Erica M. is a natural people person. As an Acquisition External Hiring and Recruiting Lead at the National Security Agency, she gets to talk with people from various walks of life about why NSA is a great place to work – and those everyday engagements are what she enjoys most. Erica finds speaking to and encouraging young women, especially those who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities like she did, particularly rewarding.
Her people-first approach doesn’t only come out at career fairs, but also applies to her everyday leadership and mentorship styles, two of the skills that make her a standout NSA leader. We spoke to Erica about the keys to leadership success, how she empowers other women in the workplace – especially in a traditionally male-dominated field – and what has made her experience at NSA so impactful.
How long have you been with NSA, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been at the agency for more than 10 years. I started shortly after graduating with my B.S. in Business Administration from Bowie State University. I found out about acquisition opportunities at the agency from the career fairs Bowie State would host. I remember engaging with NSA recruiters in my junior year and that piqued my interest. So, my senior year of college, I gave the recruiters my resume, applied online, interviewed and was offered a job. Prior to working at the agency, I worked at Bebe, a retail store, as a stylist for clients.
Tell me a little about your role as an Acquisition External Hiring and Recruiting Lead. What about this role most excites you?
My role requires a lot of multitasking, but ultimately, I’m responsible for the hiring program for the acquisition team. I help the agency define hiring requirements for the year, identify the roles we need to recruit for and engage with the marketing team to reach the talent we need.
I most enjoy engaging with new talent and talking with people from various walks of life. Everyone has something to offer and, more importantly, you can learn something from everyone you encounter.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
The first thing I do is check my emails and formulate a two-column list: one for long-term tasks, the other for short-term tasks. I bin the actions from the emails into the appropriate column and formulate my plan of action for the day. I feel my day is more productive when I can check items off my list to show progress. At the end of the day, I take about 15-30 minutes to write out my accomplishments and the impacts of them. It’s easier to show progression of goals when your accomplishments are fresh in your mind.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say I have more of a servant style of leadership. I want the people I work with to know that I value them and the work they perform for the organization. I feel as though employees who feel valued and see that their leader actually cares about them are far more productive, have more drive to go the extra mile and will stay with the company a lot longer versus employees who don’t feel valued.
Being a woman in business, as well as a woman of color, can be particularly challenging. What things have empowered or encouraged you to grow your career?
What has empowered me to keep pushing is the interactions I’ve had at recruitment fairs – in particular, when I go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and talk with students, especially women, about what I do and the fact that I came from an HBCU as well. You can see in their eyes they are realizing that they, too, can excel in their careers and it’s very inspiring. Just as much as they feed off my story and experience, I gain motivation from them to keep pushing. I’m always thinking about the women behind me, especially my two daughters. It’s very important for little girls growing up in this time to see more women who look like them or who come from similar backgrounds in positions of leadership.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?
Yes, I’m a strong believer in mentoring and providing help for women building their careers. I make sure I’m available to meet or talk or just be a sounding board for everyone who asks for help. I always think back to times I hit lows in my career and how my mentors made time to talk to me.
What’s one thing you think young job seekers should know about being a woman in what has historically been a male-dominated field?
There is room for you at the table. Walking into a room where you’re the only woman, and specifically the only person of color, you can feel like the odd one out. I’m a strong advocate for never selling yourself short. Everyone has unique talents and abilities, and if you’re placed in a position of leadership, your organization sees the value and potential you have to offer. So, yes, you deserve to be at the table. Speak up and provide input. No one has the ability to make you feel like you don’t belong in a room without your consent. You have to have the mindset that you’re about to be amazing at everything you do.
Who has been the most influential person in your career and why?
My dad. He taught a lot of critical life lessons that helped me through various transitions in my career. He taught me the value of integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching. He taught me how to respect and treat people the right way. The most important lesson is to honor your word. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Once you stop honoring your word, people will develop a lack of trust in you. These are important lessons for every person in leadership to learn and implement.
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