As we continue to navigate our careers in the ever-shifting economy, it is important to keep in mind the value of asking for help. While some may associate asking for help with inexperience, remember: success leaves clues. By asking questions and seeking out the advice of successful performers in your industry, you will be able to leverage their insight to develop your own success and learn from their mistakes to avoid making the same ones yourself.
Asking for help is a sign of a success-oriented mindset and one of the easiest ways to level-up your career by learning from others. Even what may feel like a stupid question can be an excellent opportunity to learn something new and take a step forward in your career. For more on the importance of asking for help, I would like to share a conversation I had recently with Shante Whitaker, a sales leader at Experian, who successfully navigated a career shift from human resources to financial industry sales.
Shante began her career selling staffing solutions to financial institutions. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, she joined Delaware’s first Black woman-owned staffing agency and quickly found sales to be a lucrative field. Shante also learned a lot about working with people and gained valuable management and leadership skills.
As the Delaware economy took a downturn, major manufacturing plants closed and large financial institutions merged. As a result, Shante proactively shifted her focus and began selling technology staffing services to the federal government in Washington, D.C.
Here’s what Shante shared about her tech sales journey.
Q: Tell me more about your career shift from IT recruiter to IT project manager. What prompted you to make that shift?
A: It’s all about identifying your transferrable skill set. In 2010, I decided it was time for a change. I thought, “If I can package up software candidates and sell them to companies, then I can package up code and get projects into production.” Transitioning into a new industry, it was important for me to have the skills and competencies I needed to be successful, so I obtained my Project Management Professional and Professional Scrum Master certifications to help establish credibility with my clients and colleagues.
My first IT project management role was at a major financial services company, and I worked in that role for about four years, then moved into Credit Risk project management where I ultimately became a PM Team Lead. During my years of IT project management, I became known as the crisis PM, meaning, when a project was not going well, I was called on to navigate out of the choppy waters and return the project back to smooth sailing. In 2018, I was tapped on the shoulder and requested to support a large initiative to help Experian become further integrated within our credit decisioning processes. I loved that Experian had been recognized for years as a great place to work, and the team was collaborative, knowledgeable, and transparent.
I was drawn to Experian’s approach to solutions and their high energy, passion, and intelligence. I applied for a sales role, met with an interview panel, completed the hiring assessments, and joined Experian in 2019. Best career decision I’ve made in a long time.
Q: That’s a big move – leaving your employer to go work for one of their clients. What advice would you give about making that kind of move?
A: Don’t burn bridges. In my current sales role, I have the unique opportunity to have my former employer as my client. It’s very important to demonstrate value to both organizations, to show them how this will be a win-win. It’s really important to build and value strong relationships because you never know when you’re going to run into someone again, especially in the financial institution industry, or in sales generally. The industry may seem huge, but it’s smaller than you think.
Q: What would you tell women about taking the lead and getting a seat at the table? What’s it like at Experian?
A: One of the things that I think is important when you take the lead is to ask the stupid or obvious questions. I know it may make people a little uncomfortable, but it has been very helpful for me. It’s something I didn’t do earlier in my career because I didn’t want to look inexperienced, but I’ve learned that to show I have control over the situation means asking every possible question, and normally there are three other people who had that same question. Don’t be afraid to ask and ask with confidence.
Taking the lead means coming in with focus, professionalism, and a vision. You don’t want to waver – be confident with your delivery, and you want to be respectful of the former leaders and people who have already been there. Don’t demean people—work with people.
Taking the lead really just means consistently showing up, being confident in your abilities, and staying laser focused on the path forward —and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask the obvious questions. Be positive in your interactions with others, connect with people, and work with people. Say, “Thank you for doing that.” “What are you working on now?” “What excites you about that?”
Learn more about taking the lead. Join us – we are here to #TAKETHELEAD!
Sistas In Sales & Experian are thrilled to invite you to a virtual experience for Black History Month. Join Sistas In Sales, the global leader for women of color in professional sales, and Experian, the world’s leading global information services company, on February 26th from 1:30pm – 3pm for a two-part experience – learning, networking, and recruiting.
Q: What excites you in your current work?
A: I am extremely excited and motivated to help my client grow their portfolio with Experian’s solutions. Ever since the pandemic began, we’ve had to shift our sales approach because a lot of our clients were used to us showing up on-site. It took some time to rework my approach in order to have that same level of engagement virtually, but now I have three key tactics I use.
First, I almost always – 99% of the time – keep my camera on during meetings. People buy from those they like and trust. Second, since I can’t talk to people in the office hallway or lobby like I used to, I send something every week to keep our name in front of clients: a consumer activity dashboard, a new piece of legislation or thought leadership article, or a new solution developed in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Third, I help clients understand the impact of COVID-19 on current consumer behavior – specifically on credit utilization, inquires, and probability of default.
Q: What does it take to succeed both in an interview process and at Experian?
A: The main thing is you have to be hungry for knowledge. There is so much to learn. You’ll learn when you come to Experian that we are more than credit reports, we are an information technology company. We are a systems and services company, and a majority of our solutions are technology-based, so it is important to understand all of these services and how they’re connected to your clients. You have to be a lifelong learner to achieve success at Experian.
Q: You have successfully navigated three careers. What advice would you give someone who wants to take the lead in a sales role or move into a sales role?
A: When I run into something that I can’t get past, I educate myself. There are always going to be times when you have a knowledge gap, and it’s up to you to fill it. I think that sometimes we rely on other people to give us that information, but I take the ownership to close that learning gap.
My final piece of advice is to go after the career you want. Often, I think we set the career bar too low due to fear of the unknown. The worst a company can say to you is “no.” That’s not too bad. I mean, in sales we get used to hearing no, right? If a wall goes up, go around it, dig a hole under it, or climb over it. Whatever you do, stay the course That’s all I can say: stay the course.
Here’s to sales mastery,
Chief Learning Officer, SIS
Cherilynn Castleman, Global Sales Keynote Speaker/Trainer/Executive Coach, has been a sales executive for 20+ years. With her natural talent for teaching and a drive to sell, Cherilynn uses her skills to coach and train other executives and sales professionals. Author of What’s In the CARDS? 5 Post Pandemic Sales Strategies.
Sistas in Sales, LLC (SIS) is a community for women of color sales professionals to network, advance their careers and most importantly, find sisterhood – offering events, thriving Slack community with companies hiring now, and career coaching services. Learn more about Sistas In Sales membership here, connect with us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.