You're perfectly qualified, you've arrived on time, and you're ready for your technical interview. What could possibly go wrong?
Technical interviews can be a mind wracking experience for job seekers. Everyone makes mistakes, but according to interviewers, candidates for tech positions are prone to a number of common interview blunders. To avoid them, it's helpful to know what they are.
Keep reading to see what our partner companies had to say about the most common mistakes interviewees make during tech interviews (and what to do instead).
Not asking clarifying questions - Facebook
"The mistake: Not asking clarifying questions.
What to do instead: Instead of jumping into coding immediately after being presented with a problem, ask clarifying questions to ensure you've understood the problem correctly before you begin building a solution. For example, you may want to understand input requirements or ask about edge cases. When you do begin to code, think out loud as you go—and keep asking questions. Hearing your thought process helps give your interviewer insight into your problem-solving skills and can provide opportunities for them to offer additional points of clarification or share hints, if needed."
Learn more about Facebook here.
Making assumptions without calling them out - Uber
"Making assumptions without calling them out and jumping into a solution without asking questions or calling out your approach. It's important to take things slow and help us really understand how you think through problems. So make sure that you really understand the question that's being asked by your interviewer. That you ask clarifying questions. And that call out your approach."
Learn more about Uber here.
Not explaining your thought process - Def Method
"For me, the most frustrating thing an interviewee can do is not explain their thought process to me. As an interviewer I want to see how someone approaches problems in general so I can decide how successful they will be at solving different problems. When I ask a question and get an answer without hearing how the interviewee arrived at it, I cannot extrapolate on their problem-solving abilities. An interviewee should show me their thought process—explain their thinking so I can decide how well they will be able to apply those skills as an employee."
Learn more about Def Method here.
Not saying "I don't know" - Clyde
"A common mistake that we see is candidates not knowing an answer to a question and making up fake technical answers, spitballing at length, or just remaining quiet. It's much better for you to say "I don't know" and talk through the process that you would use to figure out the answer. A part of the interview is understanding how someone works through a problem they haven't seen before, if you have a good process for figuring the answer out, that's often enough to pass. Even if you know the answer, talk us through your process!"
–Josh and Josh
Learn more about Clyde here.
Not explaining how you got to your answer - Automattic
"Being so focused on the answer that they don't explain how they got there. Explaining their thought process in detail helps us determine how they approach problems. As a result, it's important to "think out loud," and ask for more context if needed. The problems we solve at Automattic are so varied and unique that we care less about someone's answer to a specific question, and more about how they approach it. Knowing that lets us evaluate if their problem-solving process is robust enough for us to feel confident that they could solve anything that comes their way."
–Jerry Jones, Hiring Expert
Learn more about Automattic here.
Not asking clarifying questions from go - Kensho
"One of the simplest mistakes you can make during a technical interview is to not ask clarifying questions early or check in regularly. Remember that the interviewer wants you to succeed, but cannot read your mind. If you don't understand the question, become stuck, or feel like you may be veering off course, it's time to check in! Explaining your thought process opens a dialogue between yourself and the interviewer, and you may even discover the solution just by saying what you're thinking (see "rubber duck debugging")."
Learn more about Kensho here.
Not discussing your specific contributions - LogMeIn
"Developing software at scale requires a team effort. Throughout each step of the SDLC, each team member provides individual contributions of various scope and complexity. From Planning, Analysis and Design to Implementation, Testing/Integration and Maintenance, each individual contribution is important to overall outcomes. Too often, candidates answer interview questions in terms of the team's contributions, (e.g., "we did X"). Oftentimes, post-interview feedback cites a candidate's answers being too general or vague. This leads to skepticism. I advise candidates prepare to discuss their specific contributions within the context of overall outcomes, (Incl., SDLC steps, role within team, deliverables, impacts, lessons-learned, etc.)."
–Ryan Jane, Principal Talent Acquisition Partner
Learn more about LogMeIn here.
Not doing your homework on the company - Waters
"In our industry, we're used to seeing a multitude of acronyms and initialisms used in an interview. To demonstrate your knowledge and experience it's always best to talk through a brief summary – that can be very impactful.
Even though we are interviewing people for their technical capabilities, we still want to see that they are prepared and know about the company. As tempting as it may be to read the website whilst on a virtual interview, being prepared in advance and able to describe in your own words gives a much better impression of your research and interest."
Learn more about Waters here.
Miscommunication - Afterpay
"I think one of the most inhibiting mistakes interviewees make is miscommunication. Even though for the one hour we are sitting at different sides of the table, I see you as my potential future teammate. I'm not here to judge but to understand your thinking process and work out a solution together. Asking questions when you are in doubt and letting the interviewer know your thoughts and concerns is very important. Having different opinions with an open mind to suggestions is totally fine. "
–Greta Shi, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Afterpay here.
Not clearly stating which programming language you're comfortable with live coding in - Mural
"Not showing up to the interview is always #1
#2 is related to candidates not making clear which programming language they are comfortable with for live coding during the interview.
And finally, #3. Candidates not making sure they have a suitable environment (laptop with camera, text editor, tools, etc) for the interview.
So remember to show up on time, be honest with your interviewer and test your environment before joining!"
Learn more about Mural here.
Being unprepared to discuss examples of your technical expertise - Bristol Myers Squibb
"One of the most frustrating mistake that interviewee's make is that they do not come prepared to explain their technical experience/ projects with examples.
Interviewees must come prepared with the following:
- Thoroughly read the job description.
- Be prepared to explain your experience as it relates to the job.
- Always share examples.
- Explain and share details of your experience on an application.
- Communicate effectively, be explicit and to the point (articulate).
- Do not be afraid or shy away from accepting, if you do not know the answer. (no one knows it all)
- Read about the company to understand cultural fit, display skills including how you do Time Management, Organizational skills, Trouble-shooting approach, and Interpersonal skills.
- Come prepared to ask questions."
Learn more about Bristol Myers Squibb here.
Not tailoring your experience to the role you're applying to - Clarus Commerce
"The biggest mistake all interviewees make is not tailoring their experiences to the job they're applying to. My advice for your interview prep is to rely on the job description. Go line by line and jot down the experiences you have that align with what the job description is asking for. Make it obvious for the interviewer why you'd be best for the position. Be sure to share your experience using the Company's tech stack with examples as the 'proof behind your responses'. Be prepared, be excited, and ask questions!"
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
Answering a question you don't fully understand - Collins Aerospace
"One of the biggest opportunities for mistakes comes from trying to answer a question you don't fully understand. Don't assume– ask clarifying questions so you know what's expected. Also, be concise so there will be time for follow-up questions and conversation."
Learn more about Collins Aerospacehere.
Not taking a collaborative approach - Netskope
"Certain technical interviews are structured to intentionally be open-ended to invite questions and a deeper discussion between interviewer and candidate. Although candidates have the right background, some may not be used to collaborating in solution design and explaining their thought processes, thus leading to a roadblock. Without the explanation of a thought process, it's difficult for the interviewer to guide the candidate and evaluate their analytical skills and strengths.
Instead, candidates should take a collaborative approach and seek feedback as they work toward a solution. Selecting a challenging problem and solving it with a friend by thinking aloud and collaborating could be useful practice in preparation for the interview"
–Mohan Doraiswamy, Sr. Manager, Engineering
Learn more about Netskope here.
Rushing into problem-solving mode - SeatGeek
"One of the frustrating mistakes I see candidates make during technical interviews is when they dive into solving the prompt without taking some time to size up and digest the question. Oftentimes, a candidate's first instinct is not the most optimal, which poses more of a challenge when they must backtrack, and ask retrospective questions to change their solution.
My best advice here is to first pause, review your resources, and ask clarifying questions before you start writing code. The way you think through a problem and work towards a solution can be just as important as the solution itself!"
–Josh Mordkoff, Senior Technical Recruiter
Learn more about SeatGeek here.
Not articulating your thought process - MongoDB
"During a technical interview, focus on verbally communicating your thought process. This could show that you approach a problem in a new and unique way. At MongoDB, we highly value diversity of thought, different backgrounds and sets of experiences, as well as different perspectives on how to approach solving problems. Adding another perspective to solving the questions we face will only help us build better products for our customers."
–Jason Gorsky, Manager, Technical Recruiting
Learn more about MongoDB here.
Not testing out equipment ahead of time - GameChanger
"One of the more frustrating mistakes interviewees make during technical interviews is not testing out equipment ahead of time. As more companies move to remote work, most, if not all, interviews are taking place over tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams. Making sure ahead of time that your computer is able to run these applications without technical issues goes a long way in showing us that you're prepared. The last thing an interviewer wants is to spend the first 15 minutes dealing with technical difficulties because now it delays getting to know you more."
Learn more about GameChanger here.
Not providing applicable examples - CAPCO
"Tips to Bring into an Interview:
Carly Finnegan, Technical Recruiters says:
- Do research on the company where you're interviewing and come prepared with at least 2 questions
- Be able to explain, or give an example of, a project that you were on, the importance of the project and how you worked with other members of your team (i.e. developers, QA, Scrum Masters, Tech BA's, etc.)
