Balancing Planning and Serendipity to Drive Career Success

Jessica Anselmi started her career in public relations, but after realizing her desire to be more involved in product development & marketing strategy, she pivoted to an in-house innovation & marketing role at Dunkin’ Brands. At Dunkin, she mined trends, created product roadmaps for her categories, tested/launched new innovations and ultimately, helped set the strategy for the marketing organization — while also finding the time to A) get an MBA and B) take a short sabbatical to Spain, a bucket list item. As Director of Innovation & Category Growth for Panera Bread, she leads cross-functional teams in developing & launching new products, putting into practice the skills she’s learned along the way. We had the chance to chat with Jess about navigating career pivots and building your own vision of professional success.

CareerSchooled: We love to ask people what their first job was, so what was your first job and what kind of connection (if any) does it have to what you do now?

Ironically, my first “real” job was at my neighbors’ coffee shop in Franklin, MA – it’s since closed, but it was called MelDiva and I loved working there. Meldiva was our town’s local hangout – great drinks, good food and live music on the weekends. When I moved on to study marketing in college, I always went back during winter breaks and it actually helped lay the foundation for the product innovation work I do now – food and beverage innovation for Panera Bread, and formerly for Dunkin’ Donuts.

CareerSchooled: You decided to go back to school to get your MBA while working full-time. What led you to make this move, and how did you manage to juggle working and school at the same time?

I started out my career in public relations, which I really enjoyed, but after 5 years in the field servicing a range of consumer product & technology clients, realized I wanted to expand beyond execution and try my hand at setting product development & marketing strategy. To me, a public relations skill set and agency experience transitioned nicely into a fast-paced marketing role at Dunkin’, and while I got the job, I could tell not all were convinced the skills were transferrable. So, I put my head down and worked my ass off for a year to establish myself & show the team I was willing to do whatever it took to learn.

The approach worked, but I still wanted to bolster my learning since many of the other brand managers had MBA’s. So, off to BC I went  – worked full-time and went to school part time for 3 years. It was a lot to juggle but I loved my work & the educational piece supported that, so it felt more like an opportunity to than a burden.

Careerschooled: One of your roles in your career was serving as a Chief of Staff, which is a unique role. What was that experience like, and what did you learn from it?


Yes, Chief of Staff is a unique role and one that’s becoming increasingly common in large organizations. I was honored to be selected and worked hard to establish myself as a resource to the Dunkin’ CMO, who I supported. The role exposed me to new functional areas such as Investor Relations, where I acquired hard skills, and Organizational Development, where I observed the soft skills necessary to drive effective organizational change.

Having a seat at the table with the executive leadership team and exposure to a range of different, yet effective leadership styles was invaluable for me so early in my career. I will always be grateful for the experience.


CareerSchooled: Back in 2017, you decided to take a sabbatical from work. What led to this decision, and what did you learn from this experience?


Best 3 weeks of my life! After completing BC’s MBA program, I knew I needed some time off. My manager & I had a really strong relationship so in addition to being honest about how I needed some time to reset, I went to him with a plan for the when & how things would be managed during my 3 week absence. He was very receptive & off I went a few months later to complete one of my bucket list items: hiking a portion of Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

I can’t even begin to get into how transformative the experience was but the biggest lesson for me was that the work will always be there and you need to make & take the time to live your life outside of the office. In turn, you’ll come back a rejuvenated, more inspired team member & leader.


CareerSchooled: What advice do you have for people out there who are considering taking a sabbatical – how do you know when you might need one, and how can you use it to help you in your personal and career aspirations?

I don’t actually view my trip as a formal sabbatical, as I took my allotted vacation time in once chunk. So as a starting point, that could be a way to take a “sabbatical” even if your company doesn’t formally offer a sabbatical program. For me, it was a way dip my toes back into the travel arena without my career taking a hit. Since that trip Summer of 2017, I’ve been much more mindful about prioritizing travel, which is very important to me. (Pro Tip: Here’s some good advice for how to ask your boss)

CareerSchooled: In your career, you’ve worked in a variety of roles across a number of different companies and industries. How have you thought through role/job changes, and when do you know when it’s time to pursue a new opportunity?

