I know what it’s like to hit a wall in my career. I know what it’s like to be in a toxic workplace and be exploited by leadership. I know what it feels like to see a paycheck and think, “This is NOT worth it.”

Kara Dennison's Story

I’m Kara, the founder and owner of Optimized Career Solutions. I want to tell you my story about ending up in a job I loved and how it became a toxic workplace. This is the story of why I do the work I do.


I was hired for my last corporate role by a company that saw my value and wanted me to innovate and help them increase their ROI. They were looking for ways to bring in new talent and inspire their team to invest in their careers and the company’s future.


While I was there, I built out the HR department. I implemented an ATS system, onboarding system, performance management software, leadership training, hiring practices, and strategy.


The team benefited from the changes, and they were excited about the direction the company was heading. They were promised recognition for their hard work.


Leadership felt great because the strategies and tools increased efficiency, innovation, and the team was more committed.


Teamwork in the Office before the toxic job

I was groomed for and promised promotions, a higher salary, and that I would be part of something bigger than myself. I was told I would make a difference.


I fought for fair wages for all employees and comp and benefits packages aligned with the company’s value and vision and the promises made to the team.

Then leadership changed hands. (You can see where this is going, right?)


The first thing tabled were the wages and benefits the employees deserved, and I had worked so hard to advocate for them.


After that, my team got cut down. As this was happening, I still believed that they were trying to be strategic about implementing the changes they promised.


With my team seriously short-staffed, I started taking on other people’s work. Leadership continued to make promises that seemed emptier by the day.


They were saying one thing and doing another. This is the backbone of a toxic workplace. Watch the walk, not the talk?


But I worked hard and poured myself into this role. I was committed to the vision and the team. Things had gone so well after they hired me, and the difference in attitude and integrity was hard for me to make sense of. 

Overwhelmed woman looking out her office window at the city

Surely, these people were also committed to the employees and the company’s future.


Responsibilities began piling up. They assigned me more and more work, and much of it was far outside the scope of my role.


Taking one for the team became taking it ALL for the team because leadership had me working with far fewer resources than I needed.

In addition to my HR and organizational duties, they sent me on the road for sales and expected me to travel at the drop of a hat.


The timelines were so tight they could have popped, and it became clear that the only way to get through the insane list of states and stops on top of my regular role was to clone myself.


Unable to find a mad scientist to make this a reality, I kept killing myself for this company that showed me exactly how valued I was (hint: not at all) by working me into utter exhaustion.\

Woman traveling for work

I was working seven days a week. These were long days that started with stress and ended with exhaustion. I had migraines every single day and still had to function, travel, and meet goals.


While I was playing Kara, Catcher of All Things, leadership hired someone else for the position they promised me. 


Yep. That’s right. Instead of being recognized and appreciated for the sacrifices I was making, they took my promotion and raise and gave it to someone else.


We saw this coming, right? Well, maybe you can, reading my story. From the outside, it is clearly a toxic workplace, and it seems obvious that integrity left with the last leadership team.


But in a situation like this, it never looks black and white. It goes against all logic and sound ethical reasoning that leaders act this way. 


You think that if you continue to innovate, show value, increase the ROI, say yes, and do everything they ask, that you will get what they promise.

Stress-Induced Migraine

The migraines were lasting for weeks now. I went to a neurologist who told me they were stress-related and until I did something with my job, there was nothing they could do to help me. 


I felt hopeless.


It took a six-day migraine to drive the point home. My vision was affected, and the pain was so intense that I landed myself in the hospital.


I knew something had to change, and it felt more painful to stay in my toxic job than it did to leave and give up on all the things I had worked and hoped for.


I started looking for new jobs. Even though I knew how applicant tracking systems worked, it felt better to look for new opportunities and apply through job boards because I could say that I was taking action.


Action always feels better than indecision.


Then I hit an emotional rock bottom. I was already physically ill, overworked, underappreciated, and NOW I was getting rejections from roles I was more than qualified to fill.

The last straw was getting a rejection letter for a job I really wanted… while I was on my honeymoon.


It was supposed to be the happiest time in my life. I was supposed to be celebrating and starting new chapters. I had just gotten married! 


Instead, I felt broken. I was stuck in this horrible job, and it seemed like there was no way out.


Then it hit me…


When I implemented all these recruiting and hiring systems and strategies, I looked at them from the corporate perspective.


But the people my team and I were hiring for the best roles were candidates who reached out to us directly rather than using the prompts on the job boards.


I decided that I was going to make a real change. I started a side job (MORE work?? I know, I know.)


Toxic Workplace

I was tired of being part of the broken corporate system. I was sick of seeing people get passed over for positions they were qualified for because they were using job boards.


I didn’t want to see more people land jobs in toxic workplaces that insisted on thanking their employees with pizza parties rather than a fair salary or better benefits. 


I didn’t want to watch more great teams destroyed by an enthusiastic pursuit of profit and total abandonment of consideration, respect, and decency.


I wanted to help people avoid the situation I was in. I wanted to help them find companies that would genuinely value their contributions and not toxic jobs that pay them with empty promises and pathetic raises.


Next, I wanted to help professionals land jobs by circumventing corporate recruiters like me. I wanted to help them reach decision-makers and hiring managers to start strategic conversations about the jobs they wanted.


And finally, I wanted to help them negotiate their offers so they could start their roles feeling excited, rather than resentful that they had to take less than they were worth right out of the gate.


Thriving after leaving my toxic workplace

As it turned out, this was my zone of genius. Have you ever felt that? When you’re in a role, and you KNOW what to say, what to do next, and your intuition leads you to the next stage? 


It flows.


Helping my clients land great jobs is where I get in that flow. It’s where I am most effective, and it’s where I make a real impact.


I quit my toxic job, and this is what I do now. I am staying in the zone that makes me excited to wake up every day for work. And this is what I want to help you do, too!


If you relate to my story, set up a free call. I want to help you get out of your toxic workplace and into a job you will be excited to wake up for. One that makes you feel enthusiasm rather than dread.


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