Cisco Blogs

3 Things to Look For When Choosing a Company

January 6, 2016 - 42 Comments

Liz Centoni

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students who had a decision to make. They had multiple job offers, a good problem to have, but could only pick one. Hard Choices. My job was to sell them on Cisco. But it turned out to be more than that. While I was happy to share why I came to Cisco and stayed for 15+ years, I wanted them to really think about what mattered most to them. Here’s some of what we talked about.

One of the main things that people forget when looking for a career is that yes, a company chooses you, but most of the time, you get to choose the company. So “Choose Wisely” (channeling the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the last Crusade.) How? Start with these 3 things:

1. Choose a Culture where you will thrive:I look like an engineer group

Choose a Company that cares about what matters to you and what matters to the company. It’s important to find a place that allows you to experiment, take risks and most importantly to break glass. A place that will invest in you, where you are around other bright people with whom you can learn from as well as a culture that enables success and allows you to pursue your passion. And it needs to be fun too.

This picture is at Grace Hopper Conference a couple of months ago. We had free reign on everything from booth design to hosting advanced tech node sessions to designing demos we wanted to showcase. It allowed us to be creative and have fun and get the end result we wanted despite achy feet from three days of running around the cavernous conference center.

Cisco is a fun place to work! Teams have their own micro cultures and have done many different things from Bollywood dance offs to orchestrating haunted houses on Halloween in various buildings to Dodgeball tournaments to raise funds for March of Dimes. Cisco is also a company that cares for our community. We care about the world and we take our social responsibility seriously. What’s good for our community & our world is good for business. Just a couple weeks ago, we raised over $750,000 in a 48-hour challenge for the Second Harvest Food Bank.

A company culture that allows you to thrive and aligns to your values sets you up for success while having fun!

2. Choose a company that offers many opportunities.

Choosing a company isn’t just about your first job. Think about your second or third job and so on and so forth. Is the company you’re choosing going to provide you with lily pads to other roles? You should choose a company where you can establish a career trajectory. I thought I would be at Cisco for 12 to 24 months at the most. Fifteen years later, I am in my fifth role in Engineering and its very much “One Company, Multiple Careers.”

My mentors and sponsors here played a big role in changing the trajectory of my life and career. I was encouraged (it was more of a sharp elbow vs. gentle nudge at times) to take on roles that helped build new capabilities. It took me out of my comfort zone each time going from being the “go to” person to once again being the “new kid on the block.” I failed at some, succeeded at many others and the challenges and opportunity to reinvent myself each time gave me the confidence and visibility to continue to push forward. And I can continue to do that because Cisco is a company with multiple businesses and technology domains, so the career opportunities are vast and interesting.

Liz Centoni - Why I Chose Cisco

3. If you want to be inspired, choose a company that innovates.

Choose a company that thrives on Innovation. Choose a company that inspires YOU to innovate and allows YOU to take risks to do so. You want to belong to a place where you can be at the forefront of technology. At Cisco, it’s about innovation that matters to our customers whether you’re Connecting and Securing the World to IoT, Analytics, Cloud, Collaboration.

In Engineering, we have internal start ups called Alphas. These start ups are focused on disruptive innovation ideas and combine the agility and risk profile of a startup with the resources and scale of a large, resourceful company like Cisco. Anyone can submit an idea for review and have the opportunity to get funded. The same concept is now available company wide under the “Innovation Challenge”

We innovate to change the way the world, lives, works, plays and learns.


It’s critical to get clarity around what you’re passionate about so work doesn’t feel like a chore, but you also want to choose a place that is fun, challenging and filled with opportunities. If you do, you can’t go wrong!

I’m always happy to connect and help future and current Cisconians. Find me on Twitter @LizCentoni, or comment below.

If you’d like to join the company that has inspired me, you can see openings here.

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  1. Hi Liz – A wonderful & well articulated thought. i have been inspired by a CEO Bill McDermott (SAP – my past employer) whom I personally respect immensely who wrote / advise; Don’t Confuse Options with Opportunity. Here is the web link. I encourage you to read through this small impactful post.

    This shall provide a new perspective.


    • Thanks for the link. He sums it up very wisely. Enjoyed reading it and I tell myself and others; you have to choose to run towards something not run away from something.

  2. #1 is so key. I often hear people yearn for work environments that give employees complete autonomy and freedom, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve seen first hand that too little structure can be the downfall of a lot of people. If you are planning to work someplace like that, be sure you can handle the freedom.

  3. Great points Liz! Being appreciated is a key factor, if your work is not recognized it really changes your motivation. Thankfully I am at a place I love now.

  4. Really great information thank you very much.

  5. I have worked for some of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest companies both large and small. I am by far most impressed with Cisco and have never worked with so many people who are so talented and NICE!

  6. Hmmmm

  7. Great article Liz. I especially like the “One company, many careers”. Cisco is so large and there are so many opportunities for all levels of career experience. Thanks for a being a role model and carrying the flag forward for Women in Tech!

  8. Cisco is is a great marketing company. Particularly the ‘political schooling’ of employees is second to none. I remember when I worked at Cisco which was in the late nineties we were trained to think that Cisco was the most innovative company in the world, the best employer in the world and that the solution were far superior to the competition. None of this true obviously.
    Nowadays they are just like other behemoths … sad

  9. Great article for young people. Diversifying is the name of the game as there are no secure jobs for life. The more skills you acquire the greater chances of securing future roles. Good Luck.

