Our “DocuSign UP Career” blog series places the spotlight on employees who tell us about their first job (how they landed it, why they chose it) and key moments in their career that lead to greater learning or career momentum. At DocuSign, we believe in the next generation of leaders and want to help them get on the right career trajectory. That’s why we started DocuSign UP (University Program). This week we sat down with Helen in Sales based in London to learn more about her career.
What do you do at DocuSign?
My role is to drive DocuSign’s growth in Northern Europe. I’ve hired and grown the team, I do a lot of customer work with existing customers and help them adopt DocuSign and be strategic as they can.
What was your first job after school?
I was an electrical engineer for three years and worked in the steel industry. I spent a lot of time in South Wales and South Africa. That was interesting being a young female in a male-dominated environment, very character building. I developed a lot of coping strategies.
Why did you choose that job?
I’m a very curious person and I love understanding how things work. It was not an intuitive career choice for a 17-year-old girl. I was a minority and a novelty onsite.
How did you get that job?
I had to do my own research on how to pursue an engineering career. I found an organization called Wise (Women in Science and Engineering) and they helped me understand what a career in STEM would look like. I applied for a sandwich course (school and onsite experience) with two companies. It was like an apprenticeship; you worked four days and went to school one day.
What did you learn from that job?
I learned what it means to work and have deadlines. What it really taught me is how to be a female in an almost exclusively male-dominated world. Working at a steel mill at such an early age taught me how to handle myself and be confident. My first year I spent time in different areas of the company and this set me up well for what I do now.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career that helped propel you to another level.
The most pivotal moment was deciding I wanted to join sales. At the time, I managed a team of 20 people. I knew I wanted to become a managing director but needed more experience selling. I decided to become an account executive. My manager at the time thought I was crazy, but I wanted to sell and knew I’d be good at it. I quickly became a director and within six years, I became a managing director leading a team of 300.
Did you have any important mentors in your life?
Yes, I have a couple of mentors, one in particular I’ve known for 18 years. He’s someone I use constantly as a sounding board. The most important thing he taught me is to speak slower and say less. You can be more executive and have more impact if you speak slower. It takes planning but it’s very powerful.
How would you describe your career and the choices you’ve made?
Either you have the opportunity to do something, or you make it. After university, I left engineering to move into IT. This was pre-internet, so I found books of recruiters and called them up and asked for openings. I did a lot of different things and I learned new things about myself in all of them. I’ve programmed and set controls in steel mills, I’ve grown sales teams, I’ve done implementation of software, I was a professional services consultant, I’ve been part of private equity.
What advice would you give to a college junior or senior breaking into the job market?
Get a job. Once you’re in a job, it’s easier to move. Second, you must be patient but also take risks. Some people start and think they’ll be promoted every six months. That’s not the real world.
Have you taken risks in your career?
My manager asked me if I’d like to set up a sales office in Germany. I was 24 years old and had no idea what I was doing, but someone was willing to take a bet on me. It was a risk but I did it well. I grew by putting myself outside of my comfort zone.
Any specific tips on how to find a job?
Know your network – who the people are and what they do. Pick certain companies you want to work for and approach them. Jobs always become available even if they aren’t posted.
Have you been able to act as a role model to others?
I’d like to say I do my bit both within my company and externally to show that it’s possible to be a working mother, to retain your sense of humor, and get to a high level. I like to think I’m setting a good example for my own daughter.
If you weren’t working in this job, what would you be doing?
Honestly I’d think seriously about politics. It’s the sort of thing that gets me out of bed in the morning — if I will have an impact on something, whether my team, my customers, the larger world.
Think DocuSign might be a fit for you? Check out our job openings: Careers@DocuSign