, we can have a conversation about that. Give us a chance to fix it and talk about where you want to go in your career before you resign, that's all we ask. Let's have that dialogue, let's have that conversation. But it is sometimes, it's like people are frustrated, but yet they don't know where they want to go or how to fix it, and sometimes just talking about it will unlock an “aha!” moment. I really, really encourage everyone – no matter where they work – to have that dialogue with people they trust, whether it's inside the organization or outside the organization, and try to understand where that block might be and how you might overcome it.
Julian Placino: Karen, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your thought leadership about this. That's why I was very excited to have you on, because you have been there, you have done that, your experience transcends in multiple industries, and it really is a great thing to discuss. Thank you very much for that.
Karen King: Thanks for having me, Julian. It's been fun.
projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software strategy, design and development. We have a unique and established methodology for understanding people in context — we reveal unmet needs — which drives everything we do. This leads to a crisp, clear understanding of the customer, which shapes the design and development of new solutions and experiences. We have the expertise, teams, skills and scale to deliver sophisticated software solutions that improve any and all touchpoints across the user journey.
projekt202 has spent over 15 years bringing to life and to market compelling experiences through our Experience Strategy & Insight, User Experience, Software Development, Marketing & Analytics, and Program Management practices. Our talented team has delivered emotionally-rich and intuitive solutions for global brands and clients such as 7-Eleven, Capital One, Dell, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Samsung Electronics, Neiman Marcus, and The Container Store, among many others.