This edition of Trailblazer Voices focuses on a Trailblazer in the making: Laurel Laidlaw, a Futureforce MBA intern from the Summer 2017 class. Futureforce is core to Salesforce’s commitment to workforce development, helping to train and hire for the jobs of tomorrow. This post originally appeared on Laurel’s Linkedin page, here.


From the initial stages of exploring business school to completing my first year at the University of Washington, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the last three years networking. I’ve reached out to students, alums, and business leaders, inviting them to coffee so I could pick their brains about their particular areas of expertise.

Being an MBA student provides deep access to leaders, and over the last year, I made the most of that access to grow my own professional network. You could say that I became an expert in "coffee shop networking."

So, last spring, as I prepared to head to San Francisco to start my summer MBA internship at Salesforce, building my network within the company was top of mind. I thought to myself, “I wonder how much of my time each week I should devote to having coffee chats?” I envisioned myself spending a few hours every week networking with a cappuccino in hand.

But once I started my internship, reality set in. I was no longer in the role of student, but rather that of a contributing employee at a large tech company. Everyone, myself included, had busy schedules, and it was hard to find time to step away. I realized that I would need to ditch the coffee dates (for the most part), and instead use my role as an individual contributor to network across the company.

For anyone else facing my same dilemma, here are three valuable lessons I learned during my internship that changed how I think about networking at work:


1. Be strategic about your work plan

During the interviews for my internship, I asked the hiring manager about the project scope of the role. He said we’d decide on the work plan together during my first week. When that time came, I advocated for owning 4-5 smaller projects covering different areas instead of one large project. My goal was to gain experience in new areas and get greater exposure to marketing teams across the entire company. This plan worked! I soon found myself working directly with over 50 employees across Salesforce — that was a lot of people I could get to know and add to my network.


2. Spend time in other people’s meetings

In my first few weeks, I was surprised to be spending 10-20% of my time in meetings that weren’t directly tied to my projects. It was my manager’s suggestion and, honestly, it felt counterintuitive to me at first. I wanted to focus my time on the things I would be measured on. But it didn’t take me long to recognize the value of the additional exposure that these meetings provided. The time I spent in “other people’s meetings” helped me source new work, identify new collaborators for my projects, and discover influencers who could help.


3. Seek out people-first cultures

Truth be told, a lot of my networking success at Salesforce had to do with the people-first culture that the company has worked hard to cultivate. “Ohana” is the word Salesforce uses to describe the familial relationship the company has with its employees, customers, and partners. For example, of several internship interviews with Fortune 500 companies, only Salesforce gave me the opportunity to speak directly with over 10 members of the team I would eventually join. This was an ideal environment to make genuine connections with other professionals working in the space I was interested in.

My MBA experience at Salesforce taught me to think differently about how to effectively network at work — a new skill that is sure to shape my future career path. I also found that by networking internally, I was able to get to know the organization on a deeper level. Salesforce's culture of development, trust, and Ohana really stood out to me. It's precisely why I'm thrilled to be joining the company as a full-time Product Marketing Manager this summer.

I’m sure there’s still a lot of coffee chats ahead of me, but now I’m also thinking about networking through collaboration and contribution, not solely espresso.

If you’re thinking about a future with Salesforce and interested to learn more about what it takes to be a Trailblazer, click here to find the right internship opportunity for you. Also, be sure to follow Futureforce on Twitter and Instagram to see what it’s like to work at Salesforce.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the many voices and stories that make up Salesforce’s diverse community of Trailblazers.