In between the regular interview episodes until the book is published you’ll find a sample story like this one. You can either listen to the episode and hear Jacquelyn read her story, or read the full text below.
By: Jacquelyn Nicholson
Early in my career, I worked for a very big Fortune 50-100 company. At the time, I wasn’t yet a quota-carrying salesperson, but was in a sales-like position. I was in a role leading a massive global project for an internal center of excellence at the shared service organization within the company that essentially had me selling the services that we managed for them. So in fact, I was selling, albeit internally, and it was actually the reason I got into sales. It was a great experience and was something that shaped my career and sparked my desire to go into sales full-time externally.
In order to get this global project approved, budget secured, and the infrastructure initiative started, I was tasked with going around to the entire staff of our CIO to sell them on this massive effort we were about to undertake; a great opportunity for someone who was in their 20s.
Never mind the fact that I wasn’t working for a manager, which was traditional. I was reporting to a director, which was unusual in the hierarchy of this company. My director was then called onto a special project and after the project approval I ended up reporting directly to the Vice President of our division for the next several months.
My director and my VP invested a lot of trust and faith in me and asked me to lead the presentation and to sell the idea and specifics of the project to the CIO and his staff. My director spent a ton of time coaching me and told me what to do. To this very day, I’m forever grateful to him for all he taught me. I was to go around and interview everyone on the CIO’s direct staff in advance of the meeting in order to make sure that, prior to the day of the CIO’s staff meeting, we had a buy-in from everybody.
I spent several weeks scheduling meetings with very senior executives of the company who reported to the CIO. When I briefed my director about all of my findings, I was so proud. He also was thrilled. It was funny, though, as I ticked off all the people I had met: Danny, Tom, Kevin and Jeff… it was at that point during the conversation that my boss reacted in complete and utter disbelief! He said, “Why the hell did you meet with that guy!?!?” I said, “Well, you told me to meet everybody on the CIO’s staff!” He said, “He doesn’t work for the CIO, he works for the Vice Chairman of the Board!” I am pretty sure at this point that I turned several increasingly paler shades of white. I was thinking that I was in big trouble, but actually, he started laughing and said, “Well, what did he say?!” I responded that I met with him for over 90 minutes and that he was very excited to hear that.
He shook his head and I assume he had a flashback to an interview question he had asked me a year ago. He told me to describe a situation that intimidated me and what I would do about it. I sat there for a moment and was dumbfounded, giving it some thought and then some more. After careful consideration, I told him the following, “I’m really sorry but honestly I can’t think of anything. I don’t mean to be difficult, but if I do think of anything, I will call you back.”
Several months after the project was successfully completed, that extra person I interviewed summoned me to a meeting. You know… the one who did not report to the CIO, but to the Vice Chairman. It was a pretty large group of people and I noticed amongst the suits that I was the only woman, definitely the youngest, and, for certain, the most junior. I knew many of them, all senior management, directors, and those above. As the Vice Chair’s direct report greeted everyone, it was a very serious handshake and deep-toned “Very nice to meet you.” When he saw me, he shouted, “Jacquelyn! How are you? How is Murphy?” It was priceless to see. His face broke out in a huge grin; he happily shook my hand with his other hand, also enclosing mine in a friendly kind handshake, and completely dumbfounded the entire group of people. It meant the world to me. I had taken the time to meet him several months ago in my fearless ignorance of his senior title but managed to form a relationship after that without intimidation. Those efforts gave me the right to have access to his insights and to be invited to meetings I would otherwise have not been able to join. It also enabled me to see senior executives as people just like you and me, who want to be liked for who they are, and who are mostly regular folks just looking to be valued and for people to listen. That experience taught me to approach the C suite in my career often and easily, enabling me to meet a variety of CEOs, CMOs, CIOs, VPs and Board of Director members over the decades since. I treasure it.
Want more from Jacquelyn? She was the star of Episode 8.