I am a subject matter expert in compensation and total rewards management. My role oversees the design, implementation, and governance of the base pay and incentive programs for all employees in a global company. The main components of my job involve salary structure design, market salary survey, annual merit cycle, short-term incentive plan, and long-term incentive plan.
What factors led you to enter your current field of work?
It was a combination of process of elimination and tenacity. From a young age, I was fascinated with psychology, but as a new immigrant in Canada, I wasn’t confident enough about my language abilities to make psychology my major. I took mathematics, economics, and commerce instead, the more “practical” degree in the eyes of Chinese immigrants.
During my years at UBC, I participated in the co-op program, and had the opportunity to try out many different professional jobs, such as accounting and business analysis. Although I could do those jobs well, and even received offers to stay on permanently, I never gave up searching for that “dream job.” I didn’t want to let my science degree go to waste, and I was hoping to integrate my love for psychology and human behaviour into my skillset.
Through trial and error, and through additional education in human resources, I discovered a field called “total rewards.” I was intrigued by the art and science of compensation programs. I started as a compensation analyst with a goal of becoming the “best math person in HR, and best HR person in math.” I am now the compensation guru and subject matter expert in my company, and working toward completing my Certified Compensation Professional designation.
What did you envision your job or career to be when you started university? How has that vision evolved?
As a Chinese immigrant, I followed the advice of my parents and their friends to get into mathematics, in order to become an actuary. In my first year at UBC, I took an economics course as an elective, and fell in love with the subject (Gateman’s 101 and 102 really opened my eyes!). I started to branch out by adding in a combined major in mathematics and economics, to allow myself more options. In Year 2 I attended an information session for an insurance company, where they talked about what actuaries do. Throughout the session, I really couldn’t picture myself in that role, so I had to scratch actuary off my list, and start looking for another career. (I’ve got nothing against actuaries, I actually married one, who I met in those math classes at UBC!).
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
I would not change a thing. It may seem that I “wasted” 5 years working in fields that didn’t become my life career, but the skills I developed in the other fields have become my greatest asset, and have made me a specialist with unique competitive advantages. Even the failures and challenges I experienced along the way are invaluable, and I wouldn’t be standing where I am without those setbacks. A mentor once told me, “in every job you do, do the best you can and become indispensable, and magic will happen.” I am a living testament to that theory and now I share it with my mentees.
How have you been able to leverage the skills and knowledge acquired in your degree and during your time at UBC to grow your career?
Compensation is the most analytical stream within HR. We also work closely with payroll and finance to build cost modeling and accrue for projections. The mathematical skills, economics concepts, and business acumen I gained through my Combined Major in Mathematics and Economics, and Minor in Commerce Degree, make me a unique asset in the HR community. I am an effective liaison between business and HR as I am able to speak their language in numbers, and influence business decision making. My co-op work experience in accounting and business analysis enables me to quantify HR strategies into predictive analytics and measurable results.
What are the strategies you use to remain resilient during challenging situations?
Making a career change wasn’t easy.Total rewards and compensation was totally new to me, and I was in the awkward position of being “too experienced” with non-HR experience, but “too inexperienced” with total rewards and compensation. After 6 months of applying for compensation jobs without hearing back, I reached out to my trusted friends, teachers, and mentors to seek feedback on my resume. They helped me make some changes that highlighted my strengths.
The most helpful strategy for me was to have an open mind and reach out for feedback. Reach out to people you know and trust, reach out to people you don’t know but are interested in learning more about their career and life. Leverage your network, leverage your alumni community, leverage your friends and family. Remember also to be appreciative the time others invest in you, no matter how small.
Lily Liang is an Online Career Mentor at alumni UBC. She is available to connect with UBC alumni and students seeking career support and guidance. Visit her profile on the UBC Hub of Ten Thousand Coffees to connect with her.