One Company, Many Careers – How Cisco Helped Me Transition to My Dream Field

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Kody Burke

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July 23, 2024 at 8:41PM UTC

Are you looking for a company that not only promotes your career goals but also provides opportunities to explore them? Cisco and its People Movement initiative might be the right place for you! Cisco supports and facilitates employees to find the work that truly energizes them.

You can learn more about Cisco’s One Company, Many Careers approach first-hand from a Cisco employee. Kody Burke, a People Consultant and Program Manager at Cisco, is finally  in a role that she’s always dreamed of. Burke’s worked a storied career: from being a Division I Women’s Basketball student athlete at North Carolina State University, to being drafted in the Women’s National Basketball Association to working in financial services and, now, working in Human Resources at Cisco.

As of February, she’s been keenly focused on supporting and managing professional development solutions for the company’s executives. Ultimately, she’s tasked with partnering with company executives to better understand their pain points and, from there, delivering solutions that support their development needs. Her role involves everything from managing projects and tasks to asking thoughtful questions to executives and business partners that allow her to build rapport with executives.

“While I’m new to my current role as a Program Manager in the Executive & Board organization, my six-and-a-half years of working with and communicating to high-profile clientele was the prep work needed to successfully execute my current role,” she tells Fairygodboss. “Through my prior experience, I’ve become comfortable communicating to executives and have learned to earn their trust.”

Amid her years of relevant experience, Burke tells Fairygodboss that she has had the benefit of working for finance managers who understood and appreciated that finance was never her end goal. Instead, her goal was always to work in the human resources side of business, and she was supported in that all along the way. 

“What I love most about Cisco is the company’s support in employees ‘owning their careers’,’” she says. “My very first manager at Cisco, a finance manager, knew that a long-term career in finance was not my dream or goal. I shared with her how I always had a passion for People & Communities (Human Resources), and she was so gracious in supporting me as I pursued opportunities in the field even while working for her as a full-time Financial Analyst. I can whole-heartedly say I’ve had managers who were always supportive of me in pursuing my career goals.”

Here, she tells us more about Cisco’s managerial support in employees pursuing their career goals, her most valuable career mistakes and her best advice for other women looking to make career moves.

Where did you start your career journey? What were your previous roles and experiences like?

Once my short-lived professional sports career ended, I entered the financial services industry and landed a role as a Wealth Planner. In this role, I had the opportunity to advise high-net-worth individuals on their current and future financial outlook. After three-and-a-half years as a Wealth Planner, I landed a Financial Analyst role at Cisco. In this role, I, again, had the opportunity to advise high-profile individuals on their financial status and outlook. This time, the high-profile individuals were senior leaders and executives in the company.

I worked as a Financial Analyst for three years supporting Finance and Sales leaders before landing a career in the People & Communities (essentially Human Resources) organization at Cisco. It was always my career goal to enter this field, and I was grateful to have landed a role as a Communications/Project Manager. A little less than a year in this role, I received an offer for a promotional role as a People Consultant/Program Manager role in the organization. And this is where I am today, operating as a People Consultant/Program Manager in the Executive & Board (E&B) organization. The E&B organization is a team that creates solutions supporting our company’s executives (VPs & up) and is in the People & Communities organization.

What made you decide to make a career change and pivot to your current role?

While a career in Finance was rewarding, my passion has always been coaching and bringing the best out of people. With the Cisco People & Communities organization being focused on people, I knew this was the organization I wanted to have a career in. I believe my purpose is to inspire others to do things they never knew they could do, and I have the opportunity to do this in an indirect way as a Program Manager in the Executive & Board organization. In this role, I have the opportunity to create and manage solutions that promote talent and personal development for our company’s executives. I see this role as very rewarding and in line with what I believe my purpose is.

How did you make this switch, and how did Cisco support you in this process?

I made this switch thanks to multiple years (more than five) of networking with individuals and leaders in the People & Communities organization. I approached networking to advocate my skill set, career interests and goals to leaders in the organization so I could remain top-of-mind when opportunities came about in the field.

Through my networking, I’ve gained mentorship and sponsorship from a couple of leaders, and this opened doors for me as well. As I considered roles, I had mentors and sponsors advocating my skill set and value to their colleagues and business partners. I’m so grateful for my mentors and sponsors, as they were influential in creating pathways for me that never would have come about through my own self effort.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your current work?

What’s most rewarding about the work I do is knowing that my work directly supports the development of leaders which is in line with what I believe my purpose is: bringing the best out of people. I also love that, in this role, I have the autonomy to operate programs as I see fit. While I have my manager’s support, I’m given the freedom to craft programs I view as best for my clientele. I have the opportunity to let my creativity shine through in my work.

The greatest challenge I anticipate in this role is assuring all I produce is executive-appropriate. This requires all my work being proofread by more than one peer/partner and by leadership. My work is held to a higher standard now working with Cisco’s executives, and my eyes alone can never produce work that is executive-appropriate. It will require multiple eyes to proofread and approve my work before sharing with executives

Looking back on your career, what would you say has been your most valuable career mistake?

My most valuable career mistake was not communicating my career goals early in my career to my managers. Early in my career, I was hesitant to communicate with my managers my long-term and short-term career goals. I was fearful that sharing my goals would be looked down upon since my goals were outside of the role and industry I was in at the time. But the moment I communicated my passion for the People & Communities organization to my first manager at Cisco, a Finance Manager, she was more than supportive in my career endeavors. She even encouraged me to take on stretch projects and networking opportunities that positioned me to transition into my dream field. A good manager will be more than supportive of your career goals and may even advocate for you. This was surely the case for me, and I wish I would have had courage to share my goals with my managers earlier in my career.

What is your best piece of advice for other women who are thinking about making a career pivot?

The best piece of advice I would give to women is to communicate your desire for a career pivot early. Again, a good manager will support your career goals and may even be a catalyst in bridging the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. If your manager is not supportive of this, I would encourage reconsidering the manager and team you currently work for.

Plus, if that passion is in your heart, pursue it. Trust that the passion is in you for a reason. I see it as a calling to pursue what’s heavy in our hearts. The pursuit may take weeks, months or, in my case, years to attain, but it is so worthwhile once you’ve reached it. It took me over five years to secure a career in my dream field (People & Communities), and I can whole-heartedly say every bit of those five years was worth the wait! There’s nothing like operating a role that fuels your passion and purpose in life.

Is there anything else we didn’t ask about that you’d like to mention?

Having a mentor and sponsor has also been integral in making career pivots for me. They have provided career and life insight, made connections and advocated on my behalf for opportunities.

As you consider making career pivots and growing your network, you will find such advocates who will, too, help you make that pivot towards your dream career. It all starts with networking, so go after it! Again, it’s all worth it.

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