How To Work Cross-Functionally: A Conversation with Flexport’s Yefeng Miao
As a Design Lead at Flexport, a big part of Yefeng Miao's job is partnering with engineers to build products for internal teams and their external clients. Yefeng Miao's ability to work cross-functionally is key to her success, and Yefeng was kind enough to sit down with us to explain how her background has equipped her to excel as a design team lead.
We're excited to share how working cross-functionally has contributed to Yefeng's success at Flexport!
Using Design To Solve Problems
Yefeng grew up in Shanghai, and got her degree in computer science in Beijing. She then moved to the U.S. for her M.S. in Information Management from the University of Washington. After finishing her graduate program, Yefeng took a job doing UX design with an agency. She honed her skills working on a wide range of products across different platforms, and eventually realized she wanted to take a product from inception to delivery. So Yefeng joined Amazon, where she worked as a logistics designer.
"I found that to be super interesting. It's a very complex area, and I like to solve complex problems," she says. Yefeng enjoyed leading a product through its lifecycle, but wanted to innovate more and in a more supportive environment. That led her to Flexport.
"I really think the logistics industry is due for some disruption. It's a very traditional business, with lots of manual processes that haven't changed much for the past hundred years," explains Yefeng. "Imagine moving a product from Shanghai to Chicago. There are probably more than a dozen entities or partners involved. There's a lot we can do to improve the efficiency of that process." The chance to redesign an old-fashioned industry, and improve the service level for users drove Yefeng to join Flexport's team. Once she met the leadership team, she knew she was in.
"Everyone was down to earth, which aligns with my personality well, and it seemed like there was a lot less politics involved. There's a common goal that everyone on the team shares to build good products, and we're all focused on that," she says. After joining Flexport, her impression of the company's approachable culture was solidified.
"Everyone's really humble, even the CEO. He's not afraid to admit his mistakes or failures, which makes everyone feel like it's okay to make a mistake because we can correct it and avoid making the same one next time," she says.
The Challenge of Working Collaboratively
Just like at most companies, Yefeng found that Flexport's design function operates at the intersection of a whole bevy of players. Her projects impact internal and external stakeholders, including operations, product, and engineering teams within Flexport. "I see design as a connective tissue among all of these groups of people that we interact with," says Yefeng.
Yefeng's projects involve a number of key steps. First she gathers requirements and user needs, confirming business goals with leaders and stakeholders. This helps her validate that the problem is worth solving, design the experience, partner with the engineering team to assess its feasibility, and create the actual product. She works hand in hand with the product manager throughout this process. "Being able to drive alignment or agreement amongst so many people is key to a product's success, but it isn't always easy," she explains.
To do this, she relies on two key skills: collaboration and balance.
From the beginning, she notes that "everyone needs to have an open mind" to the perspectives and needs of the other teams they are interfacing with. She goes in knowing that she might not get 100% of her ideal design, and she accepts that she'll need to compromise. "It's more important to find the balance between user needs and business goals and requirements," she says, "and also the balance of the best experience and the feasibility of building it."
Tips for Working Cross Functionally
Through years of collaborating with engineering and operations teams, Yefeng's hammered out an (almost) foolproof process for managing complex, inter-departmental projects. She was kind enough to share her tips with us:
1) Align on goals at the beginning. Yefeng highlights how important it is to know what you're all aiming for from the get-go, while still being open to those goals changing over time.
2) Check-in frequently (ideally, with an agile working model). Working in an agile model requires us to move quickly, and interact with other teams more often and earlier in the process." By planning in tandem and checking in often, Yefeng's team is able to ensure everyone is aligned on the goals, priorities, and approach every step of the way.
3) Communicate effectively. If Yefeng could give other designers working with engineers and other stakeholders one piece of advice, she'd tell them to "be more proactive—communicate up front and really give people a head's up, while being respectful of their time." What's worked for her is not to constantly ping people when she's stuck or needs a sign-off, but rather to gather and curate her questions to go over all at once, whether in a meeting or a shared document for people to comment collaboratively.
4) Approach problems with empathy. "Engineers need to be willing and interested to understand what users think and how they behave," says Yefeng, "and it helps when designers can speak the same language as the engineers." Designers without coding backgrounds can try to pick up some basic skills to help them understand the world of engineering, and engineers can listen in (either in real-time or through recordings) to user sessions and collaboration workshops to build that empathy, if they don't have it already. Yefeng stresses that it's important for both groups to explain the "why" of their needs and decisions: "Just saying 'no' isn't going to help anyone. You have to explain why it can't be done. We need to be creative with solutions and alternatives."
