Tara Aspin, Business Development Representative
As most people who are early in their careers know, finding a full-time job in your desired field right out of college is a challenge. As someone who’s interested in sales, what I often see is ads for positions that require one to two years’ experience. That may not seem like a lot, but even if you’ve worked a couple of internships, those are typically only about three months long, so by the time you graduate, you still fall short.
While I was completing my bachelor’s degree in Graphic Communication and Management at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I took a summer internship with Cambridge CM, a construction management company in the Bay Area, California. That’s when I discovered Palo Alto Networks — Cambridge managed the building process of its new headquarters in Santa Clara. I grew interested when I saw the building and how well-appointed it was, so I started doing a little research into the company.
I didn’t really know anything about Palo Alto Networks, but I have always been interested in technology, and I knew cybersecurity was a growing field, so I was curious about whether they had any sales positions available. That’s when I discovered Palo Alto Network’s unique offerings for new grads, the LEAP program, and among its various academies was the Sales Academy. During this one-year program, I would get the opportunity to work as a full-time employee while also being given an opportunity to learn and develop my sales skills — all within the safe confines of an early-in-career program where I’m expected to be inexperienced and learning the ropes. Not only that but the company’s trajectory and workplace culture, from what I could see, seemed exciting to me, so I applied to the program.
Over the course of just a month, I interviewed with a recruiter and three different managers within the sales team, and by September 2019, I was part of the Business Development Representative team at Palo Alto Networks!
Inside the Academy
My year has certainly been exciting! Of the 10 of us in the Sales Academy, four of us were at headquarters, and we were able to work together in the office, collaborating and asking questions, so I had a fantastic support system and was never the odd one out. Early on, we would also do Zoom calls with the teams in Plano, Texas, and New York, learning about cybersecurity and all our products and verticals. We got to try our hand at making and delivering presentations, in groups and solo, which was tremendously helpful in building my confidence in working with customers.
Within about two months, we were each given a territory to cover, and I was assigned to our State, Local, and Education (SLED) accounts in the Northwest. I worked with other Business Development Reps and Field Reps to determine the best tactics for developing new business, and I discovered an array of prospecting tools. I got to work side by side with colleagues in an office for a few months before COVID hit and forced us all to work remotely from home. And although working from home brought new challenges, I no longer had to commute in Bay Area traffic (a definite plus!), and I was already very used to working with team members in other parts of the country, so conducting business and collaborating with peers virtually was something we were all used to doing already.
One of the most important things I’ve received from the Sales Academy is confidence in speaking with customers. I’ve learned so much about how to help customer’s pain points with our products, and the work on presentations I’ve done has really prepared me to talk to customers in a professional way and to address their unique needs.
I’ve also learned a whole lot about time management since I had to manage my day-to-day work prospecting accounts while also making time to expand my product knowledge and prepare quality presentations I’d been assigned. That time-management training will serve me well as I grow in my career.
Early on, I was really intimidated about talking to more experienced team members within the company. I quickly realized that everyone was so helpful and really wanted me to succeed. It has been extremely valuable to set up internal calls with my coworkers, to pick their brains and learn about their career journeys in sales.
The company is certainly generous in terms of its perks — the fancy snack bars, donation matching, the stipends to help us cover home office expenses while working from home, and more. But more importantly, the generosity I’ve found in people who offer their time and commitment to my success has made all the difference. I look forward to continuing to grow in this role and learn even more about this industry and this company.