Cristina is one of those girls you want to chat with over a glass of wine for hours to hear her story and her opinion on basically everything. She is the kind of person you would die to have as your mentor. Why? Because she lives by the belief that you have to do what your heart tells you in order to perform at your best. She would never advise you to work for the number 1 company if you didn’t really see yourself there. However, she would always tell you to do your very best and continually grow.
Her own story is a perfect example. She has always followed the path her heart told her to take and she has made it to the top: Cristina holds the position of General Manager EMEA at Evernote. Evernote is a cloud-based productivity app with more than 150 million users worldwide.
This is reason enough to sit down with her over a cup of coffee and chat about her path, her views on today’s work force and the career advice she wished she got when she was 20-something.
You have started your career at Evernote as a Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator in 2012 and have worked your way up to the position of General Manager EMEA within only 3 years.
What have been the biggest challenges you had to face?
Well let’s start at the beginning. I joined Evernote because I was a big fan of the product. I was using Evernote during my executive master for a consulting project. I saw the CEO of Evernote at an event telling the story about building this 100-year startup and developing this product that will make humanity better and smarter, and it felt very inspiring. Shortly after, a friend tweeted that Evernote was looking for someone in Communications in Europe and, for me, it was clear that I wanted to be part of that adventure. I had three major reasons why: I loved the product, I loved the vision of the company and, lastly, it was very appealing to work for a Silicon Valley company.
The interview process went very fast (very typical for a Silicon Valley company). They don’t care so much about your university degrees, it is all about what you can do for them. Coming from a European background where you have to show up with your pile of documents and certificates (laughs) it feels kind of weird at first. When I started there was not really anyone showing me what to do, I just had to figure it out I guess. I think this is where I discovered how much of an entrepreneur I am myself. I enjoyed connecting the dots and being part of this amazing journey. Companies like Evernote look for people who are creative and self sufficient. They don’t want people they have to tell what to do, they want people who are not afraid of taking ownership; people who would rather ask for forgiveness than permission. Then it was by the nature of things that Evernote has been growing that we needed more manpower, so we started splitting by region and it was kind of the natural development for me to grow into the next position. At the same time we started the team in Zurich, being the hub for EMEA today. I was not consciously doing something to reach a certain position, I was just open to learning more about any field I have been involved in. I feel this is what motivates me and also what has got me to me where I am.
With what skills did you manage to overcome challenges?
You first of all have to accept that challenges are and will always be a normal part of your daily life. Especially in the world of Silicon Valley startups, which is an ever-changing environment that is going at the speed of light. The first challenge that comes with being in this environment is accepting that you have to constantly question yourself and what you are doing: test-optimise-learn. Having this learning cycle personally, and also as a team, is extremely important when overcoming any kind of challenges.
What have been career steps that have had the biggest impact?
That’s a good question. When looking back to my life… Well, I am from Romania, where I also studied and started off my career. I always wanted to work for this one radio station and they had one job offer. As it was so popular they had hundreds of applications. I don’t know how I did it but I got the job. As I didn’t want to give up on my university studies I had to combine both. I would wake up every morning at 4am, do my show at 6am and go to class afterwards. I was basically running at a 24 hour schedule. It was intense, but it was exactly what I wanted and I loved my job. Also it was my first job, and I feel dipping into the workforce is always a big step. I graduated from university and I moved to Switzerland (based on a family decision). Suddenly you are in a new country and your background and degrees do not count. I had to start building everything from scratch: enrol in programs and get a degree. Why? Because my degrees from Romania did not have any value in Switzerland. That was the only way for me to get a job. After graduating I worked at a PR agency for a couple of years. However I felt it was not enough, something was missing. People said “you are kind of settled, the hard work is paying off”. However that was not enough for me. Supported by my thirst of knowledge I decided to do this very risky move of quitting my job and starting this master in science and communication management that I always dreamed of doing. After this, I ended up where I am now. The funny thing is, all the hard work, all these certificates I got, did not count at all when I had the interview with Evernote.
At the end of the day, when taking steps in your career the guiding light should always be to be very honest with yourself and identify what drives you and what you are passionate about. A job is no longer guaranteed today, you have to be open and passionate about what you do. If I wasn’t crazy about music, knowing all artists and songs, I would never have got that job at the radio station.
