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 Katia in Sales, based in Paris, to learn more about her career.
What do you do at DocuSign?
I’m vice president of sales for large enterprise accounts in France and southern Europe.
What was your first job after school?
I was a computer engineer for a French company that developed and sold software for banking and insurance companies.
Why did you choose that job?
I studied computer sciences, and my university required us to work part-time to get training. I was hired by an insurance company to develop software that calculated taxes for their customers. So I had the experience and background that fit well with the company I joined after school.
Is it related to what you do today and what did you learn from it?
In that first company, I did three jobs – software development, customer support, then sales. I didn’t expect to be a salesperson — I had a bias against salespeople like many people in France — but the sales director encouraged me to try it and had the great idea of partnering me with a senior salesperson who was new to the company. It was a win-win partnership. I taught this new salesperson about the company and customers, and he taught me how to sell.
Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career that helped propel you to another level.
I joined a successful French software company called Business Objects. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot there including how to capture new market share.
Have you taken any risks in your career?
Going into sales was a big risk because I had no idea if I’d like it or be good at it. Then halfway through my time at Business Objects, I took the challenge of pursuing a market that had been won by our competitors. My job was to get it back, which no one had done before, and it was very risky.
Did you succeed?
Yes, but it took me five years. The general manager knew it was a difficult challenge. He let me work my way through it with lots of freedom and not too much pressure. It was a good experience, and I’m very proud of it.
Has that success encouraged you to take more risks?
Sales is a kind of game. You need to manage both your fear and your risk. After Business Objects, I wasn’t afraid. Nothing is as difficult as that first challenge. Even at my next company SAP, when I had no clue about the product, I knew I was skilled at sales. And I succeeded there too.
Have you faced failure in your career?
At Business Objects, I lost seven deals within ten years. I tried to understand and analyze each failure, what I’d done wrong. I lost the first deal because I was young and arrogant, and I promised myself not to repeat that mistake. When you have lots of success, you forget what reality is. But when you lose a deal, you learn to pay more attention, to have a closer relationship with the customer. I lost seven deals for seven different reasons and learned from each of them. Now I’m trying to help my own team avoid the mistakes I made.
Have you had any important mentors in your life?
When I joined SAP, the boss of my boss was the first to recognize my skills. When he left to work at a German company, he asked me to join him and be the sales director for the company’s French subsidiary. Because of him, I learned so much and took more risks.
How would you describe your career and the choices you’ve made?
I stayed at my first company for seven and a half years, the second for almost ten years. If I had to do it over, I probably wouldn’t have stayed so long and perhaps could’ve had a quicker career path. But when you have children in France, you don’t get time off. Having a baby is challenging enough, so changing companies would be an additional challenge. I decided to stay in the same company and do the best job I could while also taking care of my children.
What do you love most about your job now?
I’m taking a new team of people to another level. I’m trying to help them understand their skills and what they need to improve, then make an action plan to help them do it. What I love most is seeing them change and gain confidence. Being a good manager is not something you learn from books. You have to find your own style over time.
What piece of advice do you wish you’d been given early on in your career?
Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody other than yourself. Everybody has something to share and learn from each other.
What advice would you give a college junior or senior trying to find a job?
Don’t be afraid to start from scratch. Learn how to search for a job, how to speak in an interview, and how to do your resume. After I received my MBA, I got advice about how to network, and then I redid my resume about 20 times in French and 10 more times in English.
Do you have any particular habits to help you work more successfully?
I try to take time for myself, to plan for time alone – not for my family, not for work — just to relax. It helps me with work, to not make decisions too fast. I try to allow myself, in the urgent most times, to think. I find when I delay a decision, it turns out to be a better one.
If not this job, what would you be doing?
Between jobs, I visited an Ayurveda health center in India and lived like a monk there. Afterward I was inspired to start an orphanage for girls in the community and have been raising money for it. If I wasn’t at DocuSign, I’d be in India or helping people get to know Ayurveda in France and Europe.
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