Craig Jackson, Tech Recruiter says:
- Be able to articulate technical experience and provide an applicable example of when and how tech was used
- Be able to articulate what your individual contribution has been (not TEAM's contributions)
Matt Markham, Partner in the Technology Domain
- Demonstrate awareness of HOW things are meant to work instead of merely providing the code / answer
- Show problem solving ability
Ken Pritchard, Principal Consultant, Technology
- A big mistake many technical interviewees make is trying to dive right into a solution when given a technical problem to solve. Taking the time to ask some clarifying questions not only leads to a better solution, but also more clearly demonstrates higher level thinking."
Learn more about CAPCO here.
Overexplaining responses - Autodesk
"Avoid overexplaining your responses. Keeping your answers clear and concise will show that you have a strong understanding of what you're describing. Try to remember that if your recruiter wants more detail, they will ask for it. Next, avoid exaggerating your skillset. Recruiters would much rather take a chance on a candidate who is willing to learn than one who can't demonstrate a skill they claimed to have. Finally, be able to explain your thought process behind any decisions you have had to make. Doing this, even in failure, can show how you learn and adapt."
Learn more about Autodesk here.
Developing a solution without communicating your thought process - Guru
"In technical pair programming interviews, the biggest frustration I have is candidates developing their solution without communicating their thought process. Regardless of whether the code works or not, this makes it more challenging to gauge the candidate's technical aptitude, problem-solving skills, and reception to feedback. Instead, I suggest interviewees think out loud as much as possible. Consider rereading the problem statement and validating the requirements, asking clarifying questions, vocalizing potential approaches, explaining tradeoffs while coding, and sharing ideas on optimization. This may not come naturally at first, but practice makes perfect!"
–Maggie Lin, Back End Software Engineer
Learn more about Guru here.
Giving answers that are too short - PagerDuty
"Sometimes candidates make the mistake of giving one or two word answers to questions in the recruiter screen. That makes it tough to make a case to the hiring manager about why they would want to hire you.
Successful candidates prepare. Learn about the company and the role. Ask about the interview process and what you should expect. Communicate why you would want to work here.
Remember, an interview is a conversation! As a recruiter, I love when candidates display enthusiasm about PagerDuty and have researched it."
–Dick Hartshorne, Lead Recruiting Business Partner
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
Responding without thinking - Healthfirst
"One of the biggest mistakes interviewees make is not answering the question. They try to respond immediately without taking the time to tell their story in a succinct way. This can lead to a few things: a rambling, long-winded answer; a confused recruiter; and/ or an unanswered question.
Instead, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and answer using the STAR (Situation – Task – Action – Result) method. Describe the situation, explain the task you had to complete, describe the action(s) you took to complete the task, and describe the results of your efforts."
Learn more about Healthfirst here.
Not voicing your thought process - BlackRock
"No one knows everything, so you don't have to act like it. Interviewees should be genuine and honest. That means voicing your thought process, even if you're still coming up with a better solution.
As a technologist at BlackRock, the challenges you'll tackle will be complex and the impact you'll have will be vast – you'll help move markets, build economies and support the retirement of millions of people around the globe. To best serve our clients, we need people with diverse perspectives, talents and ways of thinking.
That's why demonstrating what you know and how you think is way more important than the "right" answer."
Learn more about BlackRock here.
Trying to bluff your way through the interview - Elastic
"The psychology around not saying "I don't know" is that we as humans don't like to say that about anything, ever. It shows weakness. But it can take strength to demonstrate weakness, and such an admission is often viewed in a positive light. I don't think most candidates realize this though, and try to bluff their way through instead. This typically leads to long-winded answers that go nowhere. On those occasions when candidates ask for advice, I try to coach them to not be afraid to own up to when they don't know something."
–Tucker Wolfe, Recruiter
Learn more about Elastic here.
Not asking for pre-interview guidance - Procore
"There are three frequent mistakes that many candidates make during their technical coding interviews.
First, candidates generally jump straight into coding before understanding the problem holistically. Similar to how we build products at Procore, coding challenges are designed to build from one section to the next, so it's important to understand the entire problem as presented, not just the first section. We see candidates lose valuable time as they progress through a challenge if they have to continually go back and rewrite code to make future sections work.
Secondly, candidates tend to be more 'heads down' while coding. Communication is key during a coding challenge—this will allow an interviewer to understand a candidate's thought process to help steer them in the right direction if needed. Procore is a highly collaborative environment where teams across the company work together to design and develop best-in-class software solutions successfully. Open lines of communication are both appreciated and required for success within our Product & Technology organization.
Lastly, and the most important—ask your recruiter for pre-interview guidance to help prepare for the interview! We are your biggest ally internally and want to ensure you're prepped with resources, tips, and insights that empower you to have a confident and successful interview."
–Garrett Wilson, Staff Technical Recruiter
Learn more about Procore here.
Not clarifying your thoughts before analyzing your code - VTS
"At VTS, we focus on pair programming for technical challenges and the number one mistake we see is candidates not sharing their thought process. Not only do we want to see how interviewees collaborate with members of our team, but it makes it difficult for the interviewers to help remove blockers or make suggestions when they don't know where or why you are getting stuck. Also, ask questions! The earlier you clarify your thoughts, the easier it is to plan and analyze your code."
Learn more about VTS here.
Not preparing for behavioral interview questions - Unstoppable Domains
"One frustrating mistake that many interviewees make is not preparing for behavioral interview questions and not clearly or concisely communicating the depth of their technical experience. Almost all companies ask behavioral questions, but many candidates feel blindsided by these. Before the interview, we recommend reflecting on your biggest achievements and areas of opportunity over the last 5 years, then rehearsing answers in the STAR format - Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Be specific. Why were those achievements important? What was the measurable impact? What did you learn as a result? It's not just about knowing the programming language, it's about being able to discuss real-life situations and how you were able to problem solve, collaborate, and add value. Bonus points if you research the company mission, values and tech stack beforehand so that you can tailor your response to each company."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
Not familiarizing yourself with the product - Smartsheet
"Many interviewees don't take the time to familiarize themselves with the Smartsheet product before their interview. Aside from reflecting poorly on their interest in our company, it makes it harder for them to understand where technical questions are coming from and then answer appropriately. Establishing even a basic understanding of our product gives candidates valuable context when thinking through responses to our questions (and asking meaningful questions of their own!). Our website is a great first stop, or candidates can even sign up for a free trial account to try out the product for themselves."
Learn more about Smartsheet here.
Weak communication - Veracode
"One of the most common mistakes interviewees make during a technical interview is having long-winded answers which can take time away from additional questions the interviewer may have. If you recognize this in yourself, practice breathing between sentences, or jot down some key points you want to share to reference during the interview. Strong communication begins with being an active listener then giving an answer that is clearly articulated, confident, and shows empathy. If you worry about being not detailed enough, remember the interview can always ask you to elaborate further. Demonstrating these communication skills during an interview will put your candidacy on the top of the list, as technical hiring managers are always seeking strong communicators on their teams."
Learn more about Veracode here.
Experience is the greatest teacher, and the experience of being a mom is particularly chock-full of learning opportunities.
We know from the examples set by our coworkers and friends just how good moms are at juggling competing responsibilities and priorities. ("If you want to make sure something gets done, give it to a busy person" would be even more accurate if it was changed to "give it to a working mom.")
So this Mother's Day, we decided to ask working moms at our partner companies about the secret sauce that connects parenting experience to being better and happier at work.
We're so excited to share what 66 mothers told us they've learned through being a mom that has helped them be more productive and fulfilled at work.
1. Enjoy thicker skin and resiliency.
"Before my son, Lucas, was born, I used to be totally emotional about everything that involved my work, taking things too seriously with a lot of susceptibilities and not enough hindsight. I was at 100% with everything and this was too intense. Becoming a mom has allowed me to put things into perspective. Today I have thicker skin––I'm more resilient and much less susceptible to stress. I am more fulfilled, having put my family life at the forefront, and my son has given new energy to my career and a better way to interpret challenges, feedback, and ways to support my growth."
–Magalie Blanchet, Executive Assistant Business Partner and EMEA Co-Chair and Global Lead for Benefits and Programs of Uber's Parents@ ERG, Uber
"As a mother of two, I've become more resilient. I can handle quick change or last minute plans; I can get on board for an assignment–stress free–with a mindset to jump in and just get the job done. My children keep me motivated. I've taken advantage of what the NBA has to offer (which is a ton); my current favorite is the Career 101 Development course. Being motivated in a new way since my daughters' births has really sparked a new light in my life to learn more and do more. I want to say I've become more compassionate as well. We all have hard days (my child can have a meltdown around putting on pants), so I like to give all my coworkers and colleagues the benefit of the doubt. I can always guarantee I'll have a positive attitude no matter what is going on in the background of my life!"
