Name: Natalie Figuereo
Hometown: Miami, FL
Current Title: Sales Strategy and Operations
Prior Professional Experience: Accenture
Education: Duke University, INSEAD Certificate
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
One lesson that has really resonated with me is the idea of being “intentional” about everything that I do. One of my first Managers in consulting talked about this a lot. If you operate with intention, that means you’re not letting things happen by default - instead, you’re making conscious decisions and being thoughtful to better set yourself up for the outcomes you want. For example: being intentional about your character (in every decision, action, etc.) and being that consistently. Being intentional about relationships, and taking time to invest in and nurture them. Being intentional about the things you do in your free time. If I think of some of the most inspiring people I’ve known or read about, I think they all had this mindset in common.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
I don’t think I’ve taken enough risks in my career. In fact, I’ve done the opposite, and played it very safe. There are a lot of reasons why I’ve done this - including a fear of failing, and a worldview I developed as a result of being raised by immigrant parents who sacrificed so much to build great lives for me and my siblings in the US. Looking back, I wish I had taken more risks, and I had a couple of big chances to, earlier in my career. I encourage mentees and others to do this, and not make the same mistakes I did.
What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
For the most part, I’ve been fortunate to work at companies that really value diversity and inclusion, and that try to be pretty aware and cognizant of biases (unconscious and conscious). That being said, there have been several times in my career where I was told, very directly, that a promotion, award, or good relationship with a difficult person was due to me being a woman and/or a Latina- and not my competence. I’m not sure why some people feel empowered to say something like that directly, but it still happens today. There have also been times where I found out, later, that I was given extra work and more thorough screening in interviews to prove my technical or analytical skills - something others with similar experience (and sometimes less of the similar experience) did not have to do.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
My mentors and managers have given me some of the best coaching and career advice I’ve ever received. Leverage those with more experience than you, those that are more successful, and those that have accomplished or mastered something that you aspire to do. I’ve also leveraged friends and colleagues to connect me with people that have turned into job interviews, offers, etc. It’s so important to build a network (be intentional about that!). People are much more willing to lend their time and advice than you’d think. I’ve heard great stories of career progression that started by sending a “cold” LinkedIn message or “cold” email.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Yes, I have more than one mentor, and they have been so important throughout my career. When choosing a mentor, I look to people that I really admire. I also consider their strengths and whether there are important things that I can learn from them - it’s great when their strengths are your “growth areas”. I am the polar opposite of one of my mentors, and so I really appreciate her advice and guidance. It’s usually a perspective I haven’t thought about or advice I wouldn’t have gotten from people that think more like me.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Think of your job as an important part of your “personal brand”. Your work ethic, the way you conduct yourself at work, the effort you put into your work, how you make use of your own time and others’ time - all of those things will shape the way people perceive you. And that is your brand. Understand and embrace this early on. Decide what you want to be known for and what you want your brand to be and make it happen. And of course, don’t forget to work hard, be respectful, and conduct yourself with integrity.