I Went From Entry-Level to Leader in My Field in Just 10 Years. Here's How I Did It.
The first 10 years of your career are formative. They determine your lifetime earning potential. They define your career trajectory. And they show you just how capable you really are.
No matter where your career is, we all have to start somewhere. Like many, I started as an entry-level employee -- an assistant at Rodale, a publishing house, where I answered phones, filled out forms and organized meetings.
I then took a job at Hearst, another publisher, where I started dabbling in social media and eventually defined the company's approach to leveraging this new medium across its brands. From there, I went on to lead social business strategy (aka social media) for Target. And about six years ago, I became employee No. 7 at a little startup with a missing vowel, Sprinklr, where I started as director of -- let's be honest -- a little bit of everything.
Today, Sprinklr is a unified customer experience management platform for the enterprise. We have 1,500 employees, 1,200 clients globally and we're considered a "unicorn" with a valuation of over a billion dollars.
I'm now Sprinklr's VP of product evangelism and partnerships (yes, that's actually a thing). I travel the world helping leaders at Fortune 500 companies put customers at the center of what they do, whether it's marketing, customer care, R&D, etc.
It's an amazing role. And while I'm proud and humbled to be a part of something with so much impact, I clearly didn't get here overnight. Where I am today is the byproduct of 10 years of hustle and the many lessons that came with it.
Reflecting back on my journey from entry-level to executive over the past decade, here are five key lessons that have laid the foundation for my success.
1. Roll up your sleeves.
I spent the earliest years of my career raising my hand, asking for more work and always offering to help -- nothing was too big, too small, too mundane or "not my job." That willingness to dig in, figure something out and learn more still defines how I work.
As you mature in your career, you'll start leading people, followed by teams and then entire functions. No matter how much your career expands or your title is elevated, don't stop being a "doer." Good leaders know how to delegate and help their teams execute. But, great leaders will also roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
2. Fight imposter syndrome.
During my time at Hearst, I advised distinguished editors on turning their content into digital gold by leveraging social to build their personal brands and the company's. At first, it was exciting to be at the helm of this sea change in strategy. But, as we waited for the results, I wondered if I really knew enough to advise my senior colleagues on transforming the business and doing their jobs better.
Fortunately, social is a real-time world, and the response from our advertisers, the engagement with consumers and the traffic on our sites unequivocally showed that the new platforms were a major opportunity. More people began to listen, more brands wanted to launch innovative campaigns with my help, and within months, one of the company's first major social media campaigns was featured in The New York Times.
Just like you are never too old to be a student, you are never too young to be an expert in your field. While it's good to have that daily gut check to question yourself and your ideas, don't be afraid to trust in your experience, your passion and your own capabilities. If you're passionate about something -- if you study it obsessively, and you understand it better than anyone else -- chances are you probably know what you're talking about. So speak up.
3. Find your champion.
I'll never forget my boss and mentor at Rodale and then Hearst. Yes, you read that right, my champion was my boss at Rodale and then recommended me for a role at Hearst later on. But, champions are more than connections to identify new career opportunities; they're coaches with a safe space to present your longer term value proposition. At Hearst, she didn't just empower me, she gave me the freedom to think differently and voice my own unique perspective, to come up with -- and then act on -- new ideas. Because of her confidence and trust in me, I constantly felt motivated and engaged. She not only gave me the independence to explore new areas for our business, she provided the support and platform to get the rest of the organization on board.
I can't stress enough the importance of having a champion. This person doesn't necessarily have to be your boss, or even someone from your department, but they should be personally invested in your long-term success. A coach who genuinely believes in your value and your ideas. Someone who will help you unleash your potential.
It's not just about finding a champion for yourself, but you should be a champion for someone else. You don't need to be an executive to be a leader. You've got good, bad and great examples all around you, start to define your leadership style by trying out some of those traits or actions you admire.
4. Be a sponge.
In case you missed it, I'm a pretty big nerd, so let that serve as a disclaimer as I discuss my approach to consuming and organizing information. I devour information in any format (books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, social, TV) and I am constantly inspired and informed by what's out there. I realized early that I have a knack for applying what I've learned -- with referenceable examples -- from one task to another.
But, when my interest in what was becoming branded as "social media" went from personal to why-the-heck-aren't-companies-taking-advantage-of-this mode, I approached information and idea overload: I scrolled through this cool new platform called Twitter and took screenshots. I indexed the entire Facebook app store (yes, really). I printed articles on campaigns -- social or otherwise -- that presented ideas or opportunity. I made step-by-step guides for apps that helped consumers take advantage of social media. I tore pages from magazines and catalogued my findings in a massive binder.
This quickly became many massive binders (and yes, I'm a tech nerd so obviously they were also digitized), indexed by themes that I would constantly reference. The collection formed my unique point of view and strategic frame of reference that allowed me to derive business applications from a nascent innovative space.
What we'll politely call my "research" inspired new campaign ideas, cross-channel execution, measurement strategies, advertiser opportunities and in many cases, software and channel features that have been built to support these activities. The process of consuming, learning, drilling in further, being inspired, sharing, gathering feedback, getting a better idea, was -- and still is -- an important part of how I operate.
The best way to get better at what you do is through experience (see No. 1). The next best way is to learn from others. Never stop being a student.
5. Don't get too comfortable.
People love talking about changing and being flexible, but the reality is no one is good at it. We think that after getting a job or reaching a certain level, we'll just be able to do what we do. Unless the "do what you do" is constantly mutating and evolving your skill sets, then wake up.
No matter where you are in your career, if you want to improve, have a job down the road and maybe catch the early wave into a new industry, you need to expand your skills. Ten years ago, journalists were expected to write. Today, they're media powerhouses, as many handle reporting, writing, content creation, editing and marketing on their own.
As the job market and individual responsibilities continue to change, you need to constantly expand your abilities to keep pace, let alone advance. Use the doing (No. 1) and learning (No. 4) to recognize the new skills you want to develop. Being uncomfortable as you develop a new skill set will ultimately make you more valuable -- it can change your approach to solving a problem and help you spot a new opportunity. By contrast, what got you here won't automatically carry you to the next rung.
If you're not sure how to get started, put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Take a quick course that's relevant (or not!) to your job. Volunteer for projects outside of your department. Sit down for coffee with the person whose role you want to have in three years, and ask them what skills you should develop. Latch onto something, and chances are it will open doors.
Careers don't always have a clear path from one role to the next, or one company to another. My journey certainly hasn't been predictable, but there are everyday threads that we ultimately weave into our own bigger story.
There are many elements of a successful career, but most stem from a core set of attributes: hard work, assertiveness, a willingness to trust oneself and take risks. And while the path from entry-level to executive may seem unclear or daunting, I can say that with the previously mentioned combination of traits and leveraging some of the lessons outlined above, it's possible to make the leap faster than you might think.
This article was updated from a previous version on Nov. 28, 2017.
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