5) Make time to improve processes. As products get launched and new ones get started, Yefeng sees opportunities to streamline processes across departments—but she can't always act on them. "In a startup environment, you'll see a lot of knowledge scattered amongst stakeholders, with everyone having their own way to solve their problems. When you can, do an audit and really understand holistically what's going on in the whole company to understand problems from every stakeholder's perspective," she says.
6) When working remotely, be extra cognizant of how you engage stakeholders. Lately, Yefeng's team (and the rest of Flexport) has been working remotely, as they do their part to fight against the coronavirus. It means she can no longer just swing by someone's desk to get their input on something, but she doesn't want to resort to constant Slack pinging, either. What's worked for her is to hold herself to a high standard of problem management. She writes down what's going on, sets up meetings to discuss, and leads participants through a thoughtful agenda of issues and resolutions, just like she would if they were all in the office.
Working Cross-Functionally in Action: A Case Study
Now that you understand what it takes to work cross-functionally, take a look at some of those skills in action. Yefeng is currently working on an internal financial product to help Flexport's procurement operations team dispute bills they receive from carriers.
When the project began, Yefeng was going between the ops and engineering teams, trying to get them in sync on the rules and schema that they should use to show shipping rates and costs within the tool. Each team had a different perspective and couldn't understand where the other group was coming from. Yefeng dug in and realized that the difference rose from one team focusing on the sell-side economics, and the other on the buy-side perspective.
"After going back and forth probably about five or six times, I was able to come to understand the gap," explains Yefeng. She could then hand that understanding off to the engineering team for them to work through the technical specs—and move on to managing other dependencies with other teams.
The project's not finished yet, but Yefeng notes it's been a great example of managing a cross functional initiative. "It's one of those cases where everyone has their own perspective. Engineers might be more focused on the technical feasibility, while the product managers are more focused on the KPIs. Designer tend to focus more on the users and their experience, and the stakeholders on business goals and requirements — so we have to figure out how we align."
For this billing product and others, Yefeng relies on her core skill set of empathy, collaboration, and communication. "I've learned in my career to always ask the why," she says. "I never just stop at the superficial level—I want to really dig into the bottom of the problem so that we then can start thinking about the solution."
If you have questions for Yefeng on how to get to the core of a problem or how to work cross functionally, let her know in the comments. And if you're interested in working at Flexport, check out their open jobs—including lots of roles on the engineering and design teams!
January is National Mentorship Month— the perfect time to focus on growing and building important relationships with mentors that will positively affect your professional career.
Research shows that mentorship greatly improves career outcomes by providing professional guidance, skill development, and support through major work and life transitions.
We asked some of our partner companies to tell us about the mentorship opportunities they offer. If you’re ready to unleash your full potential by joining an impactful mentoring program, keep reading to hear what they said. (Plus, they’re all hiring—check out their open jobs under each entry!)
“Clarus Commerce has been running a mentorship program for the last 9 years. Here is how it works:
- Senior leaders nominate mentors within their department.
- The program lasts for about 6 months.
- Those who are interested in being mentored provide 6 topics that they’d like to discuss in mentoring meetings, which help us pair people up. Mentoring topics should focus on topics such as: leadership, how to manage up, presentation skills, communication, work life balance, etc.
- We leverage our Insights and Discovery profiles that each employee has to help better understand each other’s communication styles and help facilitate great discussions.”
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
“PwC professionals are provided learning opportunities, supportive career growth and unique mentoring opportunities to help them to fulfill their potential. The firm has several programs that include intentional mentorship and focus on building representation, inclusion and development of their people. For example, the firm launched Enrich, an experience designed to support the development and leadership skills of high-potential female and racially and ethnically diverse senior managers and directors. There is also Thrive, an innovative two-year experience for Black and Latinx entry-level new joiners that helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity and leadership engagement.”
Learn more about PwC here.
“At CallRail we have a program called Connection Point where individual contributors are paired with members of the Senior Leadership Team. Each pair is together for a full quarter and are given topics for their meetings, topics range from; career stories, situational advice and feedback, etc. At the conclusion of the quarter the individual contributors that have been in the program have a round table lunch with the CEO. This has been a great way to foster deeper connections within the organization, demystify senior leadership and help individuals see a path forward.”