I’m likely in the minority when I can honestly say I’ve always enjoyed my line of work & have been fortunate to never dread Monday mornings. But, I believe you inherently know in your gut when it’s time to take a new opportunity. A role change should never come negative place – it should come from a place of feeling something is off & that you’re not as inspired or motivated as you’ve previously been. They say if some element of a role doesn’t intimidate you, then you’re in the wrong role. I believe that wholeheartedly, and try to seek out opportunities to grow into.


CareerSchooled: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received, and how do you try to apply it as you make progress in your own career?


Hands down, words from Carla Harris – whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at a conference: “perception is the co-pilot to reality.” Your beliefs & thoughts about yourself manifest in your words & actions and ultimately, influence others’ view of you. So I try and operate from this lens: what you think, how you speak, your body language – they’re all the sum of what become your reality.


CareerSchooled: How do you define success in your own career?

Success has had a fluid definition for me over the years. Early on, it was the more traditional form of success. Hard work resulting in praise & promotions – all of that validation meant a lot to me. And while it’s still important, I’ve become much more balanced. As a leader, there comes a point when people know you have the hard skills, but you need to grow into the soft skills. You have to sit back, coach your teams & give others the space to grow.

When it comes to my career, I would sum it up as a dance between letting it happen and making it happen, which I believe Arianna Huffington once said. I’ve never been a good dancer but over time, you learn that each step can’t be planned and to make room for spontaneity. There are various stages of ebb & flow.

To Grow in Your Career, Put People First

Julio Santil grew up outside of Boston and through a strong work ethic, intelligence, and relationship building skills he’s built a path to success. His motto and secret sauce?  Put people first. Whether it was becoming the first in his family to graduate from college (Boston College) obtain his MBA (UC-Berkeley-Haas) or work at one of the top management consulting firms (Deloitte Consulting) Julio has used this approach to build relationships and achieve success, for himself, his teams, and his community. We chatted with Julio to learn more about his career journey, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.


CareerSchooled: When you were a kid, what did you dream of doing when you grew up?

To be completely honest, the earliest childhood dream I can remember is wanting to become an NBA player.  I was probably in the 7-8th grade. By Sophomore year of high school, when I hadn’t grown past 5’10”, I saw the writing on the wall.  Luckily enough for me, I was a top student so going to a good college was very much in the cards. After my hoop dreams fizzled, I started thinking I wanted to do “business.” Totally naïve to what that meant, I started looking for people around me that I thought were successful.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have role models in my community that worked in corporate jobs or were entrepreneurs. I had to wait until my time at Boston College to be surrounded by people from different walks of life that I could learn from.


CareerSchooled: Prior to your recent job change, you spent 8 years at Deloitte as a management consultant. How did you end up there after graduating from Boston College?

Once at Boston College, I made the choice to join the business school. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer, so I was left with business or liberal arts.  I chose to major in finance because I thought that learning how money worked could lead me to a job at a great bank. My peers had aspirations of joining Goldman, JP Morgan etc., so it seemed like a reasonable path to pursue. Once I dug a bit deeper into what working at one of those companies was actually like, I scratched Investment Banker off my list of career goals.  How about accounting? One of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my life, Amy Lacombe, also happened to be my Managerial Accounting teacher. I did well in her class and sought her mentorship when it came to career advice. Being the thoughtful, caring person that she was, she took the time to help me evaluate careers that spoke to my strengths. Rather than push me to become an accountant, she introduced me to careers in Consulting.  


I had absolutely no idea what consulting even meant. She told that she felt I had the analytical and interpersonal skills to help companies solve problems they had trouble solving for themselves. She believed in me and that gave me the confidence to apply to all of the top consulting firms that recruited on campus. That is how I landed at Deloitte upon graduation.

CareerSchooled: Spending 7 years in consulting and at a company at Deloitte is no small feat. What were some things you did in order to help you succeed and develop while you were there?


Early on, as a wide-eyed college grad, success was really measured by work ethic and how quickly you were able grasp new concepts. That was my main focus – listen, learn, try not to ask the same question twice.  After about two years as an analyst, I started to build a tool kit of both hard and soft skills that I could lean on and also began to build a reputation around. Towards the end of my 2nd year, I started to think about what was next, and that is when I began to seek out mentors.  One particular mentor, Dio Diaz, was someone I always looked up to. He was two years older, also Dominican, from the Boston area and worked in Deloitte’s tech practice. One of the things he taught me early on was that in order to be successful, particularly in consulting, you had to own your career.  What did that mean? It meant networking and exploring with intentionality. It meant seeking out opportunities rather than relying on the optimal project so magically fall on your lap.  So I did just that – set up coffee chats with partners working on projects that seemed interesting, expressing my skillset and passion with enthusiasm.


