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Building a career based on what you love with Sarah Flynn

Hannah Johnston

Jul 13, 2023
min read

Sarah shares her early career learnings as Director of Customer Success at Sitemate.

We caught up with Sarah Flynn, Director of Customer Success at Sitemate to learn about her career journey to date and what to expect when applying for a role on their team. 

For many, navigating through university and the early stages of their career is often more challenging than anyone cares to admit. For a small few - having a passion or interest that falls into a university degree and dovetails into a career path seems like a total walk in the park. For many, the path isn’t always that straightforward. And there’s often a lot of pressure on young people to start their careers and start earning money. What do you do if there are limited or no job opportunities from the degree you’ve studied?

It is possible to balance studying what you love and building a meaningful career that aligns with what you enjoy doing day-to-day while providing growth and financial stability. We spoke with Sarah Flynn, Director of Customer Success at Sitemate, who studied biology and animal behaviour at university - and went on to build a career in customer success, travel the world and make the move from the UK to Australia.

Tell us a bit about your career story and how you ultimately ended up at Sitemate.

Sarah: Oh, it’s been quite a long and arduous journey. I actually did a degree that’s completely irrelevant to working in SaaS and customer success - I studied biology and animal behaviour and then spent a bit of time travelling.

Over the last 10 years - my roles have been varied and across multiple industries but they’ve been quite customer-centric. I’ve worked in hospitality, tourism, recruitment and then to construction which all sound really different but they’ve all been related in one sense or another - the skills have been transferable and have had a real focus on dealing with people.

I wasn’t born with people’s skills - it’s definitely something I’ve had to hone in over the years. I started in sales - picking up the phone, speaking to customers and really working out the style that I was good at selling. And then I moved from sales into a technical support role for the company that I working for at the time, which was a SaaS solution in tourism. And then from there, I went into business development and account management. Every role had a sales element, and a customer support element - a lot of different touchpoints and different types of customers to deal with.

Two years ago I joined Sitemate leading their customer success team - which has been a great journey so far.

Tell us a bit more about your early decision to go travelling and gain more expansive life skills. Is that what led you to feel like customer success or customer-focused roles were an area that you were going to find meaningful?

Sarah: With the degree I studied, If you wanted to work with animals or in an animal biology-related field you had to go and work for free - and I was interested in building my finances and I knew that my people skills were pretty good. I started working in hospitality which really gave me a lot of skills that help me still today - being able to solve things in quick exchanges, often working with stress and pressure etc.

I don’t think you always need to jump straight into a very focused and career-driven opportunity. Wherever you are - you can be building skills, whether that’s maths because you're working behind a till, or if you're doing customer engagement working at a bar. When I’m recruiting - I really respect having grown skills like that early on rather than somebody who tells me all the different qualifications that they have.

What advice do you have for people who have just done their degree or coming to the end of their degree - who feel really invested in what they’ve studied but think there isn’t a job? What advice would you give to that person to be able to go and explore what else is possible?

Sarah: I would go as wide as possible rather than deep in your early career - keep your opportunities and your options as broad as possible. Try and grow a really broad and holistic set of skills and that's probably going to open up many more opportunities than you would otherwise have - and gain skills that you can apply into many areas and industries potentially as you explore and go deeper.

Ask yourself what the gaps are in your knowledge and skills - and how can you potentially fill these with relevant experience. For example - if it’s people engagement, jump into hospitality or if you want more business experience - see if you can jump into an operations role to really see how a company operates. If down the line you’re in an interview and someone asks you why you went and worked at a garden centre - you can explain that you saw gaps in your own knowledge and you built them in the best way and place that you could at the time, and a lot of people would have a lot of respect for that.

Let's talk a little bit about Sitemate. We’d love to learn about what the company does, and more specifically what your team does and how it helps the company achieve its goals.  

Sarah: Sitemate is a SaaS tool in the construction industry - it’s information management.  We aid in project management and digitizing processes that people have on construction sites. So typically you have a tradesman on site - who needs to fill out safety documents, pre-start checks, and things like that. He would have a clipboard, a pen and paper that gets lost, or dirty - Sitemate digitises these processes to improve visibility across your team, across a company. It helps businesses stay on track, stay within budget and be more likely to produce better-quality documentation.