Learn more about CallRail here.
“Automattic’s Design Mentoring program is a mutually beneficial partnership providing development opportunities for all. Mentees pick up new skills or get guidance with a project. Mentors practice communication, leadership, and knowledge sharing. The organization benefits from more engaged, productive employees, who have increased job satisfaction because mentorship encourages meaningful work that aligns personal and professional goals. In our distributed work environment, mentoring provides a human connection and a trusted space to grow. Tapping into all of the design experience and skill that our organization has is a powerful way to grow individually … and collectively."
Learn more about Automattic here.
“Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW) Mentorship Circles is a group mentoring program that brings together women at varying stages in their careers and from every department at Relativity. The program sessions are curated by our team and include materials, talking points and action items to help create open dialogue, build connections and develop skills for personal and professional development. The program runs around six months, and includes a kickoff, mid-point event exclusive to program members, and a closing celebration. Relativity also plans to pilot a new mentoring program with broader reach across the company in 2022.”
—Yvonne Frazier – Executive Assistant
Learn more about Relativity here.
“CDW Business Resource Groups are a key source for networking and mentoring opportunities. In 2019, our BeU BRG launched a formal mentoring program through their Project IMPACT initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting Black coworkers. It has been a successful program that has brought coworkers together across departments and roles, sharing new experiences and perspectives for both mentors and mentees.”
Learn more about CDW here.
“BRIDGE is Kinesso's reverse mentoring program bringing together senior leaders and future leaders globally. Our program pairs employees with Kinesso's Senior Leadership Team, but rather than leadership mentoring employees, our employees mentor our senior leaders!
Through mentorship programs like Bridge, Kinesso's brings together employees across generations, cultures, territories, and job levels. Giving our future leaders the opportunity to share fresh perspectives and innovative ideas allows our current leaders to look at inclusion, capabilities, collaboration, and connectivity from a completely different lens.
"(Bridge) is immensely important for many reasons, but most of all, it shows that no matter where you are in your career, you should never stop learning and growing."
—Arun Kumar, CEO at Kinesso and Global Chief Data & Marketing Technology Officer at IPG”
For more information on Kinesso, please visit Kinesso.com/careers.
Learn more about Kinesso here.
"At SoundCloud, one of our core behaviors is to embrace the challenge- but that doesn’t mean that you go at it alone. We encourage SoundClouders to ask for help and to give help to those who it need along the way. Over the past few years we have offered a mentorship program that connects rising SoundClouders with under-represented identities (gender/race/ethnicity) with more senior level employees around topics of professional branding and career growth, influencing and emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. In 2022, we aim to launch 2 cohorts of mentorship/coaching targeting different ranks of women of color."
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
“BlackRock has nine employee networks and four professional networks – all of which offer mentorship programs or opportunities.
Our employee networks: Mosaic; Ability & Allies Network; Asian, Middle Eastern & Allies Professional Network; Black Professionals & Allies Network; Families & Allies Network; Out & Allies Network; SOMOS Latinx & Allies Network; and Women's Initiative & Allies Network.
Our professional networks: Analyst Alley, Associates Arena, Global Administrative Initiative Network, and VP Village.”
Learn more about BlackRock here.
“Having both formal and informal mentors is crucial to elevate any career. At Lockheed Martin, mentoring is the development of meaningful relationships to transfer valuable knowledge and understanding from one person to another. It is a personal enhancement strategy through which one person willingly facilitates the development of another by sharing known resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies. Our mentoring program is tailored to the individual employee to give them the right tools, the right resources, at the right time.”
Learn more about Lockheed Martin here.
“Autodesk is a place where you can shape your future and help others do the same. The Autodesk Mentorship Program empowers employees to take ownership of their careers and build on a mindset of learning from each other by offering mentorship opportunities for professional and personal development, peer-to-peer learning, and focused networking. The program helps you identify your goals and recommends matches for a mentor or mentee to help you accomplish them. Through the Autodesk Mentorship Program, employees can make connections, grow their skills, explore opportunities and build their career paths.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
“Cummins Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) focuses on a mission to create the right environment by advocating for equal representation, empowering women, and fostering inclusion for every employee in all work assignments at all levels.
As part of the work to achieve such a mission, WEN focuses on mentoring and development initiatives designed to foster mentoring relationships, broaden employee networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Initiatives include Speed Mentoring Sessions, Personal Development & Networking Events and WEN Mentoring Circles Program. This annual Mentoring Circles Program provides a monthly opportunity for exempt employees to participate in a forum for open discussion, explore new perspectives and learn from peers and leaders.
