Below is an article originally written by Kate Kalil, Account Executive II, EMEA, at PowerToFly Partner CarGurus, and published on April 4, 2019. Go to CarGurus' page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Can I let you in on a little secret? I've never traveled abroad. And, man, I hate Guinness.
I met Wendy Harris, our Vice President of European Sales, at the August Women in Sales Event hosted at CarGurus. Wendy gave an inspiring presentation in which she shared insights into her career path, what she looks for when hiring sales people and challenges that she faced personally and professionally. One of the topics she spoke about was an opportunity she had to step out of her comfort zone and join a growing team and learn something new. She described this opportunity as the path less traveled. In the midst of her presentation, I started to think about my own experiences.
My heart beat strong in my chest as I started to ask myself: When was the last time I stepped out of my comfort zone? Was I too comfortable? Was I truly challenged? Was I flexing any new sales muscles? Or just doing the same old song and dance that's worked for me?
The last time I felt out of my comfort zone was the day I walked into this office to start my new job, over 2 years ago. A sales job unlike my previous, in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I was wildly intimidated. I spent my first few months on the phone with a weak pitch and a shaky voice. I felt out of place and my quota attainment was nothing to be proud of.
In order to conquer the intimidation that I experienced, I came in early and stayed late in order to perfect my pitch. I shadowed our best reps, took notes on industry jargon and scoured the prospecting queues. Within a few months, I had found my groove and was performing like the salesperson that I knew I was. If I had never been out of my comfort zone, I'm not sure that I would have ever evolved in the ways that I did – I don't know if I would have achieved the same success without the setback.
When Wendy presented the opportunity to do an expat assignment in our Dublin office – everything inside of me told that I would never be able to do that. I had never been to Europe, had never lived more than 45 minutes away from my family and I was happy and content doing what I was doing here.
That's when it hit me. Again, I found myself content with being comfortable, even more so than when I first started at CarGurus. This opportunity in Dublin would push me so far out of my comfort zone, personally and professionally. I would come away from it with new knowledge, different sales tactics, a fresh perspective on a new addressable market, new friends, increased confidence in my skills and finally a passport stamp.
So, I applied. I poured over information on our UK market, compiled countless questions for my interviewers, spent time with former and existing expats and spent hours preparing for the interviews. Once I realized that I wanted this, I approached it with the same tenacity and perseverance that I approached my sales.
When the role was offered to me, it became extremely surreal. I have no idea what to expect; I'm both excited and scared at the same time. But what I do know is this – without being out of my comfort zone two years ago when I joined this company, I would have never been pushed to achieve the goals that I have achieved today – I would never have learned what I have, and I certainly would not appreciate the immense growth that has happened.
CarGurus has given me much more than a paycheck. They've taught me about myself – my abilities to learn, grow and evolve. They have given me an incredible opportunity to experience a new challenge in a new country, selling to a foreign market.
I will be greatly out of my comfort zone – but the most important thing I've learned thus far, from Wendy and from my own experience, is that with great risk comes great rewards.
Connections make the world go round.
If you want to test this theory, take two minutes and jot down a list of people who've played a role in the journey to your current position. Every mentor, stranger on a plane, or former boss has unique insights, and it's possible that without those insights, you wouldn't have the career you do today.
So, if you find yourself applying for a new opportunity thanks to one of these people, how can you intentionally acknowledge someone as a referral? In other words, how can you name drop in a cover letter to help you stand out? Keep in mind that name-dropping is a form of networking, and "Networking is building and maintaining relationships over time… because you never know when they'll come in handy." So, be your own PR agent - after all, you know yourself best!
Name dropping, in general, has a reputation for being sleazy and uncomfortable. But there are strategies you can use when name-dropping to add a personal touch to your application without sounding like you're relying solely on your connections to get a foot in the door.
Introducing yourself and tactfully mentioning the person who referred you to the role in the opening paragraph can help your application stand out.
Check out the three common situations below in which you may want to name drop in your cover letter and examples for how to do so in each.
If you're being recommended by a colleague:
"Your Senior Manager of Marketing, Lauren Smith, managed me at PowerToFly and recommended I apply for the Content Marketing Associate position at [Company Name]. Under her lead, I was promoted twice and spearheaded... "
DO mention your contact in the first paragraph of your cover letter, what they do at the company, and how you know them.
DO make sure you have the approval of the person you are mentioning
DON'T keep the entire focus of your introduction on your contact (you should be the focus of your cover letter!) or sound arrogant when mentioning you know them.