Often when I talk to people about customer success roles or working in customer success there’s a preconceived idea that it’s customer service. Within the tech industry and at Sitemate it’s really about maximising value for our customers. Our Go To Market teamis divided into our sales team - who bring new clients through our sales pipeline, and our account management team who have commercial discussions around expanding. Then our Customer Success team and we’re really focused on implementation. When customers join Sitemate we help them make sure they’re using our tools with best practices to really get the most possible value - and then it’s really about tracking their analytics to make sure that everything that we expect to happen happens for an account and supporting them.

If you’re a young person thinking about joining your team what does the recruitment process look like? and how might it be different for senior vs. junior roles in terms of process?

Sarah: Our recruitment process is something that we’ve refined and streamlined based on a lot of feedback over time. Hartley, our CEO has really worked to automate the process as much as possible as well.

There are 4 stages to our interview process written application, recorded challenge/quiz, Technical interview and cultural interview. The stages and process are the same for junior and senior roles, the content and questions within each stage do of course vary. When someone applies through a quick application on a job ad, we’ll send you a link to submit a full application. We filter out people straight away based on things like location and salary expectations - if these basic things don’t fit the scope of the role,  their CV won’t be reviewed by the Sitemate team.

The written application is about aligning on role expectations and general fit - a bit of an overview of yourself, what you’re looking for in your next role and what you’re interested in about the technology. I love to see someone's keenness in the company, and I love to see some genuine personality come across. The second stage is our quiz challenge - you get up to an hour to answer a basic question and present back via one of the tools we use, which is Loom. For example - you talk about Google Sheets for 30 minutes and it doesn’t matter if the content isn’t super polished. We’re really again looking at personality and fit, how you considered the challenge and how you’re able to articulate yourself.

The next stage is a technical interview, where for a customer success role for example you’d be meeting with me and another colleague to talk about your experience - diving into your CV and really getting an idea of what you want from us, answering any questions and what we can do for you. We’ll ask some real-world skill-based questions too, ie: how have you dealt with customers in challenging situations? We’re again really interested in someone’s thought process rather than perfect answers. It’s always great when someone asks questions along the way rather than just monologuing for 10 minutes.

Our final stage is really all about how you will fit in with the team - where candidates have the opportunity to meet two more colleagues in person and have the opportunity to ask more questions about the company and get to know different people from different teams. We love when candidates have really thought about why they want to work at Sitemate, and what interests them about Sitemate as a company.

That’s our recruitment process in a nutshell - we’re really focused on finding people who are a good fit and who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing at Sitemate - across junior and senior roles you don’t actually have to have any experience in construction, we’re really looking people with genuine curiosity.

What are the top few things that you look for and are really clear when you’re looking through candidates?  

Sarah: Communication is definitely a big one - if somebody is responsive throughout the process and if they send a quick follow-up after an interview it’s an instant tick. I’ve already mentioned it but curiosity is really something I look for as well, and being really keen and enthusiastic about Sitemate - particularly being able to tell that someone has taken a look at the website or a couple of pieces of content.

I'd love to know a little bit about the career development and growth opportunities for a young person joining your team.

Sarah: This is something that comes up a lot throughout our application process - upfront I give them an idea of who I am and what my role is in their day-to-day. In the customer success team, I very much focus on not stagnating - often that means exposing my unit to other parts of the company they show interest in and setting a very clear path for them to be able to get there. A number of our customer success team are interested in getting into product and the product team, but generally have a pretty vague idea of what this is. So we create plans to expose them to the product team and get them to help the product team with tasks like technical investigation and story planning for engineering teams. And that journey takes about a year before we start talking about transitioning into another role.

It’s unrealistic to come into a role and have the expectation to be in a completely new role within six months. In the world of startups, it’s not impossible when roles come up and companies grow and expand but it’s important to have the expectation that these things generally take time.

If you put yourself in the shoes of someone who's in the early stages of their career - do you have any advice on what company to spend their early career in? Do you think tech startups are a good place to be in the early part of your career or should people consider larger companies?

Sarah: I'm very biased because start startups are where it's at for me. I like startups because of the energy, they’re fast paced and the discussions I’m having with senior team members actually have an effect and make change. I also think it’s really nice to be a part of a company as it’s building from the ground up - you get to know everybody personally - everyone becomes good mates and are on a journey together. I think the big thing for us at Sitemate is that everybody on the team really wants to be here and really pulls out all the stops to get everything across the line - but also hang out and have a great social team environment as well.

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It is evident that there is no linear path when it comes to finding a job you’ll love - a biologist turned customer success specialist says it all. Sarah’s story so strongly aligns with Hatch’s mission to find meaning in work. 

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