Within the Europe region we also have the Cummins Business Services mentoring program which is open to all employees at all levels.”
Learn more about Cummins here.
“Meet a pairing in Millennium’s Mentorship Program: Cari Smalley, Co-Head HR Business Partners, Americas, and Jasmin Zirino, Operations Specialist. They say, "The mentorship program is a fantastic experience for anyone who wishes to join. It allows you to meet someone you do not directly work with and grow your network. It is invaluable to have the ability to work through solutions to problems, use one another as sounding boards, and occasionally just blow off steam in a supportive space."”
Learn more about Millennium Management here.
“Mentorship is about stepping out of our comfort zone, taking charge and acting upon our ambitions, opening doors for others and learning more about the skills that make our own success.
Expedia Group has a volunteer-led program allowing every employee to have an equal chance to grow and succeed. The program has brought together a group of 1,700 Expedians from all over the world who believe in skills development and the power to elevate others while creating Inclusion at Expedia Group. Through a self-service marketplace platform and organized meetup sessions, EG’s Mentoring Program enables all employees to ask for help and embrace their own identity while belonging to a community that thrives through diversity.”
Learn more about Expedia Group here.
“At Equinix, our employee connection networks (EECNs) play an important role in bringing together communities for learning and growth opportunities, including mentoring. While mentees gain much from mentors, we often find that mentors also discover growth opportunities.
By asking these questions, we instill best practices for a successful mentorship:
What does each party want from this experience? How often to meet? Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
And remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. Build trust by getting to know one another.”
Learn more about Equinix here.
"At Unstoppable, it is our commitment to having a crypto forward culture. Every new team member is matched with a Crypto Buddy who acts as their first point of contact outside of their direct team, guides them down the crypto rabbit hole, and welcomes them into Unstoppable’s culture. As a fully remote company, making cross-team collaboration a key part of onboarding strengthens our community. This is also an opportunity for the buddy to hone their mentoring and teaching skills. When the new hire has been with the company for six months, they will then become a mentor themselves, driving a continuous cycle of mentorship."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
“Mentoring@Uber connects employees who are passionate about helping and up-skilling others with those who are seeking guidance and development. It is a way of connecting and sharing challenges on a mutual and reliable relationship —and trying to get another perspective from an unbiased source. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, or collaborate together to come up with a solution to professional problems that arise. People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even maintain more work-life balance. And mentors benefit, too.”
Learn more about Uber here.
“MongoDB has offered two pilot mentorship programs to support underrepresented groups. One program focused on promising first-line managers and ICs from underrepresented groups and the other focused on providing executive mentorship to women & nonbinary leaders at the director level and up. In both programs, participants were matched with a mentor with who they regularly met to discuss career planning and personal development. Feedback from both pilots was hugely positive with participants indicating that they received helpful support from their mentors. Members from our ERGs have also served as mentors to our summer class of interns.”
Learn more about MongoDB here.
“Our Black and Latinx ERG, Array, offers a mentorship program pairing individual contributors within Array to C-Suite and VP level mentors, including PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. Dedicated to leveling the playing field for Black and Latinx employees, the program is structured so everyone can learn from each other. Mentees are paired with mentors from within or outside their department for a nine-month term, which includes check-ins, themed discussions, and monthly one-on-ones. Bri Solorzano, an Array mentee, explained that this mentorship program allows her to build bonds with higher level executives, and share her personal experiences as a Latinx employee and individual contributor at PagerDuty.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
T. Rowe Price
“Due to the highly collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, the firm understands the value of relationships and the opportunities strong mentorship can provide. It is committed to not only developing talent within its walls but developing the next generation of talent within communities.
The firm will launch a new global mentorship program in 2022, which will offer associates the opportunity to connect with colleagues, agnostic of location or business unit. T. Rowe Price also provides leadership development to youth in the community through strategic partnerships such as the Baltimore Ravens Leadership Institute, a program aimed at high school students.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
“At Pluralsight, we take growth seriously. Which is why we offer a six-month long mentorship program for all of our employees. Our mentorship program is facilitated bi-annually by Women@Pluralsight, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and aims to empower participants to recognize their full potential. We intentionally pair mentors and mentees to create connections that encourage the development of skills crucial to success, and foster personal and professional growth. In our most recent cycle we paired nearly 200 participants and have plans to continue growing that number. Because at Pluralsight, your growth is our growth, and vice versa.”