If you met the Hiring Manager at an event:
"It was a pleasure meeting you at the PowerToFly event on April 12th in New York, and per your recommendation, I would like to apply to the Senior Software Engineering Role at [Company Name]. In light of our conversation about [Project X], I'm confident that my experience in _______ would allow me to excel in the role."
DO mention what event you attended and where/ when it was held. Hiring managers attend multiple events, be specific.
DO make a connection to your conversation and explain why it led you to apply.
DON'T forget about the job description. Regardless of what your conversation was about at the event, after the introduction, your cover letter should neatly tie your experiences to the job description.
If you've never met, but have been influenced by someone at the company:
After watching the PowerToFly Chat & Learn series on Diversity with Dionna, your Diversity and Inclusion Executive, I felt inspired to apply to your Diversity and Inclusion Associate role. It really resonated with me when Dionna said she "loves helping companies grow to their fullest potential" because for the last five years I've led my team in multiple diversity initiatives…
DO be specific about what content you read/watched and why it made an impact on you.
DO verify that this person still works at the company you're applying to.
DON'T use content that isn't relevant to the role you are applying to. Save this inspiration for your interview.
Ultimately, by name dropping, you are leveraging your communication skills (must have!) and helping the hiring manager connect the dots to who you know at the company.
It can be difficult to praise yourself and convey why these connections matter in just a few words on paper, but a small connection could make a large impact on whether or not you move to the next step of the interview process.
Faces of T. Rowe Price: Samantha Pilon, Senior Manager, Relationship Management for Individual Investors
We're very open here, very clear about our mission and goals, both for our clients and our associates. And for me, as a leader, it's all about those relationships. Working closely with my team and helping our clients save for retirement and for their family – I just love what I do. I love coming to work every day.
- Samantha Pilon
Samantha Pilon has worn many hats at T. Rowe Price, steadily climbing the ranks in her various roles over the past 12 years. Right after graduating from college, she was working at the firm as a phone representative. One day, a supervisor tapped her with a new opportunity. "She told me she thought I would be a great leader for the team," she recalls. "She saw something in me that would allow me to grow professionally."
The supervisor was right— Samantha was perfect for the role."I love leading a team," she explains. In her career at T. Rowe Price, Samantha has led supervisor teams and back-office groups. Now, she's leading relationship management teams. "I thrive off the people, and I love seeing people grow," she says.
Although men do outnumber women in her new position, Samantha doesn't find it at all intimidating. "We are all just talking and working with clients who are just like us, who want help with their retirement plans," she explains. "We put the client at the center of everything that we're doing. It's always coming back to the client."
Samantha is also involved with WAVE @ T. Rowe Price, a women's business resource group at the firm. "We recently had a great talk and forum discussion about women feeling they need to get tapped, or that they have to be 100 percent ready for a business role before they go for it," she says. "Meanwhile, men are more likely to take the risk to apply for a role even if they aren't perfectly qualified."
That discussion struck a personal chord with Samantha, recalling how she felt upon entering the workforce 12 years ago. She believed that she, too, had to be tapped before seeking more professional responsibility. "But now I feel comfortable and confident based on what I've been able to achieve here," she says. "I'm raising my hand to tap myself now."
Her confidence is well-earned. Over the years, she has excelled at positions in a variety of departments like operations, brokerage, business improvement, client development sales, and Salesforce. Some people are surprised to hear she has worked at the same company since graduating from college, but Samantha has an understandable explanation. "I tell them, "You have no idea how much I've moved around within [the firm]. I've been a part of so many different groups and tried so many new things." Samantha has found abundant opportunity inside the firm instead of looking elsewhere for professional satisfaction.
In one of her roles, she was part of an agile development project focused on improving how quickly teams work and respond. "It's a business value-driven approach to development so instead of building something and taking two years, you're building a tiny bit of it as you go," she explains. Now that she's been working in her new role for about a month, she can introduce some of those best practices to her current team.
As she settles into her new position, Samantha doesn't feel the pressure to be an expert on everything or have all the answers. Thanks to the firm's collaborative environment, she can call on peers for help and draw on some of those past relationships as a resource.
"I have lifelong friends at T. Rowe Price," Samantha says, "It makes coming to work better. After all, you spend so much time in your life at work that you have to love what you do. Clearly, I'm happy coming to work – I've been here for 12 years after all. I think that says something."