When Anna Guo first got her foot in the door at ApplyBoard, a Canadian edtech company that helps international students study abroad, she began in entry-level sales. Just five years later? She is leading a team of nearly 20 people in Canada and across Asia as the company’s Associate Director of Sales. Along with the usual secrets to success—being persistent, goal-oriented, and a great communicator—she names an unlikely asset that’s propelled her to the top: “I care about people.”
Here, Guo reveals the career transition that changed her life, how ApplyBoard empowers its staff, and the most motivating thing a boss ever told her.
Tell us about your professional journey, and what inspired your transition from research and academia to work in edtech.
I spent four years in academia researching clusters, agglomeration, innovation, and entrepreneurship, all of which motivated me to knock on ApplyBoard’s door. In early 2017, I became the company’s first Mandarin-speaking employee based in its headquarters. Prior to joining ApplyBoard, I worked at Sino-British College, a university in Shanghai, China, and the United Nations, which provided me solid communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
What initially attracted you to work at ApplyBoard, and what has kept you there for almost five years?
The simple reason I was attracted to work at ApplyBoard was something my manager at the time, Meti Basiri, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer and cofounder, said to me. He said, “Anna, I want you to be my eyes in China and you tell me how I can support you to achieve success.” ApplyBoard still provides me with exciting opportunities and learning resources every day.
In what ways does the company empower employees to take control of their careers and encourage internal mobility?
You work with great people, and there are professional promotion opportunities and plenty of free learning resources.
What are you responsible for in your role as the Associate Director of Sales?
I lead a team of 18 members located all over the world: in Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. I also oversee all marketing, sales, communication activities, and students’ recruitment market growth strategy by using our CRM to track goals and customize communications. I have also developed and maintained strategic collaborations with school partners, education agencies, and immigration professionals in North America, the U.K., and Australia.
As someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to be an international student, why does the work you’re doing at ApplyBoard excite and inspire you?
The asymmetry of information is a big challenge for many international students like myself when they search for schools and programs. At ApplyBoard, we have a powerful system to enable students to find the best fit programs in seconds, as well as a seamless process to make sure their application journey is well taken care of.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is developing the Chinese market in a non-Chinese company. To overcome it, I constantly have cross-team collaborations with colleagues in our headquarters. I also make sure our communication and teamwork is open minded, goal driven, and results oriented.
What has your experience been like as a woman in leadership?
The experience is very rewarding. Not only do we have opportunities and resources to facilitate this process at ApplyBoard, but my job also empowers me to meet lots of great business leaders to learn from.
What advice do you have for others who are thinking about changing the course of their career the way you did?
Never be afraid to try something new, and never stop learning from other people and their experiences.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Care about people, and you will be rewarded.