Kristin Hilf '85 on claiming your seat at the table
Kristin Hilf ’85 is a leader in the business world today, but she feels her strengths come from her time as a journalism and english major at the University of Massachusetts. Hilf is the Vice President of Communications for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, a major U.S. defense contractor specializing in civil government and cybersecurity markets throughout the world, working in over 80 countries with a staff of over 63,000 employees.
While it may seem surprising that someone with her education would end up in the business and PR world, Hilf sees it as a natural fit. “In business, it is invaluable to have the ability to research, analyze information and think critically,” she says. “I didn’t know it that time but these were all skills I acquired as a liberal arts major at UMass.”
As an undergraduate at UMass her initial aspirations were to become a journalist, but she ended up gravitating to the world of publicity. “Five years after graduation, I found myself working for one of the hottest public relations agencies in Silicon Valley at the dawn of the high tech boom,” Hilf explains.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a position that challenges you.”
This was the beginning of her career as a PR and communications specialist, and between 1988 through the early 2000’s, Hilf’s roles included being a Managing Director for the technology consulting firm Citigate Cunningham to Director of Corporate Communications for RSA Security. She joined Raytheon in 2006 as VP of Public Affairs, and in 2010 took on the role of VP of Communications.
In addition to her formal education, Hilf’s on-campus jobs as Manager of the Student Notes & Printing Service (SNPS) and waitressing events at the Campus Center also provided her with hands-on career preparation.
“At the SNPS, I hired, fired and managed employees. I learned how to read a balance sheet. I learned how to take a non-profitable business and make it profitable. I learned how to market a commodity business with much competition. And I did this without a lot of guidance. It was great business school type education without being in the Business School.”
The combination of these skills serves Hilf to this day, in a job where things move and change quickly and there is no “typical” day. Thirty percent of her time is spent traveling, and it is not uncommon for her to have up to ten meetings a day. Other times, she’ll review campaign strategies and content, counsel leaders on various communications issues and opportunities, and mentor women outside of her team.
“I may edit ad copy, review and adjust a tradeshow brand plan, write a blog post (as our Business’s Diversity & Inclusion executive champion), review dashboards on the performance of our paid and earned media and brainstorm with my team on new approaches,” she says. “There is always much varied work to do!”
An important life lesson she’s learned that she’d like to share with UMass and SBS undergraduates is “Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a position that challenges you.” She adds, “Take on assignments that are either high risk, high reward or that are maybe just beyond what you think you are actually qualified or capable.”
As a mentor to women hoping to break into a leadership role, she recommends to “build up your courage and resiliency. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and don’t take it personally when you don’t get everything you ask for. If you have a seat at the table, use that seat.”
--By Ebru Kardan, Director of External Affairs and Communications