Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.
This week we catch up with Karen Barroeta, executive vice-president at NBC Universal Telemundo.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?
Growing up, I knew I liked communications and I always thought I was going to be a news anchor or reporter. I was lucky enough to get experience in that field and quickly learned I actually didn’t like it at all. My aunt worked at Globovisión, one of the main TV news channels in Venezuela. She was able to get me an internship, and I thought, “because I’m her niece, I’ll be able to get on camera!” Little did I know she would have me start at the bottom so I could learn the ropes and work my way up the ranks, which is something that I’m now incredibly thankful for.
One day, my aunt was out sick and there was breaking news that required around-the-clock coverage. The next thing I knew, I went with the production crew and reported the story. After the experience, I didn’t feel as energized or satisfied as I thought I would. I realized that what I always envisioned as my career was not the route I wanted to take after all. I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in communication and getting a master’s degree in TV production and digital media.
As soon as I graduated, a marketing opportunity came along and I also had to the chance to dabble in other areas like public relations and advertising, but I quickly learned that I really enjoyed production.
How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.
I’ve been with Telemundo since 2002, and in order to keep growing in the industry, I knew I had to choose one of two different career paths: network programming or production.
When I think about obstacles throughout my career, many come to mind, but you grow and learn from them. Up until a point, I had only worked with men. My first time working with a woman in a leadership position was a new experience and one I found challenging. She was unsupportive and didn’t inspire growth across her team. From that moment, I thought that all my future experiences reporting to a woman were going to be negative.
The second woman in a leadership role I worked with changed my perception and perspective. She taught me the power of women connecting and supporting each other at work, which is important for both individual and team growth. That experience helped me develop a thick skin and taught me that being caring and considerate of other women and mentoring them throughout their career makes an impact and helps them advance. Now, as a woman in a leadership position, I embody what I’ve learned along my professional journey. I try to be the best possible mentor and manager to my team.
Through my career so far, there is nothing I’d do differently. From every mistake, I’ve learned and grown. What’s important is to stand back up, learn from the mistake and become stronger. I often think, “Wow, I’ve been at the same company for 20 years. Will this look bad on my CV?” I’ve been given many opportunities to broaden my experience and advance. I’ve been given the opportunity to expand my knowledge and skill set in the media and entertainment business.
So what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
On the creative and development side, I seek original, intriguing stories that will entertain our audience. I work with magnificent writers who flesh out these stories and bring memorable characters to life. On the production side, my team and I focus on producing content that’s relevant to our audiences and will compete well in the crowded marketplace so that we can deliver on ratings, be successful on digital platforms and ultimately strengthen our brand for the future.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
It took them some time for them to understand my profession. It was amazing to witness when my father (who doesn’t watch dramas or movies) had the ‘aha’ moment. It was the night we premiered Telemundo’s original production of Buscando a Frida (The Search for Frida) and La Suerte de Loli (Loli’s Luck), which are the first productions where I hold the executive producer’s credit. My dad watched and, when he saw my name in the credits, tears rolled down his cheeks. He said, “Wow, you did this?!”
My mom has always understood what I do but she’s never been able to understand how I balance such a demanding job with my home life. I always explain to her that it’s my passion, and although demanding, I enjoy every bit of it.
What do you love most about your job?
Creating! It’s similar to raising a child. Seeing a project grow from an idea into a fully-fledged show is very satisfying. When you work so much on finding a story and developing it with your team of creatives and writers and ultimately have the final product, it’s truly a great feeling.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
My own experience echoes what I believe is the best way to get started in the industry: start at the bottom. Learn as you rise through the ranks, try different jobs within your field and say yes to new opportunities you’re given. It’s about how you prepare yourself to get to the next level. If you feel stuck, shadow someone who has a completely different role from yours. I’ve been a sponge, soaking up knowledge and leveraging every single experience presented to me.
What advice would you offer to others entering the industry, especially at this weird time?
Have fun with what you do and don’t take everything personally. Remember that not everything will be a success. You’ll have some failures, but as long as you feel passionate about your job and career, you’ll be successful. It’s also important to share your work and be open to feedback – different people bring new perspectives that will positively impact your work.
During these unprecedented times we’re living through, put yourself out there any way you can. Through virtual networking or thoughtful posts on social media, speak your truth and make people aware of who you are and your strengths. Also, take this time to take classes, read, get an online master’s degree or learn new skills.
What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?
Passion. I always say that if I were to win the lottery, I would travel the world, but I would never stop working. My job is what fuels me and what gives me the energy I need to be the best mother I can be to my son. I hope my passion ignites a spark for his future career to be just as meaningful as mine is to me.
Who should those who want your job read or listen to?
Before I dive into a specific person, I’d like to mention a specific topic: leadership. Read as much as you can about this important area. Strong leadership skills, in my opinion, are the traits that will get you ahead in this industry. No matter how smart you are, you need to develop abilities to motivate, teach, understand, encourage and lead others.
One person that I’ve always quoted and read about is Steve Jobs. He was a true genius in the way he led Apple to become one of the most impactful global brands of our lifetime. He was passionate in wanting to create the best product possible and he pushed his team to always strive for more. I truly admire him for that.
Last week we spoke to Shane MacRory, senior media consultant at diversity media firm DECA.