–Madisyn Wallace, Corporate Services Coordinator, NBA, NY
2. Recognize that what you're doing is enough.
"The best advice that helped me recalibrate what was possible was when someone told me, 'You are doing the best you can and that is enough.' We often put these unrealistic expectations onto ourselves—especially as working parents—to be both perfect at work and home, and not let one suffer due to the other, often at our own expense. I realized that I was so busy trying to make everything perfect and right myself, I was missing out on the important things. When I started letting people help me, saying specifically what help I needed, letting things go that didn't make a huge impact, my stress level decreased and grace for myself increased. I was able to focus and prioritize on the things that matter and not feel stretched too thin."
–Jennifer Westropp, Head of Global Talent Development and Performance, Relativity, Chicago, IL
"I now understand and realize that doing my very best was and is enough—both as a mom and as a full-time worker. This has helped me accept that not every day will be perfect—some days you'll need to bring your baby to a meeting because he won't nap, and some mornings he'll wake up with a cold and you'll have to clear your day. Some days you'll be hit with last-minute deadlines, and you may have to miss bedtime. At the end of the day, you're doing your best, and it is enough."
–Sophia Ferderer, Senior Brand Marketing Strategist, 2U, Gaithersburg, MD
"After becoming a mom, I learned how to say both yes and no more often. I learned to accept the support and help offered by family and friends. I also learned how to turn down extra opportunities that were not necessary to my job or home life. Being a working mom is a balancing act, but we can learn to prioritize ourselves by not trying to be a 'supermom.'"
–Rachel Guzman, Onboarding Coordinator, Pluralsight, Utah
3. Lead and listen with empathy.
"Becoming a parent has certainly changed me. I'm not saying I'm better at what I do because I'm a mum, but my experience of being a parent has changed my own working style. I have more empathy and tend to step back and think more deeply about what others need from me and their team in order to succeed. I mentor several people, both within ServiceNow and externally, and I love working with people to help them identify and grab hold of their potential."
–Shakira T., Sales Director, ServiceNow, Staines, UK
"Being a mom trained me to be a better listener. I have to really pay attention to what the little ones have to say, be empathetic about their feelings, and help them understand what they want."
–Jesse Zhang, Director, Credit, Afterpay, San Francisco, CA
"I've recognized the power of observation. My little boy is only eight months old and he can't yet use words to communicate. The whole journey up until now has really forced me to become more observant and learn to pick up non-verbal cues and develop not only a more acute sense of observation, but a higher degree of natural empathy. As someone in a sales role, this new honed skillset has really allowed me to be a better observer in sales meetings and to better perceive and understand a clients' real needs and motives."
–Qing Liu, Director, Head of Government & Education – APAC and Middle East, Moody's, Sydney
"There are so many things I learned being a mom that apply at work. My kids often remind me: tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand."
–Haiyan Chen, Staff Software Development Engineer, OfferUp, Bellevue, WA
"In my role, I help different departments with a variety of tasks. Becoming a mom has made me great at multitasking so I'm able to balance everything I need to get done. I've also become more sympathetic. If a customer is having a bad day or they're frustrated, maybe they've forgotten a piece of paperwork, I completely understand. Especially if they're a fellow parent."
–Corrine Echeverria, Member Experience Associate, AAA, Menlo Park, CA
"Something I have learned after becoming a mom that makes me more productive and fulfilled at work is that everyone is so unique. My kids who share DNA couldn't be more different in how they see and respond to the world around them. It takes a completely different approach to parenting them successfully. One child that is full of competition needs to be continually redirected to compete with himself not everyone around him, another that's very tender hearted needs time to communicate emotions when he's ready, while another (I have 5) is so achievement and fast-action-based that for her to feel heard and empowered I have to let her drive conversations as much as possible to lead her to making the right decision and not make it for her. This applies every day at work, every day. As obvious as it sounds, no two people are the same at the office and their needs vary. My kids have taught me to have an individualized approach with them and at the office and that has changed the dynamic of my working relationships and helping others achieve the dreams and goals they have and meeting them where they are fills my bucket and brings me satisfaction."
–Jen McGee, Director of Training and Development, Rise Buildings by VTS, Chicago, IL
4. Lean on your network.
"I've learned about the necessity of a good support system. When 'mom guilt' hits, it's hard to focus and be productive at work. But when you're able to identify and lean on a support system, you're able to feel productive and fulfilled as both a mom and employee."
–Jody-Ann Parkinson, Sr. HR Operations Administrator, NBA, NJ
"Being a mom has taught me to choose my village wisely. Take care to select the right schools and caregivers available to you so you don't have to worry about your children while you are working."
–Andrea Shook, Underwriting Senior at Freddie Mac, Georgia
"I am a single mom of a 5-going-on-17-year-old. As many families have experienced this year, it's been terrible. I work full time, managing all household activities and fur babies, and was trying to be as good mom, sister, daughter, girlfriend, and friend. Being honest about what was going on in my house allowed others to open up and do the same. We were able to laugh, cry and be angry all together. At the end of either a conversation or parking lot meeting (socially distanced), we all felt better. Knowing we were not alone and having someone there to talk to was for me my sanity through a tough year. Use your network and be honest with what is going on with you, you will find you are not alone."
–Kaley Young, Female Diversity Program Manager, Raytheon Technologies, McKinney, TX
"I feel that communication at workplace is one of most important aspects of one's job, and even more so in the Pandemic-era. As a working mom from home, I feel there are many times when I can't stay online 100% of the time but have established trust with my client manager that I will get the work done and one of the habits that makes me feel productive is ensuring that I follow a practice like setting up 30 minutes every Monday with my client to go over high priority items that we wanted to accomplish in a week. This ritual has ensured my work and efforts were aligned to client's expectations and we wrap up the week on a productive note."
- Kriti Gujral-Dhawan, Senior Consultant, Capco, New York
5. Be an example to other working women.
"Being a mom has helped me even get more efficient in order to ensure I have the time with my daughter, my husband, and myself each week. I have more patience in some areas and less in others, things don't feel as heavy or stressful at work when in perspective to my family (I feel lighter!), and I have come to appreciate even more all working parents, regardless of gender, and their daily juggling act. I also feel a need to model flexibility for all the working moms watching me in my executive role. We need to support women in the workforce at this moment especially, as we are seeing more and more women drop out of the workforce during the pandemic due to not having the flexibility or having to carry the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities."
–Caroline Kidston, Chief People Officer, Surescripts LLC
6. Create more space for learning and failure.
"I have a whole new level of patience and outlook on failing. Having kids, especially two (four-year-old & almost-two-year-old girls) that are strong-willed, independent and ready to conquer the world has given me a whole new view and approach to patience and learning from failures. As they refuse help when getting food from the pantry and spill an entire box of cereal on the floor, I find myself laughing more and grateful that they are so determined to at least try. And while they might fail, they are failing forward and constantly learning. This philosophy has followed me into work. I give myself and my team much more grace than I did prior to having kids. It might take 2-3 times to get it right, or make a manager happy; but each time, we're learning, adapting and moving forward."
–Lori Armstrong, Associate Director, Talent Acquisition, Collins Aerospace, SC
"One day I was sitting at the table coloring with my kids when my son started crying because his blue crayon went outside of the lines. I told him that 'perfect is not fun', and that we need to accept our mistakes and move on. It has now become one of our family mantras when someone is agonizing over a mistake that we cannot change. One day I realized I should be applying this to myself as well, both at work and at home. I allow myself the room to make mistakes and not be afraid to push things forward without knowing if it is exactly right."
–Jennifer Weaver, Director, Study Operations, CSL Behring, Pennsylvania
"After becoming a mom, our priority becomes teaching our children to be the best humans they can be. Specifically, we teach them to be their true, authentic selves, to be kind, and to learn to roll with the punches. Most importantly, we teach them that it's not about falling and skinning a knee, it's about getting up and brushing it off. With teaching those things daily, you realize having the same mentality within the workplace is what sets you up for success. Being kind to coworkers, making mistakes and learning from them, moving forward when things get tough – it brings you a sense of fulfillment and certainly promotes productivity."
–Erica West, Senior Recruiter, Collins Aerospace, Chicago, IL
7. Keep in mind that it’s okay to ask for help.
"Each day is a new opportunity to do your best – and asking for help is not a sign of weakness!"
–Marisa Taylor, Head of Salesforce Architecture, S&P Global, Virginia
"As a married, full-time working mother of 2 young children, I work 40+ hours a week and handle all school and extracurricular responsibilities, play the role of chef, housekeeper, gardener, pet handler, teacher, and more. Within the last year, I realized something had to give. Where was I in all of this? I was exhausted, stressed, and emotionally drained. To my surprise, the hardest thing for me was to ask for help. My husband and I started splitting everything up to alleviate what felt like the weight of the world coming down on me daily. Simply asking for help and knowing it was perfectly normal to do so was one of the biggest life-changing behaviors I could have done. I am a better wife, mother, and I have never been happier with my career."
