C-suite career advice: Jennifer Lee, Intradiem

Name: Jennifer Lee

Company: Intradiem

Job Title: Chief Operating Officer

Location: Arizona, US

Jennifer Lee has 20 years’ experience in the contact centre industry with more than 15 years as a people leader. Throughout her career, Lee has served in a variety of roles in the contact centre space, including operations, quality, workforce management, and client services. As Chief Operating Officer, Lee leads Intradiem’s Product Management, Product Marketing, Marketing, and Customer Success teams. Prior to this role, Lee has served as Chief Strategy Officer and has led the Customer Success organisation.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? To trust myself and to always be honest. One day I was heading into a client meeting, expecting to be an observer, when my team leader told me I would lead the meeting. I said I wasn’t prepared to answer all the questions that were sure to come up. He said, “first of all, you know more than you think you do, and second, if you don’t know the answer, just say so.” That’s what I did, and I crushed it!

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The first time I took on a managerial position my supervisor advised me to “come in with a hammer” to establish my authority with my new team. She believed this was a good approach for a female leader to gain the respect of her reports. I followed her advice and regretted it right away because it went against my nature. I learned then and there that being myself was always the best approach.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? That there’s more to the tech industry than just technology. To succeed, you also need to develop listening skills and learn the broader aspects of the business. Take time to listen to your colleagues and to get familiar with the practical and functional applications of the products and solutions your company offers. Remember, we sell the technology we make to people!

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Absolutely not! I stumbled into the tech field unintentionally.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I began my career in tech support and customer support at a computer hardware maker, and then spent years on the business/customer side—but my first direct software experience was at Intradiem, where I’ve been since 2015. I believe the success I’ve had at Intradiem is directly related to the things I learned on the customer side. Working directly with customers really helped me understand their challenges.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? People think tech jobs are great for loners but that’s not true. This industry is really about people, like all industries. It’s essential to understand the customer and the user, and how people interact with your products. You also have to work on a team to get things done, which requires people skills such as the ability to communicate, cooperate, disagree (respectfully), persuade, etc.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? It’s essential to build strong relationships with stakeholders throughout the organisation. You need to identify key influencers in the organisation, and to understand that they’re not always high-level employees. Above all, it’s important to listen. When you understand your colleagues’ goals and motivations and try to find ways to help them solve their challenges, they will view you as a leader.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’m not sure we’re supposed to ‘reach’ our goals. I believe in the ‘infinite mindset’ which involves a constant focus on outdoing myself. Every career and every phase of a career is a journey; we end one journey and then begin a new one. I’m happy with my path and with what I’ve accomplished so far. I hope to continue to grow and perhaps to lead a company someday. I think I’m on the right track.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I do, when I’m intentional about it. Intradiem’s ‘people first’ company culture actively promotes a healthy work-life balance for all employees, but it’s up to each of us to take control of our situation and be intentional about securing that balance. It takes conscious effort, and I don’t succeed every day; but overall, I do, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be ‘all in’ both personally and professionally.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve experienced lots of stumbles and I expect more, but I view those stumbles as learning opportunities. When we fail, we grow. If we’re not failing, we’re not reaching far enough. I believe my failures have helped me develop into the leader I am today, and that my future failures will shape me into the leader I’m meant to be in the long run.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I think you need both. Becoming a balanced, effective technology leader rests on a combination of the broadest possible education and the most narrowly focused skills training. The bootcamp approach provides specific skills, and a broad education provides critical insight and perspective. Both are vital to achieving success in the technology business.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications are very important in the tech field because there are many specific areas of expertise within the larger discipline. A targeted certification proves that you understand a specific type of coding and also that your skillset is up to date. Technology is in constant evolution, and certification in the right skills can be arguably more important than even the right technology degree.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? This may surprise you, though not after reading my answers to your other questions: I believe human skills are paramount. Sure, you need technical skills. But you also must be a good listener and curious about the overall picture and how others fit into it. Culture is hugely important at Intradiem, and I believe that attentiveness and curiosity contribute to a productive working style and a better cultural fit.

What would put you off a candidate? A lack of listening skills. If I speak with a candidate that does all the talking and doesn’t seem to listen to what I say, I take it as a bad sign. I evaluate candidates based on their ability to ask good questions and engage in a real conversation with me. As I said above, I look for curiosity and listening skills, which I believe make people effective in almost any role.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? First of all, an interview should feel like a conversation rather than an interview. I’m immediately put off when I hear the standard questions all job seekers are told to ask in interviews. It shows a lack of initiative, a lack of curiosity. Candidates can avoid this by taking the time to research the company and formulate thoughtful questions, and then really listen and respond thoughtfully to my replies.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Both are important. Even if you’re applying for a purely technical role, you’ll still benefit from having a broad understanding of the overall business. There’s a balance to be struck, but success requires both skills. Also, we can’t forget the importance of human skills. Whatever role you’re applying for, you’ll have a leg up if you’ve developed an ability to relate to people in the context of your work. 

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