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Alum Spotlight: Will Jernigan

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Meet VT Marketing alum, Will Jernigan. Inspired by his experience as rush chair of his fraternity, Sig Ep, Will decided to begin his career in professional sales as an account manager at Apex Systems. From here, he transitioned into software sales at IBM and then moved on to a smaller company, Sprinklr. He is now a sales director at tech startup, Snowflake, where he had the opportunity to take part in the largest software IPO in history.

We sat down with Will to learn more about his career journey and insights. Read on to see what we found out!

What is one thing you wish you did while at VT now that you have graduated?

Study abroad! I went all in on Greek life, which I have absolutely no regrets about, but I do wish I had taken more time to go out and see the world. 

What do you love about your job and what do you wish you could change?

Right now I’m working remotely at a software sales startup, and I love the freedom and autonomy that this environment gives me. Even before the pandemic I was able to work remotely and make my own schedule! My primary job involves managing customer relationships and cultivating new ones—

I love the fact that no two days are the same - sometimes you’re wide open, prospecting, taking a lunch break with a friend, or hitting the gym mid-day because you can.  Some days you’re on back to back in-person meetings (or Zooms) negotiating a contract, staying up late with the team working on a proposal, etc. 

In regard to what I would change, I think that the work-life balance can get a little muddy. People will say “We don’t know if we are working from home or living at work now.” Start-up sales can also be a lot of pressure, especially now being our first quarter as a publicly traded company. The heat is definitely on!

How would you describe your experience working at a large company like IBM in comparison to your experience at a startup like Snowflake?

Especially early on in your career, there can be a lot of benefits to working with a big company where you can really learn the ropes of your profession. In addition to being  a great resume builder, positive of working at a large company are the brand name and recognition, the wide variety of resources available to you, the smoothness of operational processes that have been ironed out over decades, and the job security. On the other hand, I found the corporate red tape and lack of independence to be frustrating and often felt like a little pawn in a big chess game.

At a start-up there is a lot more freedom and satisfaction from having more ownership of your accounts—you’re like the quarterback for your customers and prospects. I think small companies are really exciting—The fast-paced environment is a lot of fun, you have so much potential to crush it, and you might even have the chance to be part of an IPO. Negatives are that you might hit some growing pains when startups are trying to get their feet on the ground or put new processes in place. Now having worked for both small and large companies, I’m definitely sticking with startups for the foreseeable future. 

In regards to the start-up world, what advice and insights do you have for students?

You’ll hear people say “Be careful of start-ups. They’re risky.” Sure, there’s more risk that a start-up is going to go belly up than a Fortune 500 company, but there’re so many upsides to being part of a start-up. From the excitement of the fast-paced work environment, to the earnings and equity potential, and your ability to really make an impact as an individual. 

When I was getting out of school, there was a lot of excitement around the big companies at Business Horizons and wanting to be a big company player, but I promise you that you will learn just as much and, if anything, have more freedom by starting your career at a smaller company. 

What experience and insight did you gain from being a part of the largest software IPO in history? 

I actually had the opportunity to go up to New York with a buddy of mine from Snowflake and was actually at the stock exchange in Times Square for the IPO. What really hit home was that anything is possible! Snowflake was just an idea that a few guys had back in 2012 for a better way to store data in the cloud and now, just eight years later, it has grown into a thriving, publicly traded company with an 80 billion dollar market cap! 

How can students become more marketable when entering the professional world? 

Listen to Professor Wertalik. Iron out your 30 second elevator speech and work on your professional branding. Your LinkedIn page is probably the first thing a recruiter will look at when they hear your name, so it’s super important. Here’s a tip you should know:

LinkedIn algorithms search profiles for buzzwords (recruiters use this), so make sure to fill out your ‘Summary’ or ‘About me’ info and be descriptive – this way you’re more likely to be found by recruiters and potential customers. 

Additionally, here’s some advice for anyone considering a sales career (it’s actually great advice for any career):

Be genuine.  Never overpromise and under-deliver, if anything, do the opposite.  Be trustworthy.  Take good notes and repeat back to customers what they’ve said to let them know you’ve heard and empathize with them.  Overcommunicate.  Network and stay in touch.