  10. Cisco is a dying company. Leave Cisco as soon as possible. Its not fault of its employees but its management doesnt really respect its employees.

    • I suppose there are bad managers everywhere. I’ve got to say that my manager is one of the best I’ve had in my career!

      • My manager is also the best I have ever had in my 16 yr IT career of which last 2 are here with Cisco. I am an SE2 and have been given the ability to grow as much as I want. Life is what you make.

  11. Absolutely powerful and WISE message! 🙂 Three years back I chose Cisco over others primarily because I wanted to experience ‘One Company,Multiple Careers’. I’m a newbie at Cisco compared to many of you, but I’m confident I’ve many more rewarding years ahead. Great to have inspiring role models like you Liz!

  12. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this great blog Liz ! Its my first year here and I’m happy I chose Cisco 🙂 Congratulations on your 15 years here ! You truly inspire new grads like me!

  13. Thank for a marvelous text Liz! its world wide accepted CISCO is the world largest and fantastic class, so far its only ITessentials i deed with Cisco and i really appreciated, for now my dream is all about getting more opportunity and further my knowledge with Cisco.

  14. Great points Liz. Thanks for sharing

  15. Excellent blog Liz! Will be sharing it with my network.

  16. Cisco is the best company in the world by far. My dream is to work for a company like Cisco.

    Andreas Herodotou

    Country IT Manager Cyprus at TNT Express

  17. Great message Liz! Your comment on how you thought you’d be at Cisco a short time but then here you are 15 years later, is a powerful message. Cisco is not one company. There are so many paths and opportunities at Cisco, it truly is the best place to work! Thanks for sharing!!

  18. Liz you delivered such an inspirational message here. As I complete my 15th year at Cisco, now I feel privileged to have had multiple careers at Cisco with progress, and never valued it before until I read your blog today. I am so proud of Cisco !!!

  19. Couldn’t agree more. Love the aspect of “go to” person to once again being the “new kid on the block” -“One Company, Multiple Careers.” Great advice Liz!

  20. Great blog Liz! Your words echo my career path at Cisco as well. We are lucky to have a role model like you at Cisco.

  21. Hey Liz, the culture that allows to experiment, take risks , innovate , and grow is very attractive. I once concerned that many large corporations won’t encourage entrepreneurship spirit or risk taking because every thing seems to be well-structured and mature, and no need for more innovative ideas.Graduate students who have a lot of ideas but lack of years of practical experiences may not welcome to join these companies, not to mention many job descriptions list requirement about “XX years of experiences”

    Thank you for your insights and this is very informative and delightful!

  22. Indeed – Liz, you nailed it…. I have been at Cisco nearly 16 years now….and yes – in my 10th role at Cisco – 5 of those within the same org in RTP….the opportunities have been great, and for the most part found me!! Having an open mind, embracing new ideas, having a can-do attitude, and learning from every challenge that comes our way…all contribute to both a fun day at work everyday and a career that is fulfilling!!

    Open to discussing these with anyone who is interested!!

  23. Great post, Liz! I’ll share across my network.

    The other thing to think about is a company that will support the “seasons” of your life, which, of course, ties back to all three. College grads sometimes don’t consider that their lives will evolve, sometimes unexpectedly. Cisco is a very accommodating work environment, despite the demands. At Cisco, people matter, as individuals with lives that include careers. That is rarer than you might think.

    • Janet, totally agree. Its hard sometimes to think beyond the next few months. Thanks for calling that out. Best. Liz

  24. Great Message, Liz!

    “Culture, Opportunity and Innovation. Join Cisco!”

    • McKinsley projection is “change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale”. The pace of change is fast and faster! Be the Change to fuel Innovation.

  25. Awesome blog, Liz. You nailed it! Culture, Opportunity, Innovation! After almost eight years at Cisco when I look back each year was filled with challenges and growth.

    Cisco has a culture where I have been able to move from Systems Engineering, to Technology Architecture Marketing, to Product and Solutions Marketing while allowing additional opportunities to work on amazing stretch projects such as Grace Hooper.

    Cisco is an amazing place, with brilliant people, where I have been able to collaborate, develop and grow, and make my mark on the world. I am excited to see what is next!

  26. Great blog. I loved being a part of Grace Hopper – and Cisco did an excellent job of portraying the fun side of engineering.

  27. Great words Liz! I definitely agree with you. Cisco is a big company, that is flexible in letting people explore multiple career paths. Nice pictures!

  28. I fully agree with Liz.I also completed 15 years within Cisco and changed many roles. We own our career and need to choose wisely. Thanks Liz for sharing the wonderful tips!

  29. Hi Liz,
    Good article and career tips.
    Perhaps just the universe I live in or my mind set but in my opinion, it is hard to find a company that ticks the “3 boxes”. Sometimes you are lucky if you can tick one or two boxes and I am happy for you that you found the “3 things” (and much more I guess)at Cisco.

    On top of the “3 things” attitude, ,mindset is also something really, really important. You need courage, confidence to take new challenges and by that I don’t mean no fear, but learning to take action even if you are afraid.
    “There is no courage without fear” (Edge of tomorrow)

    • Murilo, I agree, its not common. But you have the gems like Cisco and thats why you have to think through what matters most to you and does the company offer that. Btw, like your adds. Best. Liz

  30. Great points Liz! These are relevant for existing employees also. Good talking points for sync up meetings.

  31. Thanks for the tips, Liz. I have shared your blog across a number of my social networks, so it may drive some questions your way.