Learn more about Pluralsight here.
“At Yelp, we value and actively foster an environment focused on learning and development. There are a variety of mentorship opportunities available, such as:
- New Hire Mentors — new employees are paired with a team mentor to help them onboard and get settled in.
- Engineering Mentorship Program — any IC engineer can sign up to become or get a mentor within Yelp Engineering.
- Manager Mentorship Program — new engineering managers or proto-managers can get support from experienced managers at Yelp.
- Awesome Women in Engineering — This employee resource group’s mentorship program helps AWE members find mentors or mentee within the group.”
Learn more about Yelp here.
“At Turo, we help each other. We collaborate. We challenge each other. And we create the tools to succeed independently and as a team.
When you join Turo engineering, you’re assigned a mentor, a reliable, single point-of-contact to help you set up your environment, navigate the codebase, and acclimate to Turo’s culture and workplace. Mentors have a great responsibility to ensure new Turists feel welcome, offer encouragement, and provide advice and guidance on complex matters of systems and architecture. Engineers who demonstrate our core values of efficiency, pioneering, and being down-to-earth and supportive have an opportunity to mentor new engineers. Mentoring engineers is a great way to build the skills necessary to further your career at Turo.”
“Mentoring has allowed me to deepen my technical understanding and team connections.”
– Lauren Kroner, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Turo here.
“In the US, Moody’s has an intergenerational mentoring program, our Pride BRG members coach youth in the Queer Coders program. Our Women’s, Veterans, and Multicultural BRGs have a variety of mentoring programs, including summer intern mentorship, our Asian Leadership Initiative and our ConectaMos Hispanic/Latinx 1:1 mentoring program. Our Women’s Group Mentoring Program just celebrated its 10th anniversary with over 800 mentor-mentee participants over 10 years. In EMEA, Moody’s offers Power to Act reverse mentoring, mentoring through the Women’s and Pride BRGs, and a parental leave mentoring scheme. In APAC, Moody’s has various cross-BRG and cross-department mentoring programs.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
“At Condé Nast, we are focused on providing positive career development opportunities. We recently launched a Global Mentorship Program as an option for employees to connect and learn from one another. For six months, employees participate as a mentor and/or mentee to develop their careers, grow their skills and guide one another. The structured framework creates and sustains an inclusive experience that empowers everyone’s growth.
The MentorcliQ platform we use lets us create mentoring pairs based on their interests, experiences and personality compatibility. To date we have had 473 active mentorship pairs.”
Learn more about Condé Nast here.
“Thornburg Small Group Mentor Program was created to bring employees of various tenures and experience levels together in order to cultivate organic relationships and opportunities for influence in a low-pressure environment.
The program consists of six small groups comprised of one mentor and three to six mentees. These groups meet for one hour every month for six months. The series concludes with a virtual event where all participants from every group can meet and share takeaways from their experiences.
- Small group format (not one-on-one)
- Low cost, low maintenance, light structure
- Flexibility for mentors to lead through individual style"
Learn more about Thornburg here.
“Women@Okta’s upcoming mentorship program:
W@Okta’s vision for the year is to empower, develop and support women-identified employees in order to ultimately improve gender diversity at Okta. One of our key methods is to empower the next generation of female leadership by providing a platform for women to connect and learn from one another through group and 1:1 mentorship opportunities. Our Professional Development branch is launching a pilot mentorship program with an initial cohort of 32 mentors and mentees.
Goals: Career, personal and organizational
Share your needs, desires, goals, and challenges; career choice and mobility.
Explore people, resources, information, expertise you need – but don’t have – to speed up, enhance, and ensure your results.”
—Professional Development Lead Christina Ghallagher (Senior Sales Development Representative) & Partnerships Co-Lead Sarah Schiff (Senior Manager, Customer First Recruiting)
Learn more about Okta here.
💎 Get some top tips before your technical interview with Uber! Don’t miss the valuable advice from a company recruiter. And get to the end of the video for the most important tip!
📼 Play this video to get three top tips that will help you ace your technical interview with Uber. You'll hear from Kelly Hay, Senior Technical Recruiter at Uber, who shares everything you need to know if you’re aiming for a technical role with the company.