What that quickly taught me was that it was THOSE people, the bold, that secured the roles on the best projects. I carried that mindset with me throughout my time at Deloitte and is what I think led to many of my proudest moments and experiences.    


CareerSchooled: During your stints at Deloitte you also attended UC-Berkeley (Haas) for your MBA. Did you always want to get an MBA? What led you to pursue that?

Graduate school was not something I strived for.  To be honest, I never really dreamt or thought that far ahead. Every major milestone in life, whether it was getting into BC or securing my first job at Deloitte, felt like I had made it. That doesn’t mean I felt complacent, but just reaching those milestones meant I had to work my ass off to be successful within those environments.  That didn’t leave much room for dreaming. That started to change once I reached that 2 year milestone at Deloitte.


I began to feel like a true professional that could bring something to the table. As my confidence grew I began to think about what I wanted to do next, and that is where Dio’s mentorship really influenced me.  At that time, Dio was participating in a pre-MBA program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) which had the mission of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in top business schools. Through his story I become intrigued at the idea of going back to school.  I didn’t have anyone close to me that had received an advanced degree, not at home nor in my community, so I began seeking out those individuals to learn from them.

Dio introduced me to his mentors and I connected with Manager and Senior Managers at Deloitte that had gotten their MBA. Through their stories I began craft my own. Business School became my next milestone and I poured my nights and weekends into the application process.  I was accepted into MLT, grinded away at GMAT classes, visited a dozen schools, and wrote more essays than I care to remember. It was a trying time, but honestly, I am glad it was, because it proved to me that I was all in.

CareerSchooled: Throughout your career and life, you’ve made a point of volunteering in your local community. What are some of the things you’ve done, and what’s motivated you to do this?

I am not here today if it weren’t for the Boys and Girls Club of Salem.  From the 4th grade through Middle School, the club was my home.  The club is where I learned to shoot a jump shot, sign up for email, open a bank account, resolve a conflict with a friend, and so much more. I owe a debt of gratitude to the club for building a foundation from which I could grow, centered around hard work, respect, and helping others along the way.  Knowing that my successes were a result of an army of people who supported me, I’ve always felt an immense debt that I had to pay back. I am still very much in the red on that debt, but I know it is one I’ll never fully repay.

In 2006, with the support of my former Executive Director from the Boys and Girls Club, I joined the board of a non-profit called Youth Rising in my hometown of Salem, MA. Our work focused on instilling leadership skills through sports, arts and civic engagement for the youth in our local community, as well as in the Dominican Republic. These were kids just like me and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Although my work with Youth Rising has come to a close since moving to California, one of my passions is still mentoring of young people of color. Today I do that through informal mentorship of those that seek me out, whether it be through an alumni network or internal network at Facebook (my current employer), I make it a priority to find time for those conversations, because it was those exact conversations that guided me through my journey to Boston College, Deloitte, Haas, and to Facebook.

CareerSchooled: What advice do you have for people who came from a similar upbringing as you, who like yourself, were may not initially considered a career in consulting, an MBA, etc?

The answer to this question is a constant evolution for me. I’ve thought about it over and over again.  These are the top 5 themes that bubble to the top of my list every time, in no particular order.


Crush it and be humble

Notice this doesn’t read “crush it BUT be humble.”  This isn’t calling for humility in spite of being a top performer, it’s asking that you pursue excellence in all you do while demonstrating to others that don’t think too highly of yourself.  If you’re like me, you’ve heard the old “work twice as hard as everyone else” line enough times, and I’ve found that to have a lot of merit (unfortunately). So yes, crush it. Work hard and be great. Get that “A”, apply for that scholarship, and go that extra mile. Doing so will put you in the conversation and in the rooms that will take you to the next level. What I’ve found, however, is that likeability and humility are what will get you into the next room – the one you REALLY want to be in. Letting your work speak for itself is a noble mantra and may work for some.  For me, what I’ve found to be an important part of the equation was ‘me’ – who I am, where I’ve been, what I care about. People have decided to help me because they believed in me as a person, not just because they think I can do the job.