–Tiffany LeBrun, Sr. Talent Acquisition Manager, Raytheon Technologies, Parker, CO
8. But don’t apologize for your family boundaries.
"Working in Talent & Engagement, I've always felt that the most impactful thing I can do is strive to bring my fullest self to work while creating spaces and building relationships that invite others to do the same. Being a working mom has made me more committed to this. When I came back from my own maternity leave, I made it a point to never apologize for being a parent. For example, you won't catch me saying 'Sorry, I have to leave early, I have to take my kid to an appointment." I will thank people for understanding and thank them for their flexibility, but I will not gesture an ask for forgiveness for having a life outside that demands my care and attention. Bringing this mindfulness to how I express who I am in the context of my professional life has worked wonders for my own feelings of purpose and connection at work."
–Diana Keith, Talent & Learning Lead, NBA, NY
"The one thing I learned that has helped me is 'it's all about perspective.' I needed to be less apologetic. I am a recruiter and a mom so sometimes the two need to overlap. At first, I got very overwhelmed if I heard my baby cry or if both kids were home and I was trying to work but I shifted my perspective to think, 'how lucky I am to always be close to my kids and pop down when I have a few moments to see them!' Folks are so much more understanding now and in fact, it's been a great icebreaker for me so many times."
–Anne Krechmer, Sr. Recruiter, Elastic, NY, NY
9. When you're with your kids, be with your kids.
"Children need quality time with you. Now, more than ever. Everything is harder for them also. When you are with them, be with them. Close your computer, don't look at the phone, don't open the door of '...let me reply to this email quickly …' This door never shuts. The small ones cannot give you this feedback directly, but they feel it. Watch out for this!"
–Ana Suarez, Engineering Manager, SoundCloud, Berlin
"Before I became a mom, I would mentally take work home with me: rehash my day, question what I did, worry about the next day. After becoming a mom, I learned to compartmentalize my roles and live in the role I am in at any given point of the day: when I'm working, I'm an employee (it helped that I had a great daycare provider when my kids were young), and when I'm at home, I'm a mom, spouse, etc. Its easier said than done, and it took me a long time to get this right, but after 12 years, I feel I am in a great space with this concept and embrace the role I am in at any given time of the day. Roles do blur, especially in a pandemic where school comes home, and mom/employee roles cross over, but working at a great place like PagerDuty allows me to 'roll with it' so to speak, and continue to strive to be the best Dutonian I can be."
–Laura Mayberry, Sr Manager, Engineering Business Operations, PagerDuty, Toronto, Ontario
"Being a new working mom has taught me how to be more present and intentional with my time. My daughter is in daycare full time, so I treasure the time I have with her in the evenings. If it's a busy work day (which it often is) I will only have about two hours of the day to spend with her between the end of my work day and before her bedtime. I will turn off the TV, shut down my computer, and put my phone away in order to give her my full attention for those few hours. This makes me fully present in spending time with her which is rewarding for both of us. I feel more fulfilled after those two hours of uninterrupted time than I do after a whole day of multitasking with her around. When applying this mentality to my work day, I have found that if I multi-task less in meetings and try to be intentional with my time, I feel more satisfied with my day."
- Katherine Jenks, Senior Consultant, Capco, Cleveland
10. See your career is a place to reconnect with your pre-parent self.
"Becoming a mom has changed me deeply in the best ways. But sometimes I miss the 'old' me, and I've learned that my career is a place where I can still see that familiar version of myself. Being a writer helps me continue to engage and grow my own intellect and interests, alongside my kids', and that makes me a more well-rounded, confident and adventurous mother."
–Samantha Bock, Editor of The Relativity Blog, Relativity, Madison, WI
"After having twin boys in October 2020, I was definitely ready to go back to work after my maternity leave. My career was a big part of my life prior to having babies, and it still is. I have learned to reserve certain hours of the day for my boys and my family, putting my phone away and not checking emails during that time. As my boys grow and see me working hard to be successful in my career, I HOPE they are proud of me and learn the importance of having a good work ethic too."
–Allie Zerbe, Director, Americas Channel Marketing, Netskope, Wichita, KS
"A powerful way to harness energy and motivation is to flip your excuses around and to turn them into your reasons. When I came back to work, I used my son as a reason to work hard and further the success of my career and did not view motherhood as a barrier for progressing my career. I love working and don't see myself ever leaving my job to work as a stay-at-home mom. I admire those that do want that, but I just never felt that urge when I came back from leave. I came back to work with an excitement and tenacity to work hard and make my work hours as productive as possible so that when I went home, I knew I gave it my all and could now focus my energy on my family. You can apply this same logic in a variety of ways. Instead of saying I don't have time to work out because I have a toddler, I say I work out because I am the mom of a toddler and need the energy to keep up with him. I try to remember this whenever I hear myself making excuses for why I can't do something."
–Kim Menapace, Senior Product Manager, CarGurus
11. Share your work with your kids.
"Probably the most important (and hardest) thing I had to learn is understanding what truly mattered to me the most at work and home and letting everything else take a back seat. I have also tried sharing aspects of my work life with my son from the time he was little, so it wasn't some nebulous, esoteric thing. I used to travel internationally a lot and I would leave notes for his lunches with trivia questions about the places where I was going so he felt included and not just left at home. When opportunities presented themselves, I would introduce him to my colleagues, so he knew who I was spending time with when I was at the office or away on business."
–Pamela Schneider, VP Warranty, Clyde, Chicago, IL
"Embrace your child and let them into your world. We allow our two year old daughter to come give me a hug whenever she chooses—and of course that comes with homemade gifts and many hellos for those on a call with me! A mere 30 seconds every few hours makes her feel valued and appreciated, while putting a smile on my face and extending my motivation for the next task. Taking the mystery out of why I'm behind a locked door and embracing her curiosity has created many amazing impromptu memories, and I wouldn't trade them for the world."
–Kara Seymour, Head of Customer Support, Hopin, Missouri
"After my husband and I became parents to our two sons, I quickly realized how much responsibility I had for them, not only financially so I could provide for them, but also as a role model. Seeing the importance of choosing a career that inspires you and that you are passionate about, and waking up every day with a feeling of purpose, is very rewarding. I have always been open about my work experiences at CSL Plasma with my children. I have shared both the good experiences and the challenges with them as learning opportunities. I've shared my personal relationships that I have with many patients that depend on us every day. As I reflect, both of our sons have had successful journeys. With our sons, we have two beautiful daughters in-law and five grandchildren. Now it is time for us to move on to ensuring each of our beautiful grandchildren also has a successful journey."
–Michelle Meyer, Division Director at CSL Plasma, Florida
"Being a working mom is a beautiful thing. Our children are watching everything we do. I get to show my daughter every day what it feels like to be passionate about my professional work and my home life. Don't ever shy away from demonstrating that passion for both—it's what makes us whole, healthy, vibrant humans and real role models for our kids."
–Theresa Dumais, Vice President, Government and Industry Relations at Freddie Mac, Maryland
12. Remember your perspective is diversifying and valuable.
"Embrace being a working mother, you bring a diverse perspective to the workforce! It's okay to disconnect from work and create the flexibility to attend your child(ren)'s soccer game, award ceremony, field trip, et cetera."
–Angelica Ruiz, Sr. Manager Talent Attraction and Candidate Engagement, Raytheon Technologies, El Segundo, CA
13. Set schedules and boundaries.
"After becoming a mother, the most significant thing that I learned is the importance of balancing my career and personal life. Prior to becoming a parent, work consumed me, which meant that I rarely set boundaries to separate family and work. Although I still have areas of opportunity, I've now become more thoughtful about prioritizing and being present for special moments such as going to the park, eating dinner as a family, dropping and picking my son up from school, etc., which has led to me being more efficient and productive at work. I would love to say that I have perfected work-life-balance as a working mother, but I haven't; I can say that I have developed a structure that makes me feel fulfilled both personally and professionally."
–Latisha Kimber, Head of Digital Engagement, S&P Global, Washington, DC
"Being a new mom has certainly been an adjustment personally and professionally. As I embark on this journey, I quickly learned that multitasking has led to less productive work on both ends. During the pandemic, I loved going downstairs to check on the baby whenever a meeting ended, which was distracting and made me have to work late catching up. What helped was disciplining myself, and resisting the urge to go downstairs. I got all my work done before 5:30 p.m. This way, I would close my laptop and not look at anything work-related after hours, and dedicate that time bonding with my newborn. This change has helped me feel productive and produce more quality work while being an involved mother."
–Rakhee Gupta, Technical Recruiting Manager, SeatGeek, NYC
"As a new mom navigating motherhood, during a pandemic at that… it was, and can still be, challenging to balance your professional life with being a mom. I wanted to spend some quality time with my baby during the day to ease the mom guilt. I learned that defining boundaries is something that has been instrumental in finding balance. For me, it helped to carve out an hour during the work day to put her down for a nap, feed her etc. This helps me feel present as a mom and in turn helps me be a better colleague because it also makes me more present at work. Having clear communication with your team and family and speaking openly about what you need is important."
