C-suite career advice: Paul Trulove, SailPoint

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? "One of the simplest, but most common mistakes I see candidates make in an interview is not answering the question I'm asking."

Name: Paul Trulove

Company: SailPoint

Job Title: Chief Product Officer

Location: Austin, Texas

Paul Trulove has worked in product management and strategy for over 20 years, and now serves as the Chief Product Officer at SailPoint. With extensive experience in formulating innovative product strategies, launching new products in early-stage ventures, and growing products into category leaders, he leads the company's product teams to success through strategic communication and collaboration between customers, partners and product development teams.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Invest in communication skills. I was fortunate that I attended a university (TCU) that prioritised communication as a key investment for its business school graduates, so I got off to a good start in this area.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? It was basically a version of "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." Some of the best ideas I've seen in my career were a result of breaking something that was working "as designed" to identify a significant improvement in approach to a problem.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Get out of your office. IT is increasingly intertwined with business operations in a way that requires IT professionals to understand how the business works - it's people and processes, not just the technology. In order to be successful in an IT role today, you need to be able to connect with people across the organisation to understand how technology impacts their ability to do their jobs and add value to the organisation.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes. I grew up around computers, including building my own PCs in high school and college, so I saw myself going into technology from an early age. I also worked on the weekends with my father installing local area networks. And while I started out more on the hardware side of tech, I always wanted to work in software, so I made that a priority early in my career.

What was your first job in IT? My first job in IT was working as an inside sales representative for a database software company. While I enjoyed the selling side of things, I was drawn to product management because of the diverse set of responsibilities and opportunity to influence the strategic direction of a product line. After about six months in sales, I was promoted to a product manager role.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? One of the common misconceptions I hear about working in IT is that it's a bunch of geeks. In reality it's a wide, diverse group of people.  And the more diverse it gets, the better it is for IT as an industry. Another common misconception I encounter is the idea that you have to have a technical background to succeed in IT. However, a lot of the challenges we face in IT have more to do with the ability to think critically as opposed to understanding the detailed nuances of the technology itself. It's amazing if you look at companies like Google, how many research-oriented positions they are looking to fill, as opposed to purely technical roles. Increasingly, technology companies are looking for employees who can be analytical thinkers, research topics and write critically about them over strictly technical skills.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I would encourage anyone aiming for a C-level position to find a way to broaden his or her perspective by taking different positions in different functions, or by working on enterprise-wide projects or programs. This type of experience enables you to have a more holistic point of view, which is critical for C-level employees. Another important skill is the ability to communicate to a variety of different audience types, whether they are your direct reports or a larger team, as well as cross-functionally within the organisation. Communication is key. And finally, minimise the politics. Do things for the right reasons, not because it's politically advantageous.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? My career ambition was to hold a senior leadership position in product management and have influence over product strategy and the way a business operates from a product perspective. So yes, I've reached where I want to be from a leadership perspective. However, I'm always looking for new ways to grow as an IT professional, which isn't hard with all of the new and emerging technologies that are constantly changing.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, and SailPoint makes work life balance a priority for all employees. But it's also important to understand that work life balance is fluid. Sometimes you have to tilt one way or the other as your business or personal life takes its turns. Finding an organisation where you can do that is critical.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? In general, I've been very happy with my career path. But one thing I would recommend to others as they're thinking about their careers is to pay a lot of attention to the teams they're working with, rather than just the companies or a specific job title. The people you work with help advance your career more than a title or company on your resume ever could. Don't chase money or a title over a good team. It's not worth it.

Which would you recommend: A coding boot camp or a computer science degree? You don't need a deep technical background to be successful in IT, so a boot camp is probably enough for most IT roles. If you're interested in doing advanced programming or taking on a senior architect role, a computer science degree might be helpful. It depends on what you're trying to do with your career. IT is a broad field, and there's room for both types of backgrounds to succeed.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications range from useless to very valuable, depending on the requirements of your role. If you're planning to pursue a specific specialty in IT, like cybersecurity, having a CISSP, CRISC or CISM can be helpful in showing not only your expertise, but also your commitment to your role. If you're looking for a career where one of these certifications is a minimum bar to entry, it's important. However, if you're seeking a certification that is going to sit on your resume and not be put into practice, it's not worth the time and resources.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? The three most important skills for prospective candidates who work with me are the ability to communicate, technical and functional expertise in the job, and a track record of being able to process and tackle challenging situations.

What would put you off a candidate? I'm immediately put off by a bad attitude or someone who feels entitled.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? One of the simplest, but most common mistakes I see candidates make in an interview is not answering the question I'm asking. The other mistake I see is not understanding a business well enough to ask relevant questions about the role or the company. It's imperative that candidates do their research before coming to an interview.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? It's best to have a mix of both. A career in IT requires you to have an understating of business skills. Because IT is so pervasive in an organisation, it's no longer a back-office function. If you're going to be a trusted advisor at your organisation, you must have an understanding of how the business operates.