Clinton Lo-Lau ’10 (CLAS) recently started a new role as a Human Resources Project Management Officer at TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Before that, he worked abroad for PepsiCo. in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Geneva, Switzerland. Lo-Lau explains how his CLAS degree gave him the foundation for his career. He also describes how his experiences at UConn as a first-generation college student shaped him into the person he is today.
Can you describe your work at TikTok?
I work with Human Resources (HR) teams across the organization and with business leaders to attract top talent and build a diverse, inclusive, and engaging culture. This could be using data to tell a story about what talent priorities we should focus on as a team. It could also be managing projects targeted at addressing some of the focus areas in our people strategy. Each day presents me with unique problems to solve and the opportunity to work with a global team!
What was your journey to human resources?
I was a first-generation college student, so I didn’t really have guidance from my parents in terms of a career path. I started as “undecided” and eventually declared a major in engineering because I thought I was decent with numbers. I ultimately found it wasn’t a good fit and that I wanted a field that incorporated more interaction with people. I did some soul searching and asked myself what subject I really enjoyed, and it was psychology.
I got really practical my senior year. I observed that a large percentage of college students were graduating with a psychology degree, and that if I wanted a job in a corporate setting where I could apply my degree, I would have to differentiate myself from my peers. After researching graduate programs and placement statistics, I decided on a master’s in industrial/organizational psychology in an attempt to further stand out.
Later on in my career, I came across the field of HR analytics. It seemed to be the perfect harmony of my interests across psychology, people, and data. This ended up becoming my niche skill and also my point of differentiation. It was rare at the time to find HR professionals who were also analytical and could tell stories with data.
What do you like about working for TikTok?
TikTok is at the forefront of culture right now and is moving so fast. There’s a ton of opportunity to build, and I enjoy being a part of that. TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy, which resonates a lot with me. The platform allows you to be yourself and to find “your people” all over the world. I think this aspect should carry over to the work we do in HR; the ability to come to work and bring your full self. I would like to build that culture not just on the app, but in the workplace as well.
Before you were at TikTok, you worked abroad for PepsiCo. What was that like?
It was different from anything I’d done before in my life. Working abroad alongside people from different cultures is truly a humbling experience. You grow to learn that your own culture or way of thinking may not always lead to the best solution. I had to learn to embrace and adapt to new situations and challenges. Working in Dubai was particularly exciting as we had around 50 nationalities represented in one office.
How did your CLAS degree help prepare you for your career?
I remember touring college campuses in high school and not understanding what a liberal arts and science degree was. A professor explained it was about building a foundation. It wouldn’t be until several years after graduation that I’d fully understand what he meant. A CLAS degree won’t prepare you to perform a specific role at Corporation XYZ. What it will do, however, is expose you to different fields of study, which will in turn show you various frameworks to leverage as you approach new problems or situations. I definitely did not make direct connections from a work issue to a problem set I solved in calculus or an excerpt from psychology. However, I’m confident the collection of concepts I came out of CLAS with expanded my thinking and allowed me to tackle work issues more creatively.
Is there a professor that played a pivotal role in your education?
[Emeritus Professor] David Miller, who taught Introduction to Psychology, gave a presentation about CLAS at an open house that really stuck with me. Despite never taking any of his courses, that open house session planted the seed for me to pursue psychology. I took a lot of classes with Professor Janet Barnes-Farrell, and I loved all of them, and they confirmed to me that I wanted to go into the field of industrial/organizational psychology. I’ve had some great mentors and advisors along the way as well.
You never really know how much impact an interaction (however seemingly insignificant) will have on your career path. So, as a Husky Alumni Mentor, I try to pay forward a bit of the goodwill that I received. It’s important for me to take a half an hour out of my day to talk to current students, and if our conversation helps them even a little bit, then it’s a win in my book.
What is the most important skill that you learned outside of the classroom at UConn?
Getting involved is the best thing you can do. The personal development I got from UConn and the resources are unmatched. I got really involved with Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC) as a staff member. I wouldn’t be here without the cultural centers, and the love, education, and support I received from [AsACC director] Angela Rola and Sheila Kucko. The Center offered a safe environment to be myself and develop as a person, and it led to all these crazy opportunities that made me into the person I am today. People start at different parts of their journey in discovering who they are and the history of their heritage. That was a really positive part of my experience.
What would you say to a student starting their career journey?
Everyone has their own motives and goals. As a second-generation Chinese American growing up in a single parent household, I would see how hard my mom worked, and at times struggled. Finding a career that interested me and allowed me to feel fulfilled was of course a focus, but I also wanted to make money. In a way I feel fortunate to have found some degree of harmony between the two.
I share this because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. I’d advise students to reflect on what is important to them, carve out a path to achieving what is important, and to be prepared to make compromises. Think about what kind of job you want after graduation. Look at placement statistics and starting salaries for graduate programs. Look at what your peers have done. Look at what alumni are doing on Linkedin and reach out. I’ve cold messaged tons of alumni. You can learn tips and tricks from people that you can eventually incorporate into your own career journey.
Lastly, grind, grind, grind. It’s easy to get discouraged when you apply for 5, 10, or 20 jobs and get denied. The truth is there are so many people in this world. You could be the best candidate, and you might not even make it through some of the algorithms companies have. Sometimes it may not be a matter of qualifications, but instead a game of numbers, where volume and perseverance can be what helps you breakthrough into that dream job.