Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

How This Leader Took Charge of Her Career as a Recent College Grad

a person with shoulder-length brown hair, smiling in front of a tree in a backyard
Caroline Crocco, the Associate Director of Global Key Accounts at Coleman Research.
| Courtesy of Caroline Crocco

Caroline Crocco is proof that you can find your dream company right out of college. It’s been six years since she began working at Coleman Research, and Crocco can still confidently say that joining the consulting firm as a recent grad was the right decision.

“I have stayed with Coleman because I have been challenged to keep learning and growing,” says Crocco, who has been promoted five times and was recently given the opportunity to manage a team of her own. “Sometimes, the days are hard and long, but I feel so rewarded when I reflect on how far I’ve come.”

Here, Crocco talks to The Muse about her career path at the company, the challenges she has faced on her way to becoming a manager, and what it takes to be an effective leader.

Tell us about your career journey, and what led to your job at Coleman Research.

Coleman Research was my first full-time employer. When I graduated from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, which was only an hour away from home, I was ready to get out of my comfort zone and explore a new and unfamiliar environment—one with a milder climate. Raleigh, NC, is always on lists of up-and-coming cities, so I focused on finding job opportunities there. I stumbled upon a posting for Coleman Research and was immediately drawn in. I was excited about the opportunity to join the expert network and consulting space because it opened up doors to a wide range of industries and learning experiences. I love that I’m not “stuck” in one area—I get to learn about many. I’ve also really appreciated getting to partner with clients directly and helping them solve problems.

What are you responsible for in your current role as the Associate Director of Global Key Accounts?

I am a people, project, and client manager. I am currently leading a global operations team which spans five title levels and three geographic regions. I really enjoy coaching and pushing each team member to be the best they can be. I try my best to strike a fine balance by acting as a supportive manager that shows care for each individual, while also motivating them towards achieving lofty career goals. I also manage approximately 40 mission-critical projects at any given moment. I send multiple deliverables per day on each project, and I steer my internal team in the right direction to ensure that we are meeting and exceeding our clients’ expectations.

Lastly, I am in constant communication with different teams and business units that have a hand in the overall success of the clients that I work with. I partner with these colleagues on various initiatives such as organizing client events, running large-scale projects and surveys, strategizing on outreach campaigns, and designing trainings for our internal staff. My goal at the end of each day is to drive as much client satisfaction as possible, so I do my best to listen attentively, identify areas to offer value, and put a plan into action.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

As a team leader, my heart swells with joy and pride whenever I see my associates implement new skills, earn promotions, and overcome challenges. I love strategizing and implementing new training sessions, methods of managing success, and tactics that motivate and encourage the team. Over the last two years, I have really been encouraged to think about solutions, not just problems. This mindset shift has inspired me to be more creative, and has helped me drive better results for my team and my clients.

As someone who’s been promoted many times, how is your experience indicative of the company’s commitment to learning and career growth?

I am grateful and proud to work for a company that rewards the people who work hard and take initiative. We have grown our client accounts every year since I’ve been with the firm, which opens doors for our top performers to advance and fill new leadership roles.

I appreciate everybody who has invested time into teaching me best practices, setting a good example for me, and giving me feedback even when it was tough to hear. This level of support has allowed me to become the leader I am today. Coleman has equipped me with skills that I will take with me wherever I go in the future.

What types of learning and development opportunities are available to employees?

Coleman trains employees in multiple phases so they have time to digest, practice, and perfect different aspects of the job. We also have a series of management training sessions that are designed to help new managers get a grasp for working with people and leading a team. Finally, Coleman offers an education stipend for employees to chase their passions and develop skills outside of the office.

What do you like best about Coleman Research’s company culture?

My favorite aspect of Coleman’s culture is our passion and commitment to continuous learning. We hire people who are intellectually curious, and we love to expand their horizons. Beyond the exciting and diverse project topics we work on, I’ve learned about people management, building out a team, training and development, client service, and so much more.

The best part of being in high-growth mode is that each person has an opportunity to transform the business in some way. I love brainstorming meetings where we all come to the table with different ideas and weave a new plan or idea together.

Tell us about your experience working in both the Raleigh, NC, and London, U.K., offices.

I relocated to our London office for six months in 2017 when I was a senior associate. I onboarded and trained three cohorts of associates, supported with the fulfillment and delivery of high-stakes projects, and contributed to building an upbeat and positive culture in our brand-new office space. My favorite part about life in London was that I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone, and I had to rely on my independence and mental toughness to overcome unanticipated challenges. Beyond that, I really enjoyed living in such a diverse city filled with so many interesting people, amazing food, and easy access to Europe.

I have spent the majority of my time at Coleman working in or near Raleigh, NC. My favorite aspects about life here include our long summers, outings to Durham Bulls baseball games, playing drive shack (top golf), checking out the new bars and restaurants that pop up every few months, and our proximity to mountains and beaches.

What was the hardest part about becoming a leader, and what has helped you succeed?

I’ve had my fair share of struggles as a leader. Managers are responsible for motivating their teams, even when they are personally not feeling very motivated. Sometimes I feel stressed or tired, but I try to remember that I set the tone for my team, and it’s important to remain positive and persevere.

It’s also tough to strike the balance of being proactive vs. reactive. In this role, it would be easy to be 100% reactive to the emails and project requests that come my way, but I need to carve time out of my day for proactive tasks, such as giving feedback to my team and building out new training content. Working for a metrics-based organization has really helped me stay accountable. I’ve learned to use my metrics dashboard as an organizational tool, so I always know exactly how close (or how far away) we are from hitting our goals. When we’re far away from hitting our numbers as a team, I try to add more proactive tasks to my to-do list to help the team get closer to our goal.

Lastly, I’ve been able to stay organized and focused by setting up inbox rules, especially as I’ve gotten busier over the years. I am cc’d on every email that goes to and from my clients, so it’s easy to get lost in the constant flow of messages. Anything warranting a response goes into my main inbox, while other emails filter into various folders that I check less frequently.

What advice do you have for other women who are striving to attain leadership roles?

Take initiative with everything you do. When I became a manager, it became abundantly clear to me that each person is in control of their own success, and those who take initiative are going to do the best. So seek out opportunities, ask for advice or support, spearhead a project, or speak openly with your manager about your career trajectory. Put yourself out there and take charge of your career path. Nobody will advocate for you like you can advocate yourself. You will be much better off in the long run if you are in the driver’s seat!

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Every experience is an opportunity to learn. Mistakes happen no matter how hard you try to avoid them, so learn from them and move on. 

The best piece of management advice I ever received is to treat people well and show your appreciation for them. My goal is for each member of the team to feel empowered and confident. Building somebody up through constructive coaching as well as positive encouragement will help them flourish. As a result, the culture of an empowered team is going to be a lot stronger than that of a team where people feel unappreciated.