As Head of Product — Candidate at SEEK, Caitlin Blackwell understands how finding a new job can have a profound impact on a person’s life and family. Her own career progression has led her from beginnings as a producer at SEEK in 2012 to taking on a Head of Product role. Leading the Product spoke to Caitlin to find out more about her rise through the ranks at SEEK and the challenges she faces as a product leader.
Caitlin’s early career
I started out in content in e-commerce when I moved to London straight out of uni.
After coming back to Australia, I worked in content and web production roles in government and education. I joined SEEK in 2012 working as a Producer, Product Manager and Senior Product Manager across SEEK Learning and our Hirer side of the business.
I then moved to the Candidate side as the Senior Product Manager for the Candidate mobile apps team before moving into the Head of Product — Candidate role.
The highlights of being part of the SEEK team
I’m motivated by the SEEK vision, to: “Help people live more fulfilling and productive working lives”.
SEEK is a melting pot for passionate and ultra-smart people. On a daily basis, I’m learning from brilliant people across product, technology, UX, delivery and strategy.
I have also had some great leaders at SEEK who have inspired and developed me. This has allowed me to move around the business into challenging and fulfilling roles, where I’ve learnt a lot and felt like I could create change. I think is a really important part of feeling fulfilled at work.
I’ve always followed what I enjoyed. When I was in content, I found I preferred the parts of my role that involved delivering microsites. This was because of the variability and really different challenges of tech and working closely with UX, so I moved more in that direction.
After moving into product management, I moved portfolios when I thought I’d enjoy a different problem, audience or dynamic.
At times throughout my career, I have benefited from some nudges from leaders to think about progressing to the next level. In my experience as a female and leading females, it’s really common for women to be focused on developing skills and working out how they can contribute more in their current role, rather than working out their next step.
This is a great thing as it’s humble and giving, however it means those females may not consider stepping up to more senior roles. If employers don’t encourage quieter and less confident people to shift their focus to more stretch targets, there can be missed opportunities for diverse talent at more senior levels.
I was also involved in a female leadership program at SEEK, which really made me focus on my development and be specific about my goals. It also helped build a supportive network where I have learned from talented women in different roles to mine.
Achieving Head of Product status
I am really passionate about the Candidate portfolio so I was motivated to have more of an opportunity to align our teams to solve problems for our candidates.
When I applied, I told a lot of people I was going for the Head of Product role, which is not really a common move. I spoke to a lot of people internally who I trusted to give me their thoughts on what was important for this role.
I did have some trepidation in sharing my aspirations in case I was unsuccessful, however the positive response I got from sharing was so gratifying. Being open also meant I could access help identifying what was important in that role. This helped me with my preparation for the interview process.
The side benefit of sharing my plans was knowing peers supported me, and feeling more confident about being able to do the role well.
The challenges of product management
Being a Product Manager is always a really challenging job. This needs to be acknowledged, and PMs should be provided with and seek out support so they don’t feel alone and can learn from each other. You need buddies!
As a PM, it can often feel as though you have so much accountability without any authority. What’s more, there are many complex customer, tech and business variables to disrupt your best-laid plans. On top of that, you are working with complex interpersonal dynamics daily and you can’t see into the future, despite everyone asking you to.
I love this quote, which I think shows how introspection on your decision making is so important: ‘The greatest attribute of a Product Manager is a strongly developed ability for metacognition. First, to be able to introspect oneself and see how your words, actions, choices are affecting an outcome. Second, to introspect a process and understand why it is or is not working.’
The challenges of a senior position
After transitioning to a leadership role, I realised that not having immediate problems to look into daily as prescribed by your domain or team means that I needed to spend time really working out what to focus on.
This is sometimes in your products, metrics, teams, between teams and sometimes it’s team members who need help. When coaching my team, it’s a delicate balance of providing direction and allowing my team to have autonomy and ownership.
One of the main parts of my role is setting the candidate vision across the portfolio with my UX colleagues and the broader team. This involves balancing many things:
1) Problems we’re trying to solve
2) Making these compelling and tangible
3) Trying not to prescribe how we address these problems, as in discovery on the problems we will uncover those solutions
Happily, the challenges I perceived I would face in this role were bigger than those I’ve actually encountered (for the most part). It’s very easy to talk yourself out of going for a role if you compare yourself to others who have more experience (such as my current peers) so I’m pleased I pushed through my fears to have a crack at it.
Advice for others who want to advance their careers
My leader Nicole (SEEK Chief Product Officer, Nicole Brolan) has always said this about career progression and it’s so true: First, always nail your current job.
Once you know you’re at the top of your current game, work out not just what sort of role title you want, but identify a domain you are passionate about as well as your preferences in terms of environment, autonomy and customer.
I’m a person who likes a fast-paced, highly collaborative and autonomous environment. I identified that these were all present in my current role, which helped me be sure that this was the right next step for me.
Put your aspirations down on paper and ask your leader to be accountable for it as well — it’s actually very helpful as a leader to have people being very specific in their development goals.
As a champion of diversity at SEEK, Caitlin also shared her insights on recruiting and managing a range of different people:
The challenges of creating a diverse team
There are so many factors at play when it comes to diversity. This includes privilege, ethnicity, religion, gender, introversion/extroversion, LGBTIQA+.
To start, we need to make sure we’re cognisant when we don’t have a diverse team, and make sure we try and work out to how to address it either by attracting talent, retaining or developing talent or a combination of all three.
We’re currently working on how to get a more diverse leadership team in Product at SEEK. It’s not easy but it’s so motivating, and at the heart of solving this is inclusion. If we can continually strive for a more inclusive culture, it will have such a broader pay off in terms of psychological safety, engagement, motivation and better and more diverse points of view. Our decision making will be all the better for it.
While I’m really passionate about diversity, everyone owns this issue. So I asked my colleague Jay Claringbold (Head of Product — Hirer) his thoughts as I know he’s thought deeply about it.
Here’s what he had to say:
“One thing we can do as a society to help with gender imbalance, especially at more senior levels within organisations is to help families find better balance. The usual scenario today when a woman gets pregnant is that she takes 6–12mths off before returning to work in a part-time capacity. Then add another child to the mix and you have a period of 2–5+ years where a woman is in and out of the workforce.
As this is playing out, women’s partners in the workforce continue their full-time roles. Thus it’s no surprise that they are more of a chance to be promoted into more senior positions during this stage of life.”
What I have seen more of recently at SEEK is men taking more parental leave (three months primary carer leave, or longer if part time). Jay has two young kids and works four days as does his wife, so they both have the same opportunity at work. We need to shine a light on examples like these and encourage them.
Overcoming the challenges around diversity
Creating an inclusive environment should mean all types of people thrive, rather than only the overtly ambitious extroverts.
This means leading people differently, depending on their experience, personality, development needs and confidence. It also means:
Doing the above will show the positive examples of balance across the organisation and make teams and the broader organisation stronger.
Originally published at https://www.leadingtheproduct.com on October 16, 2019.