From Jazz Dance to Gartner Research: Ashley O’Brien Shares Her Career Story

Meet Ashley O’Brien, a Gartner senior advisory specialist, whose background and passion for dance have allowed her to exercise a unique skill set throughout her career at Gartner. Learn more about Ashley’s journey on our Research & Advisory team below.

During my first few months at Gartner, I explained my nontraditional background to a senior leader. His response, “I’ve found those who were excellent or found mastery in one area have been able to recreate that in any area they choose,” surprised me.

These words have encouraged me, giving me a sense of confidence that my experiences and growth from previous roles — though quite different in nature — could seamlessly transfer to my career here at Gartner as an advisor.

I graduated from Hope College with a dance major. I danced professionally in a jazz company in Chicago while building my retail management career. When I left performing, I became the director of a dance company of 60 high school dancers in the north suburbs of Chicago while still working in retail management. In these roles, I found I had a passion for leading, teaching and working with people. And so I began my career pivot to look for new opportunities that provided a different work-life balance from my dance career, but could leverage my skills from previous roles.

Every day I help our clients apply Gartner’s tools and best practice research to their strategic HR initiatives to achieve their desired talent and business outcomes. I work alongside my sales partners to identify ways to serve clients, my research partners to build research capabilities and create new content, and clients as a bridge to help them understand our research in their context. Looking back now, I’ve found 5 key skills that translated to my role at Gartner.

  • Perseverance: In a dance career, you receive a lot of rejection from auditions and you work hours upon hours perfecting a craft that can never be perfected. I built grit and perseverance to push through difficult times when working for my goals.
  • Client-centricity. As a dancer and choreographer, I created art to communicate a message or feeling with the audience. In retail, I focused on giving every customer excellent service. This skill translated to my current role to be audience- or client-focused in service and work to translate our research into a compelling and clear message.
  • Entrepreneurship. As a dancer and choreographer, you often need to create your own path, find your own opportunities and be flexible to pivot at the drop of the hat. This skill helped me create ways I can uniquely contribute to my job at Gartner, and allowed me to be flexible in the face of any change.
  • Working with people (aka stakeholder management). Both in dance and retail, there are customers, co-workers, students, parents, directors, board members and many different stakeholders to work with for a common goal or to achieve my own goals. The communication skills I learned help me work with internal stakeholders and clients through all situations with a positive attitude and solution mindset.
  • Time management. When I had ballet class from 8-9 a.m., rehearsal from 9 til 2 p.m., and then worked the sales floor from 3-10 p.m., I developed a sense of urgency and ability to prioritize all the moving parts of my work and job to get things accomplished. This skill has transferred into my job at Gartner to manage the different activities and client projects on any given day.

Lastly, I want to share my gratitude for the managers, leaders and peers I work with. I have the opportunity to work with incredibly smart peers who challenge me to be my best, caring and committed managers that help me grow and develop, and inspiring leaders that I’m honored to work for. The skills I bring from my nontraditional background and the people I work with have contributed to the career I’m building at Gartner.

Check out our current Research & Advisory roles here.


At Gartner, our associates strive to do their best work for their clients, teammates and themselves. Learn more about our culture and how you can work with and learn from the best and brightest here.

Leave a Reply

#LifeAtGartner