A few years ago, Sandy Soto was the opening speaker at a retail summit at Florida State University addressing students and other industry leaders. She wanted to share something she had learned in her career and life that had meaning and would be impactful. She also wanted a way to condense that message into tips that everyone could apply to their lives, no matter what industry they worked in or what stage of their life they might be in.
So she thought of seven simple words: learn, listen, look, leap, leverage, love, and live.
“I love alliteration because I think it makes it easier to remember, and when I look at those seven words, I think they encapsulate everything you can think of, and you can expand on them,” says Soto, who is the vice president of executive talent acquisition and talent mobility at HSN Inc. “Also, seven is my lucky number, and it was my dad’s lucky number, which is why I decided to stick to seven.”
“Learning is at the top of my list because learning never really stops,” Soto says. “It’s been critical in my life and my career. I’ve been a consummate learner from the beginning. I’ve learned by reading, school, education, teachers; I’ve learned from people—my parents, mentors, leaders, friends—and from experiences, asking questions along the way. All of these propel you forward and teach you how you can continue not only in your career, but in your life.”
Soto knew nothing about talent acquisition when she came to work at HSNi, but she kept saying yes to new opportunities and kept learning, and each new lesson brought her to another opportunity, until she reached her current position as VP of executive talent acquisition.
Listen ties directly into Soto’s first L because “you learn by listening to others,” Soto says.
This has become especially important to Soto in her career as an executive recruiter—listening is critical to her position. It is how she learns about the people she interviews and gets to know them and their abilities. As an extrovert, she has learned the value of introverts. After conducting a presentation on networking skills and tools at a lunch and learn for HSNi’s HR team, Soto was asked by introverts who wanted to know how they could go about networking if it didn’t come naturally to them. Their questions led Soto down a path of discovery.
“I became much more aware that sometimes quiet thinkers don’t get the opportunity to speak,” Soto says. “And I started doing more research and became aware of how important it is to listen and give the quiet thinkers an opportunity to talk, especially in this extroverted and team-driven world we live in, and to let others listen to them. If I were to say which L is most prevalent on my mind these days, it’s actually listen.”
This one is two-pronged, and the first prong has to do with how you present yourself—your brand—and making sure you’re comfortable with who you are.
“Make sure you’re look your very best, by wearing what makes you comfortable and makes you feel confident,” Soto says. “I’ve seen way too many people go into a room with a new dress or a new pair of shoes, and it’s distracting because they’re not comfortable in it. The shoes hurt, the dress may be a little too short, and it can be a detractor when something’s bothering you.” On the other hand, she does recommend wearing a great pair of shoes when you want to feel and look your best.
The second part is to look around the room and be aware of not only your surroundings but also your audience when you’re presenting—even if you’re just meeting with just one other person. Know how your audience is responding to your presentation and if they are receptive or rejecting your ideas—look at the body language. And if something does go wrong, have a plan in place to fix it. Know what you’re going to do to regain the situation if you start to lose your audience.
This is about taking risks and saying yes, and it can be the most difficult one for a lot of people because many like to stay in their comfort zone. Soto wouldn’t be where she is today if she hadn’t taken that first leap to leave her merchant job to come work for HSNi, and then kept leaping to new things. People saw things in her that she didn’t see in herself. She’s glad she took leaps, because she loves the job she has now.
“It saddens me to see people have a whole career not loving what they do because they are not willing to take that leap,” Soto says. “They haven’t listened to themselves, haven’t listened to what they know they love to do, haven’t trusted themselves and taken that leap—leaping can be fun.”
“This is really about building up your relationships, your experiences,” Soto says.
No matter what you’re doing in life, you’re building new relationships and new experiences, and it’s important to value them and remember them along the way. These can help take you to the next step in your life and/or your career, so learn to leverage them. Build relationships, maintain relationships, and be open to relationships coming back into your life because the world is a lot smaller than you think. Learning to let people share in your experiences is another important aspect of leveraging relationships.
Soto has had two careers, and is hard pressed for an answer when people ask her which is her favorite. “I always say my first career prepared me for my second, and my first and second will prepare me for whatever comes next,” Soto says. “I don’t know what that is, but I always continue to build upon what I do today, because I still very much love what I do.”
The final tip Soto has is live. There are two parts to this one, as well. The first is to live your life, and the second is to let go of some of the things that have happened to you. “People hold onto things,” she explains. “Use what you’ve learned and live your life, and you also have to let others live their lives.”
Soto has been fortunate to have learned from some of the best, listened to many, tried to look her best, leapt into new opportunities, leveraged great relationships, and loved her career—and now, she is living her dream.