This story was originally seen in ForbesWomen.
The gifts of the digital age are wildly abundant. We have in our pockets the ability to teach ourselves anything, meet people and build communities across the globe and an endless market for goods and services. This level of access and freedom means you don’t have to follow a traditional career path, but when you are thinking about designing your own, whether right out of college or during a career pivot, this unlimited possibility can be totally overwhelming. It’s the paradox of choice.
“You don’t have to follow a traditional career path. There’s no rule book or playbook for success. Write your own roles. Don’t take people’s paths as the way that you have to do things. You have to do it yourself.”
This is Anjali Sud’s advice for us. And as Vimeo’s CEO at 34, she is undoubtedly a master of the non-linear career. “I did everything from investment banking to being a toy buyer to marketing diapers online to coming to Vimeo to do marketing and finding myself in my dream job now as the CEO.”
But how do you create a strategy for building a non-linear career without a playbook? And, how do you advocate for your work when you’re new to a field or if you have the skills but not the experience? I sat down with Anjali Sud at Collision in New Orleans to learn about her journey to the C-Suite and what she’s learned along the way.
Emily Joffrion: When you started your career, did you see your path as non-linear? How did this shift for you over time?
Anjali Sud: I wish I had known that careers aren’t linear. When you’re young and in school, you work so hard and there is sort of a linear path. You know? You find a major and you specialize in it, you try to get a job. And then when you get out in the workforce, there can sometimes be this pressure -- especially when you look at people around you. I remember, right out of college, I wanted to be an investment banker and I couldn’t get a job at a big bank. I got rejected by every big bank. And so you start to feel like, “If I don’t get the job at Goldman Sachs, I’ll never be able to become an operator and do what I want to do.” When I look back at my career path it was incredibly not linear. I wish I had known that so I wouldn’t stress out so much about not having a perfect path or not getting that job interview. Instead, having the faith that you can affect your career path at any point and realizing that opportunities come from places you could never imagine. I wish I had known that. I think I would have been more chill.
Joffrion: When you realized you wanted to transition from finance into operations, you hit a couple of walls -- namely companies who didn't want to give you a shot without this experience. How did you navigate this?
Sud: I met with a bunch of startups in NYC and asked them what skill sets they thought were most transferable between finance and operations. One recommendation I got was to try business development as a good “transition” function. The reason is that business development often requires deal-making skills – something I had picked up in finance – but it also involves a deep operational understanding of the business and its growth strategy. So, I applied for a summer internship at Amazon in business development. I worked my butt off that summer and got a full-time offer to join the business development team, but instead asked to take on an operational role. Because I had gotten my foot in the door and proved myself, Amazon was willing to give me a shot as an operator, first in a merchandising role, and then in marketing.
Joffrion: When Vimeo was exploring creating its own content, you saw an opportunity to differentiate from Netflix by building a strategy around creators -- which led to you getting the CEO role at Vimeo. How did you introduce this point of view and champion it? What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Sud: I wasn’t the only one at Vimeo who was passionate about creators. Vimeo was founded as a creator-focused community back in 2004, so I was really advocating for a return to those roots and acting as a champion for the many people internally who believed in that direction. But I did have to prove to our parent company, IAC, that the market and business opportunity was big enough. I had multiple strategies for this. First, I treated every meeting with management as an investor pitch. I would use my time presenting at our weekly business reviews, All Hands – and any chance I got – to emphasize the size of the market and how Vimeo could differentiate and win. Second, I showed results. As we invested back in the creator community, we saw our revenue growth for that business accelerate, and our customer satisfaction scores improve dramatically. I made sure to showcase those results frequently and prominently. Third, I took advantage of being under the radar. Because my portion of the Vimeo business wasn’t the main area of focus at the time, we could move fast and take risks without the high stakes and scrutiny. It allowed us to focus fully on executing our strategy.
Joffrion: Can you share an example of ways that you have advocated for yourself and your work?
Sud: I’ve tried to be strategic in determining when to advocate for myself. Rather than continually seek opportunities or recognition, I have found it more impactful to wait until I had measurable results tied to me or my team’s contributions. Then, once I had the results, I was not shy about promoting those results internally. For example, I waited until we had delivered a full quarter of accelerated revenue growth before presenting the creator strategy as a good long-term solution for Vimeo.
Another way I have advocated for myself is through my peers and peer relationships. Before I became CEO, I tried to be as useful as possible to my peers and the other business leaders around me. I would offer ideas, data, solutions and advice, and often go out of my way to help colleagues. Not only was this good for Vimeo overall, but I found that those peers naturally became advocates of mine over time. Those relationships were an important factor in my ability to step up into the CEO role, as I had earned the respect and trust of the other leaders at the company.
Joffrion: Imposter syndrome is something we hear about a lot with women and millennials entering the workforce. Is this something you’ve experienced? What would you say to someone who has?
Sud: I’ve felt imposter syndrome many many times in my career, and I’m sure that I will continue to do so. This is what I tell myself: Fake it till you make it! I mean that seriously. The number of times I’ve walked into a room and the voice inside my head says, “You don’t have as much knowledge or experience as the other people in the room.” And I literally just turn it off and say, “No one knows that and I’m not going to let anyone else know that that’s what I’m thinking.” I have found that when you project I’ve got this and I know it, in some ways, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if you don’t believe that you can do it and you’ve got it, then there’s no way that you’ll actually learn to do it.
And I would actually say that I’ve also learned that most people don’t know what they’re doing. Really! Honestly, they don’t! It’s amazing to me how many times I’ve been the one thinking, “Oh, you don’t know” and then I realize over time, “No, actually I am the most important person in this room and my perspective is honestly a really important one that needs to be valued.”
And listen, you also have to marry that with concrete substance. You have to work hard and deliver results to be truly successful. But I do think, for many of us (especially when we have imposter syndrome) we don’t realize that this mentality holds you back and by flipping that mentality how much it can push you forward.
Joffrion: Any final advice you have for entrepreneurs or anyone building a non-linear career?
Sud: I don’t think you can succeed without failing. Having more of a willingness to fail and putting yourself in vulnerable positions can often be the fastest way to succeed. I’d encourage people to be vulnerable and take the opportunity to do that proactively and see if that stretches you as a person.