–Ivette Assis, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Business, VTS, New York, NY
"As parents we need to advocate for ourselves and manage our boundaries. I block every weekday evening from 7-9 p.m. to do dinner and bedtime with my young children. It's tough to tear yourself away at a fast-growing startup when there are important meetings and lots to do, but the littles help me keep perspective and remind me that I need to enjoy all the little moments with them. I'm lucky that working from home gives me the flexibility to do that. We also need to be kind to ourselves as parents. Don't waste your precious time feeling guilty at work for not doing enough or at home for not doing —you're doing just the right amount (and probably too much) and it's all fine."
–Lily Chang, Chief of Staff, Hopin, London, UK
"I split my work hours into several categories—meeting hours, focus time, etc—and also leverage some softwares to help organize meetings."
–Qiansha Ding, Senior Manager, Fraud Risk, Afterpay, San Francisco
"One thing I have learned is setting nonnegotiable boundaries and learning to prioritize. I start my day early, that way all meetings can begin at 8- 8:30 am and my day wraps up at 4:30 pm. This way I know I can pick up my son from daycare and spend dinner, bath, and bedtime with him. If something is urgent, I can always work on that after bedtime at 7 pm. I am also sure to have clear discussions with my lead and clients to ensure I know which tasks are critical and what deadlines/timelines we are working with, so there is no confusion. This way I get my work done and get to spend time with son!"
- Alyssa Simpson, Senior Consultant, Capco, Washington DC
14. Make time for yourself.
"I had a traumatic pregnancy which amplified the challenges I faced as a mom, post-birth. The first year I was lost, broken, and really questioned my sense of self. The biggest lesson for me was adjusting my mindset and accepting the daunting role of motherhood. I still am pretty bad at prioritizing my own wellbeing but I try to find opportunities to unwind in the middle of chores, childcare, and work! For example, I love books and now my child and I read a ton of books and enjoy the shared time together. At work, I have learnt to say NO and really measure the impact of the work I am doing so I can do the best work in the limited time I have. I force myself to acknowledge my feelings now. Feeling sluggish? I take a break from screens. Feeling exhausted? I take a half day off. Instead of waiting for that coveted vacation, I try to fit in 'mental breaks' wherever I can."
–Manju Vijayakumar, Software Engineer, Quip/Salesforce, SF Bay Area
"My worth is not defined by how productive I am, how many meetings I make, or how clean my house is. I remind myself that I am worthy just as I am, which helps me find balance. Being present with my family, active in my community, and engaged at work is demanding. I am worthy of time for myself, work breaks, and exercise!"
–Marissa Bowman, Enterprise Customer Success Manager, Quip/Salesforce, SF Bay Area
"I learned quickly that time to decompress after work is a must for me, even if it's only for 15-30 minutes. I use the time to process the day and prep for the next. This allows me to close out my work day and give my son the undivided attention he deserves."
–Lee Ann Mangels, Senior Director, Program Management, Clyde, Baltimore, Maryland
15. Define roles at work and at home.
"One thing that I've learned after becoming a mom is that it really does take a village, and to be productive and not feel burnt out, we need to divide and conquer. For example, my husband does school drop off, playtime after school, and bath time. I handle breakfast and getting our son ready for school, school pick up, making dinner, and getting him dressed for bed after bath. We each understand our role and our son has a routine and consistency he can count on. It's the same way at work. By dividing responsibilities, as a team we can all be more productive."
–Kim-Mai Underwood, Senior Field Marketing Manager, PagerDuty, Bay Area, California
"Right before the birth of my first child, my husband and I made the decision to become a one-income family. One of us would stay home to care for our infant son. After a lot of discussion, it was my husband that would be the stay-at-home parent. Even after our second child was born, he continued to stay home. It came with a lot of sacrifices for both of us. It also came with some role reversal stereotypes. What I learned is that he spent his day being there for our kids. He would take them to play groups and other activities. I think if our roles were reversed, I would be doing household chores like my mother, and spending less quality time with our children. Knowing my husband was holding down the fort also gave me the confidence and peace of mind to advance my career. I had the flexibility to work late, take on extra assignments and travel globally. It also taught me how to be more structured so I could be there for my kids' doctor appointments and school events."
–Lynette Hodgden, Global Head, Environment, Health, Safety & Business Resilience, CSL Behring, Pennsylvania
16. Restack your priorities.
"It's tempting to hide my 'mom' identity at work, but I've come to embrace how I can use the same skill sets in both worlds. I think being a Product Manager/Mom means that I've learned how to focus on what is important for this next season or planning cycle. It's OK to say no and deprioritize things, because you can prioritize them for later or figure out how to delegate. For example, at work, I may say 'no' to a high-priority project because there's a bigger initiative to tackle right now. At home, it's tempting to want to do ALL the activities just like other moms, but I can tell myself, 'We don't have to enroll our kid in swim lessons right now, let's wait until it fits in our schedule.'"
–Melissa Chan, Product Manager, Quip/Salesforce, SF Bay Area
"I started following Michael Hyatt and implemented the 'Big 3' planning system: 3 big goals for the quarter, 3 goals for the week, and 3 priorities for each day. Those 3 daily priorities have to encompass what must be completed that day. Sometimes it's all work things, some days it's a mix of personal and work things. Knowing that I've completed my 'Big 3' helps me shut it off at the end of the day, and not worry about what else I should be doing workwise."
–Pia Adolphsen, Product Manager, CallRail, Atlanta, GA
"The one thing I have learned as a mom is the importance of priorities. I own and drive the top three things I value the most, the rest is delegated at various degrees."
–Amudha Irudayam, Sr. Technical Program Manager, OfferUp, Bellevue, WA
"I've learned to say no because taking on too much means I might not be able to deliver in the ways that I would like to."
–Anne Salgado, Senior Manager, Customer Care, LogMeIn, California
"After becoming a mom, I had to more ruthlessly prioritize at work because I wasn't able to work the same kind of hours that I used to be able to. Instead of saying yes to everything, I had to learn to have uncomfortable conversations about what I wouldn't be able to take on. I try to block time in my calendar each day for focused time that I can get work done, because I know I have to switch gears at the end of the day for family dinner, bath, story time, and bedtime. I try to remember that the work I am doing is in service to my family and keep them as my North Star."
–Chelsea, Events Manager, Global Employer Brand, Uber, Boise, IH
"Being a mom of 18-month-old twins with a full-time job, I've learned to prioritize well. When I'm at work, I'm all in, as I know I have limited time to get everything done, so it causes me to really prioritize what I really need to get done. This, in turn, makes me more efficient."
–Ritika Jain, Technical Recruiter, Autodesk, Bay Area, CA
"I've learned how to organize my day better. I am at my max every day with work and being a mom, but being able to organize my day and prioritize what is important to get done has helped me get more done during working hours, and that means I get to spend more time with my son."
–Nicole Woods Steven, Concierge Manager, OfferUp, Bellevue, WA
"I have learned how to prioritize my time better. I had no problem staying at work late before I had kids. After I had my first child, I had to leave work at a certain time for daycare pickup and I didn't want to spend the little time I had with my daughter worrying about finishing a presentation for the next day. Being aware of that helped me be more focused and productive during the day, knowing these efforts during the day meant I would have more time and nothing else on my mind for evening games and snuggles."
–Pascaline Broyer, Director, Consumer Retention, CarGurus
"Being a mum has meant that I have to learn how to prioritize properly. I believe this has helped me be more productive and fulfilled because I have to make bold decisions on where to focus my time based on how I and my team can have the most impact for Moody's business; I have to empower others to ensure that my team meets business needs; and since being a mother forces me to switch off, I find I am clearer in my decisions and actions when I switch back on."
–Julia Thomas, Managing Director, Events, Moody's, London
17. Kick that procrastination habit.
"After I had my first child, I shifted the way I looked at my job. I asked, 'Is my work providing meaning and fulfillment in a way that made it worth taking time away from my son?' That gave me the confidence to take on different projects, stand up for myself and step out of my comfort zone. I also learned to prioritize and not procrastinate on an entirely different level due to daycare drop off and pick up times. Those late fee charges are expensive!"
–Anne Connolly, Director, HR Business Partner, LogMeIn, California
"The most important thing I learned was to make short pockets of time more productive and to set transparent expectations with your manager. Prioritizing the ONE frog you need to swallow today and devoting a 25-minute work block towards that priority task has helped me immensely. Also, remember to lift yourself up by acknowledging your hard work and getting that one thing done!"
–Aolai Kim, APAC Operations Senior Manager at Bumble, Australia
"Taking the time to plan, prioritize, and organize is the only way I can stay on track. I start each day defining my must do(s): no more than three, and realistic, given my day's schedule. As much as I am tempted, I do not let myself do other, easier things, and I turn off notifications during my focus times. For me, motivation is fleeting. I need habits I can rely on. Getting my top to do(s) done means I can be in the moment with kids later on in the day without the guilt of 'I should be working.'"
