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Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Kristen Hamilton, Koru Predictive Hiring

 

Name:  Kristen Hamilton

Company:  Koru Predictive Hiring

Job Title: CEO & Co-Founder

Location:  Seattle, WA

 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

I co-founded my first company in my 20’s in the dot com era, and we took it public within four years, having had only a few years of prior work experience. My co-founders and I were very much making things up as we went. Because the situation was unprecedented, we didn’t get a lot of advice, and we suffered from it when the market and company went sideways. I have to admit that was a downside of this early (and incredible) opportunity.  I learned more on the way down from that experience, though that slide was also unprecedented, and the advice was equally scarce.

In the almost two decades of work experience since then, I have learned to ask for advice and feedback as a habit. It’s incredible what a gift that is, when it comes from well-intentioned people, at any level and tenure, when they have access to information that is helpful.

One piece of highly valuable advice came from a peer when I was a first time CEO. The advice has changed how I plan every day. It was: “Do only the things that only you can do.”  It made me realize that there are critical things, like strategic relationships, landing key customers, investors and advisors, envisioning the future of our company or product, that only the CEO can do. The only way for me to prioritize these things is to delegate or de-prioritize any other work.

 

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

When I started my job at Microsoft, after having taken my first company public, I brought an entrepreneurial and ownership mindset to my position. I struggled in the environment in some ways and sought feedback. The advice I got from a few senior veterans in the company was that I should spend more of my time and energy promoting my accomplishments internally and do a better job of managing up. This was probably great advice for some cultures, but as I’ve reflected on it, I see how the Microsoft culture is evolving under the new CEO Satya Nadella and it seems like advice that would detract from customer-centric business outcomes for an organization.  

 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

Pick a tidal wave trend and then choose a company whose leaders you believe in. This should have more to do with the character and principles of the leaders than their charisma and ideas.  The logic being that first, you want to be in a business area that is growing, because that will mean you have more opportunity for interesting work and promotion faster, and second, you want to work for people you respect. The product or service is likely to change, so don’t fall in love with that. The culture of a company is a direct reflection of the principles and character of its leaders. Spending the amount of time you will need to spend in a culture you don’t enjoy will be so intolerable that it will likely be the biggest obstacle to your success.

 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

Figure out how to get leverage for yourself, on an ever-increasing basis. People get promoted to C-level positions because they have demonstrated the ability to achieve outsized results. Each person has the same number of hours in a day, so learning how to drive the most valuable outcomes in the limited time available is key to success.

My approach to this at Koru has been to learn to hire incredible people who are better than me at the things I plan to delegate to them. Then I think of myself as their servant, who unblocks things in their way, and does for them the things that only I can do.

 

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

I gave some advice to a young woman named Lyndy, as she was starting her career, that I am proud of because of the impact she told me it had. Lyndy was a competitive runner in college and had suffered through pain and hard work to win victories and suffer defeats. She had tremendous confidence in that realm. When she spoke about her business work and skills, that confidence took a backseat and she seemed less convinced of her value, which I could clearly see was very strong. She did not own and advocate for her ideas the way she did her sports performance. I shared this observation with her and she later told me she was very surprised. She reflected and then saw the gap but had not been aware of it. Lyndy is so coachable that she made the correction very quickly. She has shared with me, over the past four years, stories about putting this to use, including engaging in conversation with a VP at HP (her employer), that yielded a great opportunity for her.

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