Find mentors, then find more

You’ve read this word several times so far, so it should come with no surprise that its in my top five. Throughout life you’ll find you need mentors with different areas of expertise, mentors that see something different in you, and mentors that can connect you in ways your previous mentors could not. This certainly doesn’t mean that you use mentors until they no longer serve you; on the contrary. Eventually you’ll find that you have a lot to offer your mentors as well.  Mentorship is not one way street, so be sure to find ways to give back however you can.


Don’t forget to reach behind you

As you move through life and career, others will be looking to you for guidance, inspiration and validation that their own stories/dreams are possible. Find ways to help your community, whether that be formally or informally.  I can think back to singular conversations and moments that inspired a thought in me that led me down many paths. Be that person for as many people as you can. You’ll never feel like you are doing enough – I certainly don’t. Make it a point to find ways to make yourself, and your story, available to others.


Don’t let imposter syndrome consume you

Boston College, Deloitte Consulting, Berkeley Haas School of Business, Facebook.  One thing all of these places have in common is that I didn’t feel I that belonged at first. The problem wasn’t with these institutions, it was with me and my lack of confidence and feeling that I’d be “found out.”  Maybe I hadn’t done enough to truly deserve the opportunity. Maybe I didn’t learn from my parents what others learned from theirs when they were children. I’ve conditioned myself to tell this voice in my head, “so what. you’re here now.” With each success and each goal achieved, that voice begins to quiet just a little, only to be reignited with the next promotion or opportunity. We belong. Remember that.


Take every opportunity you possibly can to travel.  Leave your city, state, and if possible your country.  Traveling the world has given me layers of perspectives on life that I’d never been able to gain at home. I look back at my undergraduate experience and wish I had studied abroad. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel more than most and I can attribute a lot of my outlook on life to those experiences. Our world is smaller than ever and you will certainly find yourself sharing a class project or work station with someone from a different background.  Traveling has taught me empathy and that at the end of the day, we aren’t as different deep down as the surface my suggest.

The One Thing All Leaders Can Do to Make a Difference

For anyone who has achieved career success, there’s probably a litany of people who helped you along the way, whether it was providing counsel or advice or opportunities to succeed.

Think back for a second – Who gave you your first big career opportunity? The person who took a chance on you? Could you imagine being where you are in your career without that? I know for me, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of a handful of people who opened doors for me that I didn’t have access to on my own.

During my first year at Deloitte, I had wrapped up a project at one of my very first clients and I was looking for another project. I couldn’t find anything, so I reached out to a Partner at the firm who I had met previously during my first week of training. Not knowing if he would remember me or not, in my email I re-shared our conversation topics, and asked if he needed help with anything he was working on. A few days later, someone on his team reached out to me about a project opportunity that related directly to the topics in our conversation.

Despite not really knowing me that well outside of a few minutes of a conversation at training (and that we had a mutual interest in music and sports) The leader took a chance on me by giving me access to an opportunity that I was probably not qualified or ready for. When I took the assignment, I was surrounded by a great team, who went out of their way to make sure I had what it took to be successful. That assignment changed the trajectory of my career, and led to numerous other opportunities and experiences that I could have never found otherwise.

Not only did it help me find experiences and opportunities that I was interested in, but it also helped me hone my craft and build my own brand and thought leadership in key areas. I got to meet and work alongside some of the most senior leaders in the firm, and built my own credibility and expertise. And while I worked hard to go above and beyond to deliver exceptional results, the senior leader worked behind the scenes with HR to ensure I was properly evaluated and compensated for my efforts. This experience changed the course of my career, and I would not be where I am today without that opportunity and support.


While I didn’t know it at the time, what I encountered then was my very first Sponsor.  A sponsor is someone who sees your talent and potential, and uses their own political and relationship capital to  you access to experiences and relationships that you cannot find on your own. They’ll put their own reputation on the line to advocate for you.

When we talk about people who do these things, we tend to call them to mentors. Mentors are important, but they focus on giving us advice, share perspective, teach us knew skills, and being a sounding board. We all should continue to seek and develop relationships with mentors.  

But not everyone who mentors you has the power to help you accelerate, move up, get to the next level, advocate for you when it really counts. Yes, mentors matter, but to accelerate our careers, break through to the next level, or achieve exponential success, we need sponsors to actually to help us achieve greater career outcomes.