–Stacey Chase, Team Lead Internal Audit, Siemens, Houston, TX
"One of the biggest things becoming a mom has taught me is time management. It is incredibly important to me that I get as much time as possible with my daughter, and my drive to do this has allowed me to be much more effective with my time when working. On the days when work is difficult, what keeps me going is knowing that I am doing it to support my daughter and teach her the importance of supporting herself and having a good work ethic. Surprisingly, many of the things that I never wanted to do have now all become easy tasks!"
–Sinead Mcniel, Enterprise Territory Management Specialist, MongoDB, Austin, TX
"Becoming a mom, I just learned how to get focused more quickly. I tell myself, 'I have this time and I need to be more intentional with it. I'm setting a timer and I need to accomplish the task within the time frame.' Naturally, I can be really Type A. That can lead to some challenges considering all the unplanned things of motherhood. It's made me more flexible as a person—in and outside of work—whenever you can't do that, when things go wrong at work - I'm learning to be better at accepting and shifting plans."
–Chelsea Michaels, Talent Development Manager, CallRail, Atlanta, GA
18. Tighten up your schedule and make special plans.
"Being a mom helps me with work by being more organized and understanding the importance behind scheduling. Because my kids are in such different age groups, there's always something going on. The method of scheduling out activities for the kids is just as important as scheduling out things for work. I've become more intentional in how I schedule and prioritize meetings, children's activities, and true focus time. Daily scheduling is a must and better helps with being more productive instead of being all over the place."
–Tameka Hughes, Senior Customer Success Manager, CallRail, Atlanta, GA
"Keeping up with 3 young boys (8, 10, 13 years old) and a demanding job keeps my life busy and challenging, but also interesting. To keep up, I prioritize my life around the 3 things that are most important to me: family, work, and staying fit, and I arrange time differently on weekdays and weekends. Work takes priority during weekdays and family is the priority on the weekends. During the weekdays, I arrange after school activities around my work schedule. For family time, we take a weekend getaway trip every month: snowboarding in winter and camping in spring to fall. On the weekends that we're around the house, we work on house chores together and spend a couple of hours going out for a short biking or hiking trip. In order to stay fit, I try to combine my exercise with family time as much as possible."
–Vikki Wei, Director, Engineering, Netskope, Santa Clara, CA
"When my first child was born, it was a struggle to 'turn off' work and 'turn on' being a mom—but that's exactly what I needed to do. I had to become a master scheduler, forcing myself to dedicate 100% of a certain period of time to work and 100% of a certain period of time to being a mom. Doing this helped so that there wasn't always a nagging of worrying about what I'm not doing at the moment. In order to have 100% work time, you have to have someone you trust caring for your child so that you can have this focus. Another benefit I discovered is that absence makes the heart grow fonder—I enjoyed my time much more so with my baby without any of the guilt or worry."
–Janet Vito, Sr. Vice President, Marketing & Sales, uShip, Austin, TX
19. Celebrate the small things.
"The best part about being a mom is appreciating and cherishing the small things–smiles of pride when your kiddo meets their accomplishment, hearing and seeing acts of kindness, receiving a homemade gift whether a decoration, card, or song, siblings sticking up for each other, chores being done without asking. These have all taught me to be patient, celebrate the small things, and know everything will work out exactly the way it is supposed to."
–Cammie Heefner, Department Coordinator, Collins Aerospace, IA
20. Be a more effective problem solver.
"Being a mom has taught me how to find a pattern in chaos and effectively solve the issue amid the noise. As a Business Analyst, this skill has helped me focus on reaching optimum solutions by looking at the big picture. I have two boys: 4 years and 2 ½ years old. We have huge tantrums. Rather than focusing on their behavior, I have learned to focus on the ways to resolve the situation."
–Isha Pandit, Business Analysis Senior at Freddie Mac, Virginia
"I've learned the power of patience and helping others to understand the 'why.' With kids, you can't just tell them 'no' or 'don't do that' – it makes a much larger impact when they understand why, so that they know the reason for your response and can learn to choose a different behavior moving forward. At work, I find that if I include the 'why' in my response to something, it helps others to understand my point of view and sometimes even begin thinking in different ways moving forward. In this case I'm not just providing answers or perspectives, I'm also influencing outcomes and inspiring diversified thought."
–Tonya Montella, Manager, Sales Enablement, CarGurus
"I have always been ambitious and strongly driven to achieve my goals. However, when I had my son, I was apprehensive about how I would feel going back to work. That apprehension quickly turned into my biggest motivation. It provided me with an intense desire to ace every project and challenge at my job so that my son would, one day, be proud of me. I love what I do. I have always enjoyed coding and my job brings me immense happiness and fulfillment, and that sense of satisfaction, in turn, makes me a better mom. I learned to get more things done in less time by creating goals, setting desired outcomes, scheduling, prioritizing and eliminating non-essentials. This has helped me to efficiently and effectively complete all my tasks. It also dawned on me that my life hadn't changed completely but rather expanded to add on another role called 'amma' (mom) which has made me better at everything else."
–Meghana Raj Jayanarasimha, Sr. Software Engineer, Netskope, Santa Clara, CA
What advice has helped you balance family and career? Let us know in the comments... And Happy Mother's Day!
We asked 30+ women how you can make 2021 your best year yet.
Resolutions are one thing. Goals are another.
How do you move from vaguely hopeful statements about what 2021 will mean for you personally and professionally to thoughtful plans that are likely to come to fruition?
You set good goals. Specific goals. Goals that tie back to your values, goals that can be tracked, goals that make you excited to get out and start working towards them.
We asked 32 incredible and accomplished women about the advice they'd share with anyone looking to make 2021 their year. Here's what they had to say!
1. Make goal setting a ritual.
Sure, a new year is just a change of date, an arbitrary way to mark time. But if we create meaning around it, it can become something else entirely. Carmen Kelly, Training & Development Team Leader at Quicken Loans, likes to see it as a real beginning. "I enjoy embracing the fresh, new year with hope of what could be, and a huge part of that is goal setting," she says. "Having goals in life is essential. Even creating goals for different areas of your life is key. This can help with making sure you are balancing out all critical aspects of your life that are most important to you."
Starting with reflection can help make sure that your goals are well-connected to where you are mentally, personally, and professionally. "I always start with reflecting on my past to gain better understanding of myself," says Ankita Patel, Principal Software Engineer at Clarus. "What my capabilities are versus what I really foresee myself doing in next quarter or so. It allows me to see where I stand, what difficulties I have faced, and to shift my perspective from doubting myself to believing in myself. It forms the baseline of starting fresh and helping me plan for my future."
For Jess Tsai, VP of Business Operations at VTS, the ritual of goal setting begins with a long journaling session. "I reflect on the last year and rate myself on a scale of 1-10 for how happy I am in these ten areas: health, emotional/mental, relationships (friends/family), love/romance, service, learning/personal growth, experiences, spirituality, career, and finances," she says. "In the areas where I scored lower, I reflect on why. Then I go through each area and write out in detail what my life would look like if I scored 10 in each area, and try to visualize that life and feel like I'm already there. Depending on my scores and what's most important to me right now, I set some intentions for where I want to focus for the year."
2. Build around your values.
Disparate goals scattered across different aspects of life aren't as likely to motivate you as one set of goals that coalesce around a theme, says Jac Le, a Senior Territory Sales Representative at Autodesk. "Whether or not you're conscious of it, values are the foundation of goals, dreams, character, and decision making," she says. "Instead of creating New Year Resolutions, I create a Theme that I want to focus on for the year, which is based on my values. It can be a word or phrase. From there, every goal set throughout the year is measured in alignment with that Theme to ensure that my goals are an expression and enhancement to my values instead of a stressor to check off."
If you're having trouble thinking of a good place to start from, or naming the values that drive your everyday life, Dipabali Chowdhury, a Learning & Development Specialist at MongoDB, has advice that can help. "The more self-awareness you can build, the more specific your goals will be and the more motivated you will be. Sometimes, we set goals without understanding what's important to us. We follow someone else's compass instead of our own," she says. She suggests asking yourself reflection questions: "When I was happy at work, what contributed to that joy? When and why was I frustrated at work? What mindsets held me back from achieving my goals this year? What challenges did I overcome? What are my natural strengths? What skills, knowledge, or behaviors do I want to build in the new year?"
Claire Lucas, Senior Manager, Services Operations at Elastic, suggests beginning with an end vision in mind. "I work backwards," she says. "I journal about my vision for the end of the year, trying to think about it uninhibited from any constraints. I then focus on creating a declaration for myself that will help me break through to reach my goals. The declaration ties together who I am today, and who I need to be in the future to fulfill this goal."
3. Consider making personal and professional goals in harmony.
You might have personal goals that are completely unrelated to what you do at work. That's okay! Great, even. But you do need to make sure that they are complimentary at least so far as how they'll be achieved, says Lee Ann Mangels, Senior Director of Program Management at Clyde. "Your personal and professional goals have to be somewhat aligned. If you decide to improve your time management in the new year, it will only work if the practice or process you start applies to your home and work life," she says. She gives an example: "Several years ago, I started taking 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon to review the week ahead. What meetings do I need to prepare for? What are we having for dinner? Do I have to coordinate any personal appointments for our family? Investing 30 minutes on Sunday has been a game changer for me."
