By: Vanessa Pena
Did you just graduate from college, buried under loan debt and can’t find a job? You are not alone! Recent data revealed that colleges are failing to teach students critical thinking skills, which are often linked to finding a successful job or thriving as a young professional. This made me reflect on my own experience as a student and got me thinking: Am I truly preparing for “real life”? Am I ready to enter the workforce, or to have my own company, as I intend to do, someday?
This past January, I started a 6-month co-op program, during which I took a break from my studies to work as a full time employee at Next Caller. To give a little bit of background I am an Economics Major with a strong desire to start my own social enterprise in Ecuador. So, why a tech company? I first applied because the company values and culture resonated with my search for an entrepreneurial and passionate team. However, I certainly couldn’t grasp the way in which this experience was going to shape my thinking. After reflecting on my experience, I compiled 6 invaluable, life-long skills and lessons I learned:
6) Creativity Is The Most Powerful Tool
Working as a Sales Development Representative taught me that if something isn’t effective, you have to rethink it. When you are trying to get a meeting with a C-level executive from a Fortune 500 company, an original, personalized email is your biggest asset. In sales, you will face many “NOs” and endless objections. However, the real art hides in overcoming each objection by asking questions and thinking outside of the box. Recently, there has been a lot of dialogue about artificial intelligence and how automation is going to replace human jobs. Machines aren’t likely to outsmart creative thinking and emotional intelligence, so this is definitely a vital skill to have.
5) Technology Is For Everyone
When I first started at Next Caller, I was unfamiliar with many of the technology terms, such as API, ANI, and spoof. After six months of being immersed in different markets and situations, I have an intimate knowledge of things that I could have never learned from college books. I realized that you don’t have to be an engineer to be curious, ask questions and to try to understand how technology really works. People are looking for ever-faster, simpler and more cost effective solutions. Technology is the best way to achieve those goals. Most importantly, I now see the power of technology, the fast pace at which it evolves, and the exponential change it can bring.
4) Embrace Constant Self-Evaluation and feedback
In order to make progress and have an impactful job you must have clear goals and actively pursue them. Every Friday, we did “wins and shout-outs”, where each member of the team talked about weekly goals, the progress that was made, and gave a shout-out or a playful “burn” to someone on the team. This not only increased accountability and transparency but also created a cohesive team working for a common vision. It showed me the value of acknowledging someone else's accomplishments, setting goals, and welcoming constructive feedback.
3) Good and On Time Is Better Than Late and Perfect.
Nowadays, change is the only constant. Next Caller showed me that things move at a crazy pace. Sometimes a product has to pivot 180 degrees from the original idea in order to fit a market. The important part is to get things out there and to test them, with real people or companies. The same principle applies to life, instead of trying to find the silver bullet or the perfect solution, you have to start experimenting. As long as you keep improving and learning along the way, you will eventually thrive. For an aspiring entrepreneur, this is a priceless lesson that I can take with me.
2) See the Person Behind Every Interaction
This notion applies to everything that Next Caller does. The first day of sales I was very nervous. My VP told me, "Always remember you are talking to a real person, just like you.” The fact that Next Caller was started with the purpose of helping businesses get to know their customers to foster mutual respect speaks volumes. Now, every time I see a product, I see a team behind it writing code, selling, or marketing it. As consumers, even if we only see the end product of the technology, we must not forget that there is a human behind the scenes making it possible. This increased my empathy and desire to genuinely approach people to know their story and learn from them.
Nevertheless, if I would have to choose only one lesson, it would be...
1) Invest In People and Empower Them
People are the engine of every company; each unique member has a story and an invaluable role to play. Once at Next Caller, the CEO told us that his mission is to make everyone in the company happy. I thought that this was a virtuous statement. A few words of wisdom from one colleague I took were: if you invest your resources in finding the right talent, you must empower people, trust them and give them the tools to make your company great. I had the opportunity to get to know and work with amazing individuals and managers that trusted me with tasks I didn’t even know I was capable of doing. There is infinite potential in trusting, combining different talents, and empowering people to achieve a common goal.
Thanks to this experience, I am armed with invaluable skills that make me much more confident as I approach my graduation day and pursue many exciting opportunities in my future. Although I am leaving an incredible team at Next Caller, I know that I will always be connected to this strong network of inspirational mentors and friends for life.
Vanessa Pena recently completed her Co-Op as part of the Sales and Marketing departments at Next Caller. If you are a potential employer researching Vanessa's background and experience, we would enthusiastically recommend her due to her marketing expertise, creativity, self-starter nature, professionalism, and collaborative mentality.