Bold Moves and Blind Spots with Kate Emshoff (1/2)

Welcome to episode 117 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of our interview with Kate Emshoff and discuss Kate’s early career, challenges around relocation for work, and some interview subtleties for women.

Original Recording Date: 04-06-2021

Topics – Early Career History, Relocation, Job Changes, and Interview Subtleties

2:32 – Meet Kate Emshoff

  • Kate Emshoff is a mother of 3 living in the Chicago suburbs and works for Innovatis Group. One of the largest clients is VMware User Group (VMUG) where Kate serves as the Senior Director of Program Management and Operations.
  • Kate started on March 9, 2020 (which was about the time everything shut down because of the pandemic).
    • Her focus is more on execution of programs like UserCons, and she has never attended a UserCon in person. All of these are virtual at present.
    • Going into the pandemic, VMUG already a fairly robust virtual event platform, so it was not too difficult to change everything to virtual events.
    • VMUG hopes to begin having some in-person events in September of 2021.

5:11 – Early Career History

  • Kate attended Illinois State University studying communications and then focused on public relations and business administration.
    • Upon graduation she wasn’t extremely clear about what she wanted to do.
    • But, she had the chance to study abroad in Salzburg, Austria and visit a number of countries in Europe.
    • Kate had to take out a loan to take the trip, but it was worth it, and the experience helped her realize she wanted to work in international business.
  • One of her first jobs was working for the Radiological Association of North America (RSNA).
    • The Marketing position where she started was more of an admin role.
      • Interestingly enough, every position Kate has taken in her career has been a role that previously did not exist at the company.
    • Kate was charged with marketing the company’s scholarly journals to institutions like libraries and hospitals (where RSNA had been targeting individuals only).
      • This included negotiating licensing with universities and healthcare systems internally. Every country has a different healthcare system.
      • Navigating these new waters for the company helped Kate elevate quickly. She became a manager at a young age and was horrible at it.
      • As you elevate to management it’s less about executing and more about being more intentional about growing, encouraging, coaching, and mentoring.
  • At one point she wanted to leave Chicago (had never lived anywhere else).
    • She accepted a job at The Royal Society in London after flying out there to interview, but it ended up not working out.
      • This was after she had given up her apartment lease and sold all her furniture!
    • She still wanted to live somewhere else and interview with a company that published content online.
      • After interviewing with one company, she called a friend who told her about a new opportunity in Marketing at his company (Silverchair).
      • Working for Silverchair was like working at a 20-year old startup, but it also prompted a move to Charlottesville, VA.
        • Kate met her future husband right before moving.
        • They maintained a long-distance relationship.
        • Charlottesville was a cool university town and a good experience.
      • During this time Kate was able to get into the STEM field and worked with scientific, technical, and medical publishers.

13:30 – Fitting into a New Group of Peers

  • Kate had the Marketing and PR background and worked with people who were editors by trade. She was a bit of an outlier at the time.
    • Sometimes in your career you may lean toward places that make you feel comfortable, but it’s important to embrace somewhere where you are uncomfortable or don’t fit in with everyone else. It can make you stand out.
      • The people Kate worked with loved talking about what they had learned and what they did in their field.
  • You have to be ok with being vulnerable and asking questions of others, but it can’t always be peppering them with questions. * Kate considers many of the people she worked with lifelong friends despite their differences from her.
  • Listen to Kate’s story of being a young woman in her field and her willingness to point out arrogance in the Sales teams she worked with who wanted to sell to nonprofits.
    • She was willing to speak up when others might not have, and her co-workers took the feedback.
    • Nick stressed the importance of giving difficult feedback. He cited Thanks for the Feedback as mentioning sometimes the people who disagree with us the most may have the best feedback for us.
    • Sometimes people might not know they are acting or presenting themselves in a certain way.

19:58 – Back to RSNA and a Desire for More

  • Kate was working from home in Chicago and not loving it. She is an extrovert by nature.
  • The Executive Director at RSNA (a former employer) wanted her to have lunch to discuss a new department focused on International Affairs.
    • She had done licensing negotiations with people in other parts of the world, which really does require learning different cultures.
    • She would be starting from scratch, build a team, and create a committee to get this department off the ground.
    • Kate stayed there for 7 years.
      • During this time she got married and had 3 kids.
  • At some point she got bored and started looking for a new job. She interviewed for a job while 9 months pregnant.
    • Many people in her life questioned what she was doing looking for a new job with small children. She regrets listening to them.
    • You’re going to be away from your family to some extent, so find something that interests you.
    • There are not many examples of women with small children that are looking for a career change. It’s like we have a societal norm that says it’s not ok.
    • Many working women might say if they could work at McDonald’s and make the same money, they would do it. This is not the case for Kate. It should be ok to say you want to pursue a career even if you have small children.
  • She tried to stick around at RSNA, but it came clear she needed more.

24:16 – Subtleties for Women in Interviewing

  • There are things people might not realize are different for women when doing virtual interviews. Kate received some advice from other women to do the following:
    • Removing pictures of children
    • Taking off your engagement ring so people don’t perceive wealth and decide to pay you less
  • It is likely men and women alike might not know they are judging someone on these things.
  • There are some subtleties present even on virtual conference calls (i.e. Zoom or other).
    • Kate had to remind her husband to be mindful of giving the women on his calls an opportunity to talk.
    • He dismissed it at first and then came back to Kate days later agreeing that this really is a problem. Her husband said people were talking over the women constantly.
  • Maybe this stems from talking with those we feel comfortable with, and it’s easy to forget you need to include someone else.
  • It’s important to be able to have open discussions where we admit our blind spots and try to learn together. It’s how we encourage change, but it’s hard to have them and makes us uncomfortable.
  • Even after reading Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations, these situations can still be challenging. We have to practice.
  • Most of the initial interviews Kate attended as part of her move to Innovatis Group were virtual. There were some in person interviews taking place at that time, but this was February / March 2020.
    • Kate was asked about her family in interviews.
      • She took HR training while at RSNA and learned what you can and cannot ask during interviews. Asking whether someone has kids is generally a getting to know you kind of question.
      • She lived in the suburbs of Chicago at the time but wanted a job in the city. Interviewers asked her if she would be ok with the commute.
      • Kate was also trying to get away from so much international travel and felt a little judgement from interviewers when they found out she had small children.
      • When Kate interviewed for her role at Innovatis, she was told she would fit right in as many of the women she would work with had a baby within the previous year to Kate coming aboard.
    • Does telling a potential employer about having small children lead them to automatically believe the potential employee will need extreme flexibility?
      • Kate points out a bias she has seen from male interviewers that have learned about her having small children. Does this influence a decision between two strong candidates?
      • Perhaps an employer might not feel they will get the most from their investment if the candidate is a mother of small children (Nick’s opinion).

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