4. Start big, then whittle down as needed.
Being aspirational when you make your goals is key—but so is creating a practical plan to achieve them. "I always try to look at the bigger picture [when goal setting]," says Beatriz Alvarez, Talent Acquisition Sr. Analyst - Recruitment Events Lead at Lockheed Martin. "I try to set a long term goal that seems impossible, making sure it is measurable, down-to-earth, and real—and most importantly, that it is motivating. Once I have my eyes on the prize, I strategize by setting up a group of smaller goals that will help me achieve it."
That being said, it's important to not lose sight of those aspirations, either. Amanda Fennell, Chief Security Officer at Relativity, has advice for finding the Goldilocks moment between too-easy and too-hard goals, finding the just-right pace where you're pushing yourself: "You never know how far you can go unless you set stretch goals. If I only set goals that I knew I could ace, it would be stacking the deck. I want to know how far I can push myself and in taking this approach, I have achieved some pretty amazing things. As Captain Marvel says: 'Higher, further, faster.'"
Yasameen Raissinia, APAC Commercial New Business Manager at Smartsheet, is a fan of the stretch goal, too. "I always like to push myself either personally or professionally to hit smaller attainable goals that add up to a big audacious goal. For example, I always try to set the goal of getting to the Presidents Club which typically has a goal post of 130%, which is massively difficult to achieve. In order to get there, I try and break down my weeks and my quota to overachieve, and try to give myself smaller goals around numbers of accounts, or contracts I close per week, helping me get to the major and impressive goal!" she says.
Bridget Barrot, Chainalysis's VP of Customer Success, has a three-step framework for getting that balance right. "The best lesson I've learned about setting goals is they need to be simplistic, realistic, and strategic," she says. "Simplistic: It's important to find things that are easy to measure, so that you can regularly assess them. Anything that requires too much work to analyze will set you up for failure. Realistic: Stretch goals are important, but it's also important to be practical about what you can complete in any quarter or year. When they get too lofty or too numerous, it's easy to just give up on them all together. Strategic: It's important to differentiate between goals and a 'to do' list. Goals can be a mix of big and small things, but they must be grounded in results rather than just a list of tasks to check off."
5. Write goals down.
"We're all familiar with the numerous studies that underscore the correlation between writing down our goals and our ability to achieve them," says Shavit Bar-Nahum, Senior Vice President of Leadership Development at Moody's Corporation. "The bottom line is, if it's not documented, it's less likely to happen, you are less likely to hold yourself accountable, and it's much easier to slip back into old habits and behaviors. So whether you are embarking on a new opportunity, learning a new skill, or increasing your sales objective, write it down. And not just for yourself. From documenting it in a system of record to creating a visual reminder for yourself, capture your goals in a way that you and others can see your intentions and can support you on your journey."
Going beyond writing down goals can help, too. Mary Kay Evans, pymetrics' Chief Marketing Officer, recognizes the power of writing down her own story: "One of the most challenging and rewarding exercises for me was actually writing out my story. Not goals in a bullet point list, but rather in a story format as though it's already happened. I began the year 2018 by writing the story I wanted to tell by January 2019. It was a narrative looking back on my accomplishments and challenges faced and how exactly I overcame them. By being vivid and specific, like a good narrative requires, I really had to bring my vision of the year ahead to life. It went beyond simply listing my goals to describing outcomes and how I would experience them. This preparation made all the difference as 2018 was a year of tremendous growth and accomplishment for me. It works!"
6. Find a way to track your goals over time.
The many women we talked to had different ways of tracking, but the unifying thread is that each had found a way that worked for them. Alisa Cash, Director of IT Solution Delivery at BCBSNC, sums up the key approach: "Do not set a goal that cannot be measured. This does not have to be an emphatic measurement (such as achieving 100% on time delivery = x; 90% on time delivery =y), although the more you can do this, the clearer resources tend to be."
For Sarah Morningstar, Ph.D., Data Researcher at Primer, breaking her goals into timely metrics helps. "I have found that I am more likely to achieve my goals if they include specific and actionable metrics; otherwise, it is hard to determine if I am successful," she says. "For example, one of my goals for 2021 is to practice more yoga. However, the term 'more' is vague and difficult to know when I have achieved it. Instead of more yoga, I decided I wanted that to mean that I will practice yoga at least two times per week. Over the year, I need to practice 104 times or 26 times per quarter to be successful. Each quarter I work backward from 26, I do more some weeks, and others it's less. I allow this flexibility because I know that being a mom and a working professional, I can't always control my schedule."
Amanda Sternklar, Marketing Director at State Listings, agrees, and notes that she checks in on her progress every week: "The most important thing for me is ensuring my goals are measurable, through metrics directly related to my own activities. That means that if I want to increase our blog following in the new year, my goals would look something like 'Create 3 original blog posts each week' and 'Be a guest contributor on 10 blogs in 2021.' That way, I can create a tracker—mine is a physical page in my planner, but there are also various apps that help with this—to see my progress at a glance. I review my tracker on the first Monday of each month to make sure I'm on track and figure out any steps I need to take if I'm not."
Amy Luo, Senior Product Designer at Lattice, likes identifying specific behaviors that she can easily keep in mind. "Be specific and focus on actions or behavior when defining your goals," she says. "Try setting a number you want to achieve or a completion date. It'll help keep you on track and you can clearly measure your progress toward the goal over time. For example, if you want to work on your writing skills, a general goal like 'Become a better writer' would be too vague and difficult to measure. A specific and actionable version could be 'Write for 30 minutes every day' or 'Publish an article every month.'"
For Stacey Chase, Senior Manager Internal Audit at Siemens, adding a visual element to her goal metrics is what keeps her on track. "I use a Kanban board on Trello to plan and organize my activity," she says. "In my first column I list my goals for the year and assign them a color. As I work on things throughout the year and add tasks I tie them back by color to the goal the effort is in service to. This helps me multiple ways. First, it is a visible reminder I see daily or weekly of the goals I have set. Second, I am constantly tying back my efforts and time spent back to my goals. Third, it gives me early warning that my goals or my efforts may need to be reevaluated if I find most of my energy is spent on things other than my goals."
7. Don’t keep your goals to yourself!
Many of the women we spoke to highlighted how important it is for your goals, personal and professional, to exist outside of your own head. "Be sure to share your aspirations with others and ask for feedback along the way—don't assume your supervisor knows your near and longer-term plans," says Wyetta Morrow, Executive Director, Human Resources at Raytheon Technologies. That's particularly true for goals that can be advanced at work, she notes, adding, "Our career journey includes a village and it helps to have others that can advocate for you when you may not be present."
And there's no need to limit that sharing to just your manager—what about all of the other people that care about you and want to see you succeed? Janet Higgins, Vice President of Regional Sales at Ciena, suggests broadening your circle. "Build a support group around you. Share your goals and your thinking with your trusted mentors and friends. Actively think about who you can leverage in this way. Chances are they would be more than happy to reciprocate. Seeking the perspective of people outside your industry who only have your best interests at heart and are willing to give you straight honesty is pure gold," she says.
8. Considering making your goals three-dimensional.
Writing down your goals is a classic approach, but if you have a creative bent or are a more visual learner, maybe going a step farther and making a concrete representation of your goals will help you focus on them. "Try creating a vision board that includes pictures and words of the mini goals and milestones you want to focus on to help you achieve your bigger picture goal," says Gursharn Dhami, Senior Global HR Business Partner at Stack Overflow. "If you make it visible, you may just feel more accountable to accomplish what you've envisioned for yourself!"
Brooke Kaylor, Program Manager, National Security Group at Primer, agrees with the power of seeing your goals around you. "Visualize it. Decide what it is you want to do and make it so real you can touch it, see it, taste it. When I decided to change my career completely, I put things into my workspace that reminded me of where I wanted to go. Articles, photographs — anything that kept my focus on my goal," she says.
9. Tackle the hardest things first—if that’s possible (ribbit).
There's an argument to be made for starting with easy wins, but Laura Ripans, Datadog's Director of Channels & Alliances, won't be making it. "Get the important things done first," she says. "For me, this is early in the morning when I have no distractions. Stay focused and concentrate on the things that matter most." She suggests reading Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. "There's an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're done with the worst thing you'll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life," she says.
As it turns out, Claudia Petrocchi, Executive Director of HR Operations for CSL, is a big fan of the frog approach, too. "Years ago, someone shared a Mark Twain quote with me: 'If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.' This quote clicked with me—it's so visual that it really helps me. Normally I would wait the whole day and think how awful this frog will be. But now, I'll eat the frog right away. For years I had a sticker of a frog on my laptop. So, if I had that crazy email or that crazy project, that would be my frog."