Are you more of an instinct or logic decision maker?
When I am on autopilot, I am definitely instinct. But of course, you learn along the way that activating the analytical part of your brain is also important for good decision-making. We always have the tendency to use the mathematical decision-making: if you chose this over this and so on. But I feel what should drive your decision making is the fact that you have to write your own life story. If you picture yourself as an urban music-loving gourmet eating young lady, you will not choose to live in the countryside and do farming. Just don’t fear the unknown! Define who you want to be – that is the most important exercise you have to do in your life – and use that as the basis of your decisions. It is not easy, especially if you are young. It requires time and reflection. You can try this exercise, which is a bit weird but helps sometimes: if you would had to speak at your own funeral, what would you want to say?
What is your definition of success and how has it changed over the past few years?
It changed a lot. When you are young there is so much pressure to become somebody – pressure from your family and from society. So grades and university degrees are considered success, because this will get you a good, well paid job. Little by little I overcame this social pressure and found out what is really important to me. Today, success has to do with inner balance and people – my family and friends – who are close to me and have inspired and toughened me in different ways along my journey. The key is: don’t let others define success for you.
How has your work-life balance changed from being General Manager EMEA compared to being a Marketing coordinator?
The situation changed before and after Evernote. Before I had strict office hours with not much of flexibility. Back then my daughter was very young, it was a very tough time. There was no balance at all, at some point I didn’t know what to do. If your kid is sick, the kindergarten will not take her, but you have to be at the office. Because of this struggle I sometimes felt that I could not make it.
Joining Evernote came with this amazing feeling that I could finally design my own life in a way that suited me. Nobody cares when and where you work because they trust you. It was amazing to be part of this culture where you are empowered and you are able to grow constantly. However, you also have to learn to be very disciplined about how you are scheduling your working time. If you work for a US company, you can – due to time zones – work 24 hours easily. You have to figure out how to balance it.
Photo Credit: Niklas Hilden
Today’s generation aims for a different work-life balance than the previous generation. How does the job and office of the future look like in your eyes?
At Evernote there is no work-life balance, but work-life integration. The time you spend working is still your life, you don’t just give it away to someone. The question goes back to: what are you doing with your life? How are you working in a meaningful way to achieve your goals? So, the question is how can you design your schedule to create value for yourself and for the people you work with, and where the best place is to bring value to a table. It has a lot to do with finding meaning in life. It doesn’t have to do so much with money, the driver is more the greater meaning, and how you can make a difference in this world, I feel.
Freelancing is a huge trend. Also changing your job every 2 years. What do you think about this trend?
We feel that freelancing is the new 9-to-5. The modern worker is no longer interested in spending random hours in an office and feeling useless and unhappy. They are more conscious about their power, the value they can bring, and the fact that living smarter today means that your life involves working out how to combine many things: work, family, friends, travelling…
Do you feel the big trend of freelancing is an answer to the fact that companies haven’t met the needs of work-life integration?
Partially! As in my case, I have my kids and if you are a single mother, without a support network it is almost impossible to work 9-to-5. If you can individually decide when you want to work, it is much more manageable. Also, with the development of technology there are far more possibilities of working from wherever and attending a Skype call instead of a face-to-face meeting. Technologies empower us to create our own lives and work schedules.
What is the best career advice you ever got?
To get outside of my comfort zone, because that is where the magic happens! It is very easy to fall into the pattern of “I have to do this and I have to do that”, but if you are brave enough to explore the unknown you will be able to exercise so much more.
Can you give a career advice to our readers?
Perfection should not be the goal. You should every now and then tap your shoulder and tell yourself that you are doing well. That is what you learn as you grow older: you put things into perspective.
And also: just do it! Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to break patterns and free yourself. What makes you a great person are your experiences and the people you meet along the way. You should at no point look back and have the thought “I wish I had done…”
Can you give me a reason why women are better leaders?
I am not a big fan of men/women comparisons. Every person, no matter what sex and age, has unique and valuable qualities. However, I guess women have more empathy. They are better at listening, understanding, motivating and more about caring for the group. They are good at getting people together – women tend to be more assertive.