A quick rundown of the difference between Mentors and Sponsors (via Center For Talent Innovation


  • Senior Person who believes in your potential and is willing to take a bet on you
  • Advocates for you to achieve promotions, access to opportunities and experiences
  • Encourages and empowers you to take risks
  • Expects a great deal from you


Sponsors have a voice at decision-making tables, champion their protégés for promotions and critical opportunities when they are not in the room, and provide “air cover” for the less experienced individual to take risks. Sponsors may also make introductions to senior leaders, promote visibility, and provide critical feedback. In return, the protégé repays the sponsor’s investment by achieving exceptional results that reflect well on him or he


  • Experienced person willing to help and support you
  • Builds your confidence and provides a sounding board
  • Expects little in return


Center for Talent Innovation founder and CEO Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes a mentor as someone who gives valuable career support and advice, builds self-esteem, and provides a sounding board. He or she has the time and desire to aid the beneficiary in self-assessment and “blue-sky thinking,” and is often considered a role model.


While it’s important to have sponsors to achieve success, the purpose of this article is not to talk about how to find sponsors, but rather, why you should be a sponsor. There are a bunch of benefits of being a sponsor, but here are three:


  1. Having an impact on others – Being a sponsor allows you to drive impact for others. The impact you can make by providing an opportunity to someone else who wouldn’t have access to that opportunity on their own is incredibly powerful.
  2. Improving your own network  – When you invest and sponsor others, you begin building your own network, and you develop your reputation as someone who goes out of their way to sponsor others. This has tangible benefits for when you need to hire other talent for your team, or if you are trying to drive a specific project/initiative and you have to get others to buy into your goal. When you have a positive reputation, others are probably more likely to trust you or work with you. And when you’re seen as a champion of talent, this certainly helps your case when you are trying to compete for top talent to join your team
  3. Driving ChangeIt’s been statistically proven time and time again that organizations with diverse teams drive better results, but despite this many organizations struggle with attracting, retaining, and developing diverse talent. Sponsorship when done right, is a way to buck this change. By sponsoring people who are underrepresented, or who don’t look like we do, we can help drive the change that’s needed to create the diverse workforce that yields better business results.


A few more key points about sponsorship

It’s different than mentorship – mentorship is also important (you should do that too) but sponsorship has a different focus and outcomes.

You don’t need to be an executive to do it – While Executives can and should be sponsors, especially when it comes to accelerating career paths within a company, anyone can be a sponsor so as long as you’re providing someone with access to opportunities they otherwise would not have.

You can use it for anyone – But please also consider focusing on helping populations who are different than you. Why? Because diversity is a driver of business outcomes, and if we only help people who look like us, we’ll never fully benefit from the benefits of a diverse workforce

It provides extrinsic and intrinsic benefits – I always recommend doing things because they are fundamentally the right thing to do, but the great thing about both sponsorship and mentorship is when you do it right it actually helps drive results for you. Personally and selfishly, knowing that you had a positive impact on someone else and helped them achieve something  provides personal fulfillment and meaning (In addition to helping them achieve their own goals) Furthermore, if you develop a reputation for sponsoring others, you can probably expect future opportunities either for additional sponsorship or just being aware of other opportunities. that’s a great reputation to have. If you are hiring for roles on your team, or need the help of others to get a project or initiative accomplished, the power of your reputation will make others want to help you and see you succeed.

Formal sponsorship programs that are run by companies and organizations are always a great place to start. Furthermore, while I’m a believer that any relationship (mentorship or sponsorship) works best through organic development, if you are in a position to be a sponsor I urge and challenge you to be proactive and take the initiative to identify someone who you can sponsor.

Here’s where you can look to sponsor people:

  • Identifying a more junior colleague on your team who is looking for greater opportunities to accelerate their career
  • Connecting with a younger alum of your alma mater looking to expand into a new field and connecting them to people you know in that field who could potentially hire them
  • Reaching out to a friend or colleague who doesn’t have access to the same experiences and opportunities as you do and using your network to open up opportunities for them

Being a sponsor is a great way to use your privilege, resources, and position to drive positive impact, especially those who are underserved or underrepresented. It’s also a way to invest in your own network by investing in other people. But more than that, investing your time and energy into someone else can change their life, and that can have an incredible impact.

Think back to that individual who sponsored you, and gave you a shot, and consider the impact they had on you and your life. Imagine if someone (or numerous people) felt that way about you…