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Executive Assistant At Cisco…What Was I Thinking?!

Embrace Uncertainty…Some of the Most Beautiful Chapters In Our Lives Won’t Have Titles Until Much Later  – Bob Goff

I got my ‘lucky’ break in my career when I got a call one day from a recruiter from a little known company named cisco. He was asking me if I wanted to come in for an interview for the executive assistant role supporting the SVP of World Wide Sales.

Having been out of work for a month I was interested.

The drive to Palo Alto, Ca. where the company was located from my home in Campbell in traffic was at least 45 min. on a good day in non-peak commute time… what was I thinking??   That being said, I did not want to turn an interview down, especially now that I was among the ranks of the un-employed so I drove the Hwy 101 gauntlet to Palo Alto.

Cisco back then had only 3 buildings located on the edge of East Palo Alto which in itself was a very poor, scary neighborhood.

Again I asked myself …what was I thinking?

I was determined to go through with the interview exercise and ultimately actually did more interviewing of the recruiter about the company then he did me! One thing was certain, I was not going to take another role with a company that did not have a solid foundation. One question I will always remember asking the recruiter was “what are your current yearly revenues?” I think the recruiter dropped his pen at that moment – he had never been asked that question before.

Two days later I received a call from the recruiter asking me to come back to actually meet and interview with the Senior Vice President of World Wide Sales. His name was John Chambers and he had apparently just started working for Cisco too. I said absolutely! (dreading the drive back up to East Palo Alto)…again I thought, am I crazy? I knew the commute alone was going to kill me …what was I thinking?

My first interview that day was with the CEO’s executive Assistant, Sylvia. We were sitting in the conference room and she was asking me the standard type interview questions and within about 15 minutes in to the interview, she put her pen down and said “Ok…I’ve heard enough – you are definitely the right one and…I need you…I have been the interim support for John for the last 2 months and I am exhausted! He’s interviewed 17 candidates so far and hasn’t liked any of them. Can you stay to meet John today?”   I said absolutely…in my mind I was thinking that this guy must be a real challenge! I waited for well over an hour to be interviewed and I kept saying to myself Debbie…this commute sucks, this executive seems to be a real challenge given how the EA to the CEO showed tears of joy when I said I would wait to be interviewed by him and here I am waiting on pins and needles just to interview with this guy …what am I thinking!

I must have waited well over an hour in that conference room before Sylvia came back to tell me John was available to meet me. With some trepidation I followed her down the hall to John’s office – what could this man be like?

He greeted me with a warm smile and I extended my hand to shake his and I can honestly say there was a connection.  We talked for almost 2 hours.  His last question was “how can I keep you motivated if you came to work for me” to which I promptly replied “money!” and then smiled and said – “actually being recognized and appreciated” to which he laughed and said “thanks for being candid!”

He thanked me for the time and said he would be in touch as I walked out the door and to my car for the long ride home. I kept telling myself… “I think that went well…he seems ok to me…wonder what HE’s thinking?”

45 minutes later when I arrived back home my husband indicated that I had received a call from a “John Chambers” and that I should call him back. I definitely did and that is when John made me an offer and asked me to come work for him at Cisco.

I guess both of us were thinking the same way – the beginning of a partnership. I was going to work for Cisco as his Executive Assistant

Lessons learned:

  • I knew never to turn down an opportunity to interview- even if it may not have been my ideal situation at the time– I knew I needed the practice of interviewing
  • I was prepared to ask smart questions about the company and the role – I interviewed the recruiter about the company as much as he was interviewing me
  • That patience was my virtue as I waited for that long while to meet John when I could have just said “to heck with it” I’m out of here
  • I was candid in terms of what I wanted when asked
  • Sometimes what appears on the surface – (the long commute and the poor neighborhood Cisco resided in) is not what lies beneath

This thinking changed my life forever.


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