📼 Tip #1: Communication Is Key. The first tip to nail your technical interview with Uber: You must articulate your approach to the various problems the interviewer will put in front of you. Also, you should demonstrate that you have the knowledge and the skills necessary to thrive in the role. So, think out loud and explain your thought process as you code! This helps fully communicate your solution and allows your interviewer to correct any misconceptions and offer high-level guidance.
📼 Tip #2: Share Your Experience. The second tip for a technical interview with Uber: Clearly illustrate your current role and projects to convey your efforts and accomplishments. Be able to describe how you've been managing various aspects of a project, from planning to completion, and how you've used your problem-solving skills to guarantee project success! Make sure that you focus on projects that had the biggest impact on the organization, where you’ve had a pretty large scope. Share all the details, including the budget timeline and why certain decisions were made. It's all about building and telling the story from the beginning of the project to the end: Why and how you got specific requirements, how you translated those requirements into engineering terms, what types of challenges you faced, and how you solved those challenges.
Tips for a Technical Interview with Uber: Be Prepared!
Take the time to read the interview prep that the recruiter provides. Also, focus on revisiting fundamentals. While it's great to impress the team at Uber with your in-depth knowledge, it's just as important to nail the basics! It may sound obvious, but Kelly highlights that recalling things you haven't revisited for a while can be incredibly tricky.
📨 Are you interested in joining Uber? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
More About Uber
We are Uber. The go-getters. The kind of people who are relentless about our mission to help people go anywhere and get anything. Movement is what we do. It’s our lifeblood. It runs through our veins. It’s what gets us out of bed each morning. It pushes us to constantly reimagine how we can move better. For you. For all the places you want to go. For all the things you want to get. For all the ways you want to earn. Across the entire world. In real-time. At the incredible speed of now. We welcome people from all backgrounds who seek the opportunity to help build a future where everyone and everything can move independently. If you have the curiosity, passion, and collaborative spirit, work with us, and let’s move the world forward together.
Cehrin Elyas spends a few hours each week with the imaginary characters she’s dreamed up. One of them is Donald, a 55-year-old man with dementia. Another is Mia, a support worker who cares for people like Donald and regularly takes him to get coffee or lunch.
Cehrin works in pre-sales at scheduling platform Skedulo, and Donald and Mia are two of the personas she’s built to help her understand her prospective clients. “I think of them like movie characters,” she says. “I put in lots of data relevant to the industries I’m pitching.”
If you’re unfamiliar with what someone who works in pre-sales needs to be like—aside from a burgeoning screenwriter—Cehrin’s got a 30-second elevator pitch that sums it up:
“You just need to be an out-of-the-box thinker, a problem solver, and a good storyteller. You need to be confident and curious and have the thirst to learn more. The other things will follow,” she says. “You don’t have to be technical. You can always learn that.”
The India-born, Australia-based Solutions Consultant sat down with us to unpack more about the field and what she loves about it.
The Art and the Science
Cehrin studied chemistry in college, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s in the field. “I was interested in knowing what happened in the world around me,” she explains.
But she stopped short of getting a PhD because she realized she needed more interpersonal engagement.
“I had a light bulb moment where I felt I’m not meant to be confined within four walls, talking to chemicals,” she says, smiling. “I’m not that person. I needed to be around people. So I shifted my career path and I started again from scratch.”
Cehrin had been a leader in AIESEC, an international student organization, while in college, and had experience building a team. She applied for a role at a call center as a team lead, where that experience translated quite well, and later took a job at a SaaS company where she was in charge of communicating with clients after they’d purchased the product.
“It was post-sales, but it wasn’t advertised like that,” she says. In that role, she ran workshops, taking just-onboarded clients through the product’s capabilities.
When she came across a posting for a pre-sales role at Skedulo on LinkedIn, she was intrigued by the opportunity—and Skedulo’s work to support billions of deskless workers, including care workers and other healthcare professionals. Cehrin is especially passionate about work that impacts the disability sector.
“I enjoy working in that space; I understand the lingo, and I understand what goes on in real life, because I have friends and family who have encountered disabilities, or who work as carers,” says Cehrin.
“Solving problems for [care workers], making their life easier, is great work,” she says.
She applied and went through an interview process that included a role-play pre-sales presentation, which Cehrin enjoyed, and she got an offer.
Now, with some experience under her belt in an official pre-sales role, Cehrin can look back and see the connections between her original field of study and her day-to-day work.
