When it comes time to decide what you want your career to be, it can be overwhelming. Not to mention, many struggle with defining what they’d like from “the real world” while others seem to have everything already charted out from A-Z.
I was one of the A-Z students. At least, I thought I was.
When I was in college, I “knew” that I wanted a career in strategy consulting or data analytics, and I knew that to get there I would have to tick off a series of check boxes. So, I tailored my curriculum to do just that: I took extra classes, worked part-time, and was in leadership on a campus club to ensure I had the profile I thought they wanted. Come the end of the fall of my junior year I didn’t have an offer.
But I am stubborn and, in that moment, resolved to get a strategy internship in Silicon Valley. Over Christmas break I applied to many positions, including one in Cisco Customer Experience (CX) that was toward the top of my list. A few weeks went by, then a month – and I hadn’t heard back. As a true millennial, I decided to dig into social media to find a way to network my way into the position.
I began by messaging UMass alumni who worked or had worked at Cisco until I was able to get a hold of the recruiter, and ultimately the hiring manager. Later that week, I took an internship with that team in San Jose.
Perseverance pays off, and that decision turned out to be transformative, but not for the reasons you might expect.
I learned a lot during my internship, and in my role as a new-hire. But what helped me find my way the most was in having the support and liberty to work on projects in different organizations throughout Cisco. Not only did this help to broaden my business-sense and internal network, but more importantly – it changed the way I thought about my career, and my first three years at Cisco helped to put me on the course of navigating my career differently.
When I joined Cisco’s Customer Experience (CX) team in 2016, it was an organization in transition and this helped to expose me to different projects to kick start my career. The fluidity of constant change and progress meant I couldn’t necessary chart a linear path from A-Z but had to practice “going with the flow” as new opportunities were always presenting themselves.
Through my career, I gradually started to understand that you don’t plan for opportunities – instead you prepare to make the most out of them when they arrive.
A few of my favorites have been:
1. Being able to drive the tools and systems that manage a $10B+ business and even leading an analysis that resulted in the creation of a portfolio consolidation program. This analysis helped to deliver an improved customer experience and realize cost savings.
2. Being involved in a year-long body of work centered around a CX portfolio strategy for Automation and Orchestration. In this project, I was pulled in by my mentor to be part of a team that conducted market research. I helped to identify customer needs and did a portfolio-gap-analysis that was used to frame the strategy for a multi billion-dollar opportunity. This body of work also led to Cisco’s first established framework for open-source support, which led to significant net-new revenue and operational improvements for our customers. As a result, we were awarded the TSIA Star Award for Innovation in Enabling Customer Outcomes.
3. When I was asked to take the lead on the storyboarding for the TSIA Star Award, I was excited to take on the challenge of weaving a compelling story about the work we had accomplished – but I wasn’t sure I had the sense to tell a story to persuade an audience. I learned that I did have this skill, and while, at the time, I thought that I was just opening one door – in reality, I was turning the knob to many future opportunities as well.
4. My storytelling skills were a discovery within myself that led to further analyses and additional presentations which helped to extend my network. With an introduction and a few slides, a whole chain began where I had continued ideas for products, which led to me leading a team of interns in an internal Innovation Challenge submission, and – in parallel – I learned about intellectual property strategy.
Previously, I was someone who charted out each step I needed to take to reach my goals. Today, I prefer to navigate my career like old ships used to drift through the world’s oceans. For me, gone are the days of using mapped out, detailed instructions – instead, I’d like to find my course by way of stars and landmarks. The winds and currents may change, but with a few solid constants, I’ll get to where I want to go.
That was the single most important lesson I learned as I grew from Cisco Intern to full-time employee: find your north star and navigate towards it – don’t worry too much about where the winds take you. Be open and courageous to go through the doors that open along the way; challenge yourself and jump off the deep-end.
For me, it took some disappointment, grit, soul-searching and mentorship to land where I am today – but in the end, I am glad that Cisco has been supportive of this exploration.
I threw out my A-Z list and I hope you do too.
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