Sasi Murthy, VP, Product and Solutions Marketing at Netskope, has a visual trick to help you remember to keep that big, hard goal front and center: "Invest time in thinking about what you want to achieve, not how you will do it. Then find a jar and place a big rock or a few that represent these goals inside, and fill the rest with smaller rocks. This will be a reminder that we are most effective at anything we set out to do, when we give it the space in our 'mental jar' first, and follow it with the smaller goals."
That being said, make sure the hard thing you're going after is even possible. For Shelly Anderson Bodine, a Chief of Staff at SoftwareONE, remembering that she's operating in an environment where she can't control everything is key. "I once had a leader tell me you needed two things to get promoted," she says. "First, a position had to be available, and second, you had to be ready for the role when it was available. That feedback has always stuck with me throughout my career. I realized I really only had control over the latter. So each time I would move into a new role, I gave myself 6 months to acclimate. At that point, I evaluated what I could do to be better than the next person in the role I have and where do I want to go next. From there, I would create a list of things that would bring me closer to my end game, narrow down to the 2-3 most impactful, and those became my goals."
10. Goals aren’t set-it-and-forget-it.
If you set goals in January and ignore them from then on out, your chance of marking them "achieved" at the end of the year is low. "Try not to think of goal setting as a yearly activity," says Sarah Burke, Senior Director of Software Engineering at Ciena. "Achieving goals requires continual review and reassessment of priorities. Book some personal time in your calendar once a month to remind yourself to check in on how you're progressing and hold yourself accountable for re-adjusting. You are responsible for your success!"
11. Go beyond a 12-month horizon.
Many of the things you're most interested in—be it becoming a VP, launching your own company, writing a book, finishing an advanced degree moving to a different country, or any other number of goals—might not happen in just one year. Tami Early, VP and General Manager Sales—Major Accounts at Ciena, suggests breaking down your goals into "digestible and achievable bites." She uses the VSEM method: setting a 5+ year vision, a 2-4 year strategy, a 12-18 execution plan, and 12-month rolling metrics. "This method of goal setting allows me to think about my long- and short-term objectives, while holding myself accountable to measurable outcomes inside of a year," she says.
12. Treat yourself with grace.
You won't achieve all of your goals, and that's okay. As Megan Sykes, Contracts Manager at Elastic reminds us, "Don't set overbearing expectations on yourself. Afford yourself grace. While it's important to progress personally and professionally, we have to be adaptable to the circumstances around us (which can change over time) and live with integrity."
That's never been more important than after the year 2020. "I'm very goal orientated both personally and professionally," shares Amanda Eleuteri, a Sr. HR Business Partner at CarGurus. "Early on in my career, I would feel defeated if I didn't achieve my goals for the year. I try to be mindful that sometimes a goal is not achieved because priorities change. That was certainly the case in 2020 as needs in the business evolved and what I was focusing on shifted in response."
NSA's Meredith D., PhD, echoes the importance of revisiting, and revising, your goals: "Your goals are not meant to be set in stone! There are several factors that can require them to change, even dramatically at times. Be flexible and willing to change your SMART goals. Sometimes we can foresee that the goal is not going to be achieved in our original timeframe. Or we change our mind completely! This is not a failure. It is an opportunity to reflect and revise the goal given the new information at hand."
After all, it's about the journey, not the destination. "The process of working toward a goal is often more important than achieving the goal itself," says Stephanie Cheng, Product Engineer at Folsom Labs. "The shape or timeline of your goal can change as long as you check in with yourself and continue to consistently work toward them. It's okay if you don't achieve your goal on the first try. Working toward goals is really about building the muscle memory to form slightly better habits each year. With consistency, patience, and positivity you can build the tools you need to succeed."
Think you may want to work with one of the incredible women highlighted here? Check out open roles at the companies mentioned:
- Apply for open roles at CarGurus
- Apply for open roles at NSA
- Apply for open roles at Folsom Labs
- Apply for open roles at Autodesk
- Apply for open roles at Clyde
- Apply for open roles at Lockheed Martin
- Apply for open roles at Relativity
- Apply for open roles at Smartsheet
- Apply for open roles at VTS
- Apply for open roles at MongoDB
- Apply for open roles at Chainalysis
- Apply for open roles at Moody's Corporation
- Apply for open roles at pymetrics
- Apply for open roles at BCBSNC
- Apply for open roles at State Listings
- Apply for open roles at Lattice
- Apply for open roles at Siemens
- Apply for open roles at Raytheon Technologies
- Apply for open roles at Stack Overflow
- Apply for open roles at Primer
- Apply for open roles at Datadog
- Apply for open roles at CSL
- Apply for open roles at Netskope
- Apply for open roles at SoftwareONE
- Apply for open roles at Ciena
- Apply for open roles at Quicken Loans
- Apply for open roles at Clarus
- Apply for open roles at Elastic
Give Maddie Buras a new environment and she'll find a way to fit in. Whether growing up in New Orleans, working for media giant Time Inc., or attending business school in France and Singapore, Maddie's never had a problem creating connections and building community.
Post business school, Maddie started working in marketing for startups in the New York area. She loved the fast pace and opportunity to build and shape company culture, so when she heard about a marketing opportunity at extended warranty platform Clyde just over a year ago, she knew it was an environment where she would thrive. "I was really excited to go back to a smaller startup and build something from scratch," she says.
She joined Clyde just over a year ago as their first marketing hire, and now, as their Director of Marketing, she's working on building a team—and an environment that will set her team members up for success.
We sat down with Maddie to talk about the ways she's practicing purposeful management to create a team that can navigate the no-holds-barred environment of a fast-growing, industry-changing startup without losing momentum or focus.
Building a management philosophy
Now that Maddie's team is expanding, she's been thinking about what kind of manager she wants to be. For her, it's all about centering expertise and unblocking obstacles to allow her team to focus on what they do best.
"It was just me for a year, and it was really fun to be able to do a little bit of everything from content to field marketing to operations to email to advertising, and to ruthlessly prioritize," she says. "It's allowed me to be a generalist, and it means now I want to find people who are strong in specific areas of marketing who I can help develop, while having them own their portion and be the expert."
For Maddie, expanding her team and setting them up for success has meant taking the following steps:
1) Defining what you're looking for. "For me, it's all about a positive attitude; an eagerness to go outside of your job's specific, wnarro duties; and strong written and verbal communication skills. No matter what your role is on a marketing team, even if you're not focused a hundred percent on content, being a good writer is key," she says. It's a bonus if candidates have startup experience; Maddie notes that people who haven't worked on small teams before can get "stressed out by the fact that there's less structure than they're used to."
2) Creating a human-first interview process. Maddie started interviewing for her team during COVID and noticed that many candidates were coming off of layoffs at other companies. "I can imagine how people are feeling right now. I wanted to be upfront about what the process of interviewing at Clyde looked like and how long it might take so I could manage their expectations," she says.
3) Handing off goals to her team—and empowering them to make decisions. As the Director of Marketing, it's Maddie's role to translate company initiatives and goals into specific marketing OKRs that she can then hand off to her team. And she doesn't just give them the worst things on her plate: "I don't delegate the things I don't want to do," says Maddie. "I try to give my team projects that I think will help them grow, that will be slightly challenging and fun. And when they succeed at that project, I want them to be the person who presents that to the whole company. I don't need to be the mouthpiece of marketing all the time," she says.
Giving people goals to go after, says Maddie, empowers them by giving them enough structure to make sure they're headed in the right direction, while leaving them with enough space to self-start and prioritize their work. "It lets team members view everything they're doing through the lens of, 'Is this something that's going to help me achieve these objectives?'" she says.
4) Giving regular feedback. Maddie likes the cadence of weekly one-on-ones with her direct reports to do project check-ins, give feedback and get feedback in return, and prioritize as a team. "It's often hard to give feedback upwards, but there are a bunch of little things you do to make people feel comfortable; it's not getting angry when things get messed up; it's creating an environment where you can have that dialogue," she says.
It's important for her to get an up-close look at progress in these meetings, Maddie notes, so that she knows how her team is doing against Clyde's shifting marketing goals. "In marketing, you can always be doing a lot of things, but you have to figure out what's actually working—whatever you've defined 'working' to mean," says Maddie.
And this extends to managing asks from other teams and coworkers, as well, she says. "Lots of people feel like they have to say yes to everything, but when you have a strong sense of your goals, it empowers you to say, 'No, I can't prioritize that right now; it's not aligned with my goals.'"
Looking towards the future
As Clyde continues to shape the extended warranty market, Maddie imagines her team will continue to grow. When she looks to bring on more marketers, she'll look for the key experience and skills outlined above, as well as an important and vital characteristic for a growing startup: the ability to work across teams.
"Being good at your job, as in technically good at the skills required, is only half of your job. The other half is being able to work collaboratively with other teams," says Maddie. "I can't be successful at my job unless I get feedback from sales and customer success and work with our data science team to get data that I need for content, and work with product to understand what our platform can do so that I can help with messaging. If you can collaborate effectively, then you'll find success in your role."