“I come from a science background,” she says. “I know how to research my work. If you don’t know something in pre-sales, you go and look for it. That’s one thing I take from my degree that helps me every day: the research mentality.”
That being said, she’s certainly learning the importance of staying adaptable. “Sometimes you write a protocol to run an experiment. You know that if you follow it, these are the results you’re going to get. In pre-sales, you can apply the same methodology, but you need to tweak it a little bit. You need to add in your own flavor, otherwise it doesn't work.”
A Week in the Life—and the Skills That Support It
In any given week, Cehrin’s activities include:
- Doing 3-4 demos for prospects
- Meeting with the 4 salespeople she supports to better understand their expectations and needs
- Researching and updating her personas
- Staying up-to-date on Skedulo’s products via release logs, newsletters, and other updates
Across the board, she relies on her ability to be a good storyteller.
“You need to be able to make decisions on the spot. You need to have the presence of mind and the independence to work, because no one’s going to tell you what to do,” she says. “And you need to be able to tell a story. Understanding your client’s challenges and requirements is great. Knowing the product you’re selling is great. But the key thing is how you’re going to marry them together. It’s the art of telling the story in a way they’ll remember and that has an impact on them.”
That storytelling focus is why she thinks you can build technical expertise on the job in pre-sales. “If you’re worried about having a degree or a diploma or a certificate, don’t be,” she says. “I’m not technical at all, but I’m still in this space and flourishing. Experience is more valuable.”
For those brand-new to pre-sales, Cehrin suggests getting some baseline familiarity by listening to the podcasts produced by The Pre-Sales Collective.
“It’s very experienced pre-sales people coming and talking about how they went about handling a prospect, what were the challenges, and tips and tricks for pre-sales people in that space to implement in their work,” she says. “If you have the attitude to learn and be curious, you can be in this space.”
At the end of the day, what Cehrin most enjoys about her work is her ability to lean on all of her skills to bring people together. “I get to be the advisor, which I love,” she says. “The clients come to you, your salespersons are counting on you, and you’re driving the solution that’s best for them and for the client, making sure everyone’s happy. You just get all the attention!”
💎 Get ready for a competency-based interview with these valuable insights from a Netskope recruiter!
📼 Have you ever heard of a competency-based interview? It’s also known as a structured, behavioral, or situational interview, and it’s designed to test one or more skills or competencies. Watch this video, where you’ll meet Nicole Wilczynski, a member of the Talent Acquisition team at Netskope. She’ll review Netskope’s application process and give you some insights on how to best prepare for this type of interview.
📼 The best way to prepare for a competency-based interview is to review your resume and think of some projects and situations you’ve encountered in previous roles. When asked behavioral or situational questions, always provide a brief example to back up your answer. Think of something specific and unique to yourself, rather than delivering something generic.
📼 Apart from preparing the best answers for a competency-based interview, you should consider polishing your resume. Recruiters see a ton of resumes every day. Yours must stand out to make it through the first round of the selection process. You should use a few keywords in your resume. Look at the job description and make sure that your background aligns with what the company seeks. If so, you should probably already have those important points in your resume. For example, if you're a software engineer, list some technologies and programming languages that you know. If you're in sales, throw in some metrics: numbers are your friends!
Competency-Based Interview: Netskope Recruiter’s Go-To Questions
Nicole’s go-to question for a candidate is always, “What do you know about Netskope?” It's so important to research a company before the initial recruiter call because it shows your level of interest. Nicole also always asks the candidate, “What are three things that are most important for you in your next role?” It helps her understand what the candidate prioritizes, whether that's a great culture, high salary, or good work-life balance. As Nicole says, there are no wrong answers for this one! She just wants to make sure it's a mutual fit.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Netskope? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
More About Netskope
Netskope is the leader in cloud security. They help the world’s largest organizations take full advantage of the cloud and web without sacrificing security. Their mission is to evolve security for the way people work. They believe that people and companies should collaborate without limits, working safely across the cloud, web, devices, and locations. Their patented Cloud XD technology eliminates blind spots by going deeper than any other security provider to quickly target and control activities across thousands of cloud services and millions of websites. With complete control from one cloud, their customers benefit from 360-degree data protection that guards data everywhere and advanced threat protection that stops elusive attacks. At Netskope, they call this smart cloud security. Founded by early architects and distinguished engineers from security and networking leaders like Palo Alto Networks, NetScreen, Juniper Networks, Cisco, and VMware, Netskope’s team is the strongest.