Photo: Deb Mignucci and her husband, Alberto, graduated from UVM in 1982.
UVM alumna Deb Mignucci started her college career with a focus on pre-med. But after taking a physics class during her sophomore year, she decided the career path wasn’t for her. Instead, she chose to pursue a liberal arts education as a psychology major and graduated from UVM in 1982.
That liberal arts focus served Mignucci well. She went on to earn her MBA at New York University and rose through the ranks in advertising sales, working for Time Inc., American Media, Meredith, BabyCenter.com, and Disney Publishing.
Getting started with a WebMD career
After 25 years in the business, Mignucci was named in 2014 Executive Director of WebMD, the leading source for online medical news and information. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, WebMD reached an average 210 million unique users a month in 2015, generating 4.25 billion page views.
Mignucci’s job as Executive Director involves working with high-profile consumer accounts and leading a team of strategic advertising sales professionals.
In this first post in our new Alumni Advice series, we talked to Mignucci about what it takes to get hired in a competitive market, how to work through discouraging days on the job, and why experience waiting tables is a strong indicator of success in the sales industry.
When you were a UVM psychology major, did you have any idea you wanted to get into publishing?
Back then, I had no idea about publishing. I was a pre-med student, and I was thinking about working in psychiatry. That ended in my sophomore year, when I took physics, which is not my forte. When I was changing my focus in college, I thought, Do I really want to be in school throughout my 20s? I didn’t. So I decided I would get a good liberal arts education and see what happens from there.
What are some of your roles and responsibilities as Executive Director at WebMD?
My role is to lead a team of strategic ad sales professionals. We have large consumer sales accounts, including Nestle and Procter and Gamble, as well clients in the pet category, as many of our readers are pet owners. We figure out how we can build something that will meet our clients’ needs and figure out what our clients are trying to accomplish. We do a lot of entertaining – there are many dinners, events, and cocktail parties. Relationships build trust, which is key to earning your clients’ respect and confidence.
I also need to be fluent in “health” and understand current issues. I need to know who the consumers are and why they are coming to our website. I need to have a thorough understanding of healthcare, medical products, and health regulations. I need to be knowledgeable about how things like Medicaid reimbursement and the Affordable Care Act are directly affecting my clients.
What do you look for in a job applicant?
I have hired hundreds of people in my career and conducted thousands of interviews. The core things I always look for are a high energy level and an ability to connect. In sales in particular, you really need to have energy. It’s hard work, it pays well, but you have to work really hard.
If I’m interviewing you, I need to see that you have done your homework and can ask compelling questions. I want you to show me how experiences from your past connect to the job you’re applying for now. You also have to be personable, make good eye contact, and have a strong handshake. I want to feel respected and I want to respect the person I’m hiring. I want to know I can put them in front of my clients.
What are some questions you ask during a job interview?
I might ask you what gets you excited on Sunday night for the coming work week. Likewise, I want to hear what you look forward to on a Friday afternoon. Are you positive or negative? I look for people who will share something about themselves, who will tell me they look forward to hiking with friends on weekends or spending time with their family. I want to see authenticity.
If you’re coming in for an interview, do some homework beforehand. I would love for a job candidate to say, “I was on your website, and something struck me as odd. I saw an ad for dog food. Can you tell me more?”
I want to see that curiosity. I need to see that someone is thoughtful and curious because that’s something an employee is going to have to be working for me every day.
What do you look for on a resume or LinkedIn profile?
When I review a resume, the first thing I’ll do is double check the person’s LinkedIn profile. If there are inconsistencies, I will call the applicant on it or just pass on them. For obvious reasons, it’s really important that your public LinkedIn profile matches your resume.
I want to see your education and relevant experience, and on LinkedIn, I want to see your connections. I want to see that you’re connected to clients and not just sales people. If you’re fresh out of college, I want to know what you’ve done outside of the classroom, whether it be internships or working at various jobs.
As funny as it might sound, one of the strongest indicators for success in sales is having experience waiting tables. Having this work experience tells me you’ve been in a client-facing job and understand how to listen, be personable, and connect with people. If you don’t list waiting tables on your resume or other experience that you can show is relevant, I would suggest putting it in your cover letter. The ability to turn a potential negative into a positive is very valuable.
What do you say to recent graduates or young professionals who are feeling discouraged? What can they feel optimistic about?
I think people always have moments of being discouraged. There are often times that I wish I said something or did something differently. Someone told me a long time ago that if you have a bad day, go home, go for a bike ride, or do something that makes you happy. I have often done that. If I’ve had a string of bad phone calls, I go out for a walk or go down the street to get a frozen yogurt. You need to make your own happiness to get through those tough days. A change in perspective or just clearing your head will often help.