Fresh out of college, I found myself just outside New Orleans as Mobil Oil’s newest Capital Projects Accountant. I never wanted to be an accountant; I majored in marketing, loved sales and had a hankering for technology. Working in the accounting trailer in a refinery parking lot couldn’t seem further away from what I set out to do.
Today, I run the North American business for EasyVista, a high growth French tech firm, and have the privilege of working with some of the greatest organizations in the world. I don’t just get to participate in our corporate culture; I get to help create it. And yes, I am deeply involved in all aspects of sales and marketing. So how did I get from that parking lot trailer to Paris?
Looking back, there are five key things that I attribute to my success:
1.Curiosity didn’t kill the cat: It got it promoted
At Mobil, I took the opportunity to learn the refining business. I took company classes and went to night school to get my MBA. I earned respect outside the trailer as a guy who wanted more and was willing to work for it. Years later, when I finally made it into sales, I took every opportunity to better understand the profession and the tools associated with it. I held every role in sales and sales management, taking lateral roles and new territories as opportunities presented themselves. That led to my first VP role, running Sales Operations for Novell’s North American business. Being curious allows you to be informed and that allows you to add insight at many levels – and that will get you noticed.
2.Take risks: Intentionally
You have to start where you are. It sounds obvious, but sometimes your dream job seems so far away from your current circumstances that connecting those dots can seem daunting if not impossible. By understanding where you want to go, you can begin acquiring the skills and experience required to get there – and start taking action today. Sometimes you have to change companies, sometimes just jobs and other times you simply need to get more out of the opportunity you currently have. Best career decision I ever made was leaving a good job with a good company to take on a new role with a company on the ropes. Take comfort in the risks you take, as long as they are “calculated” and align to your long-term goals, getting you the experience and skills required to compete.
3.“Stay thirsty, mi amigo”: Complacency is the kiss of career death
I tell everyone that works for me, “You should interview at least once a year.” What? This does not mean you change companies every year – in fact, I only hire people that have at least one five-year “stay” on their resume (nobody likes a job-hopper). It does mean that you need to stay current. I worked for ExxonMobil, the largest company in the world, when I happened upon a “perfect fit” job in the help-wanted section of the local newspaper. (Yes, I’m that old). It became my first management job, at the tender age of 26. I was heading up Bausch & Lomb’s global contact lens sourcing team. It taught me to always be looking and to always be ready.
4. Take the “Fitness Test.” Every interview I do I’m trying to evaluate the “fit” between the candidate, the role and the company. You need to do the same. Make sure you understand the core values of a company, your future boss and your peers and that they align with yours. What is the “mission” of the company – or as Simon Sinek would put it “What is their WHY?” . If you don’t believe in where the company is going or your values don’t line up – don’t do it, no matter how good the job sounds.
5) Don’t just “connect,” invest. We all have hundreds of connections on LinkedIn. When was the last time you reached out to those connections to just say hello, see how they were doing and what they’ve been up to? Every career change I’ve made can be tied directly to networks I’ve built and maintained. The old saying of “everyone is connected through six degrees of separation” has been proven true, in fact, with modern technology it’s probably more like four or five. Engaging with five people can connect you to everyone on the planet – including the CEO of that company you’re dying to work at – so get invested in your network.
If you had told that reluctant accountant years ago that he was paving the way to his dream job in high-tech, I’m not sure he would have believed you. Being intentional and taking charge of my own career made all the difference.
Kevin Coppins is the General Manager for EasyVista where he is charged with taking the IT service management company to the next level in North America. Kevin has a broad background, both as a sales VP in enterprise security software and wireless networking as well as in Supply Chain roles in healthcare and oil & gas. Connect with him on LinkedInor follow him on twitter at @ktcoppins.