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Advice for early career intel professionals: Failure isn’t final

By: Zalenda Cyrille, Program Director, Intelligence Group: Federal Programs, Perspecta

When it comes to advice for early career professionals, I believe it all starts with identifying your interests. What gets you excited? What are you passionate about? For me, it was mathematics. Math made sense. It was hard, but I was able to excel in the subject because I thoroughly enjoyed the critical thinking required for determining the best solution to the problem. 

The best advice I’ve received is: if you fall, fall on your back—and if you can look up, you can get up. To me this means that failure isn’t final. Failing doesn’t have to be the end of the road. You always have the power to change things and even more importantly, failure provides an opportunity to grow and learn.

Also, don’t be scared to ask for advice. Don’t be scared to admit when you need help. Too often people with potential quit too soon. Seek out advocates whose experience can help nurture your skills and enhance your potential. It is through champions that you are exposed to varied and positive opportunities that could challenge you in different ways. These opportunities will provide you with the experiences needed to take your career to that next level. So my advice—seek out mentors, coaches or advisors. You do not have to do this alone.

But remember, these individuals, who can help assist you when you hit a roadblock, aren’t there to do the work for you. What they can do is be a sounding board and offer you suggestions for how you can solve a problem. 

My path and personal experience led me to a career in intelligence. For me, working in intel provides a sense of purpose every day. As Dan Pink stated in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” there are three essential elements to motivate knowledge workers: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Every day, working in the intel space, you are reminded of your purpose—safeguarding America. As someone who grew up in New Jersey and visited the twin towers numerous times; as a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University that is nearby Somerset, Pennsylvania; and as a resident of the Washington, D.C. metro area and seeing the aftermath of the Pentagon being hit, it was all frightening. However, knowing the next day and for many more to follow that I helped ensure that this terror wouldn’t happen again was beyond rewarding. Working in the intel field, provides you with that purpose—that sense of resolve and determination that you are doing something larger than yourself.

One of the benefits of working for Perspecta is that they provide opportunities for you to explore your career. I have had the great fortune of having a wide range of positions within the company from standard systems engineering to internal audit to agile development coach and now program director. I challenged myself early on to learn more about financial systems and how corporations work, thereby developing my finance and business acumen. But probably best of all is being afforded the opportunity to learn new skills that have proven useful throughout my career. 

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