Have you ever wondered what a career would be like in the fast-paced, technologically-driven world of Human Resources? Kim Clarke, a top executive in a Houston-based corporation, and President of the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Technology, answers some basic questions about the road to management and gives some great advice to students considering a career in this challenging field.
What degree did you earn, and what year did you graduate?
In 1981, I graduated from the College of Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Technology and a minor in Supervision. I believe this degree is now called "Organizational Leadership and Supervision."
What was your first job after you graduated from the University of Houston?
I worked full time while attaining my degree and took mostly night classes. While going to school, I started working in the mailroom at a company called National Supply. During my year in the mailroom, I was able to see the inner workings of all the functional and operational departments, and that was when I decided that I would like a career in the Human Resources field. At this point, I was given an opportunity to transfer from the mailroom to the payroll department, with the promise that I would be considered for positions within HR when I received my degree. During the next few years, I honed my analytical skills and learned a significant amount about payroll and how it connects to the HR organization. My payroll job gave me a lot of exposure to the compensation function.
How did you progress to your current position?
After I graduated, the company moved me to a project involving the implementation of a new HR/Payroll system. This was a great opportunity, because you learn about all the processes used within a department when you implement a new system. After the project was completed, I moved into the HR group as an HR analyst. From there, I moved a couple of times to different companies and began to acquire knowledge in all of the other areas within HR, such as employee relations, training, employment, organizational development, compensation, and benefits. I looked for opportunities to be promoted into areas both where I had experience and, also, where I would gain new skills and knowledge. Within the next few years, I was involved in mergers and acquisitions, system implementations, projects related to labor negotiations, and several large management-of-change efforts that were related to major culture changes within these companies.
What are the primary responsibilities of your current position?
My current job as Senior Vice President, Administration, and Chief People Officer for Key Energy Services includes the Human Resource function (Recruiting, Benefits, Training, Employee Relations, Compensation, HR Systems, and Organizational Development), the Safety, Health and Environmental function, the Information Technology function, and the Enterprise Project function. I manage these four functions for a 10,000-employee company with over 150 locations in the U.S and 6 countries outside the U.S.
What is a typical workday for you?
My day-to-day responsibilities include ensuring that the functional groups' objectives for each area remain on track and are aligned with the overall business needs of the company. I am involved in strategy-setting and problem resolution, as well as review of budgets, projects, and ongoing corporate-wide initiatives for each of these groups. I spend a significant part of my day in meetings to ensure that I understand from my direct reports how their organizations are functioning and progressing with their particular initiatives. I ensure that the projects are aligned with our culture and that we are communicating and training effectively. I spend time evaluating our succession plans and assisting senior management with the development of their staff to ensure that we have a strong bench to draw from, as needed.
What do you like best about your job?
I like the variety in my job. Because I am dealing with people—their issues, problems, likes and dislikes—every situation is different. Each day, there are new challenges and ways to make positive changes and to promote growth for both the employee and the company. These are the very reasons that I initially chose HR as a career. Working in the Human Resources field allows me to use a wide variety of different skills in different ways. A career in HR requires a person to have people and management skills, as well as analytical capabilities and business acumen. As the workforce issues have grown, so have the opportunities within HR. My HR experience has given me a broad enough scope to allow me to take on other functions to manage.
What advice would you give to students considering a career in your field?
My advice to students who think that they might be interested in a career in the Human Resources field is very simple:
- Be willing to start at the bottom and gain expertise in each of the opportunities you are given.
- Don't just focus on areas you like, but learn all aspects.
- Volunteer for additional projects even if they are not in your immediate area.
- Learn the business and be a business person first and an HR person second. If you understand the business, you can more easily see where you can add value.
- Join business-related organizations and make connections.
- Like it or not, we now live in a technology-driven world. Learn as much as you can about the technology that drives the work you do, and look for ways to make it work for you.
- Learn to read and understand the numbers, metrics, and analyses. HR people tend not to be numbers-oriented, yet millions of dollars run through HR-related areas.
The College of Technology offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Human Resource Development, a professional certification program (SHRM) in Human Resource Management, and trainer certificate programs in HRD, as well as a degree program in Organizational Leadership and Supervision. For information about these and other programs, contact the Academic Services Center in the College of Technology, at 713-743-4100.