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From Lost to Found: Chapter 1 of Amanda Miller’s Career Journey in NYC

amandaBy, Amanda Miller

Hi, I’m Amanda Miller and here’s my story.

I was a Communications/Journalism major in college and had no idea what I wanted to do with myself when I graduated. I tried dabbling into finance-needless to say, that was definitely not my true calling. I quit the job 3 months after I graduated with no backup plan, had just signed a lease on a new house in Queens, and had no idea what it was I wanted to do with my life. I had to survive and pay my bills, so I started picking up odd jobs to get by while I feverishly searched for my dream career. After the horrible experience I had at my first job out of college, I swore up and down that I wasn’t going to just settle for anything. That is single handedly the best career advice I could ever give to someone just out of college. My biggest mistake was taking the first job that was offered to me, even though it wasn’t a good fit. DON’T DO IT!

I started out waiting tables at an Italian restaurant in East Hampton, which, long story short, lead to me finding a part time nanny job in the Upper West Side. This connection was probably the most powerful one I had made during my search for my new job. The mother (who also happened to be from the Midwest, like myself) was 51 years old, had dedicated her life to her career, and had just started her family. She gave me great advice and encouraged me not to settle until I felt that the job was worth it.

This woman gave me enough hours to make ends meet, set me up on play dates with mothers who were significant career women-bankers, attorneys, producers, power brokers, entrepreneurs- all with the purpose of helping me discover what direction I wanted to take for myself in the career world. I took every job interview I was offered, but if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t afraid to say no.

After 6 months of dead ends, I was getting frustrated. Nothing seemed to work for me and I couldn’t figure out how someone with a 4 year degree and all the confidence and stamina to succeed in the business world was making a living wiping noses and singing along to Nick Jr. But giving up was never an option for me. Out of the blue, I got an e-mail from a grade school friend to check out the company that she worked for in Manhattan. After reading about the job openings, I applied, figuring I had nothing to lose.

I had no idea that I was going to fall in love with everything about the job. I aced the interview, loved the casual, laid back work environment, and was so excited to grow and learn in a career that was related to my degree and the root of my passion. I had never been so sure I wanted something more and was willing to do anything to get this job. In 2007, I made the move from professional stroller pusher and Mommy & Me attendee to Media Buyer extraordinaire.

My responsibility is to negotiate advertising rates and purchase ad space for two well known consumer packaged goods companies and a global office supplier with a variety of magazines, trades and newspapers. I also help to create unique advertising campaigns and programs to help promote my brands (I currently have about 30 active at the moment) and leverage my clients’ presence on both a national and global level. Don’t let that description fool you-nothing about this job is boring (and it’s not because I work in the heart of Times Square, either). In addition to my responsibilities, I also get to attend magazine launches, parties (which are usually client sponsored), mingle with some of the industry’s top marketing and publishing executives in the world, get on site continuing education through a media school program and have met some of the most inspiring women in the industry.

Advertising is so much more than an ad in a magazine or a billboard in Times Square-there is research, calculation, planning and loads of intelligent people behind each and every one. There is a job for every single aspect for an advertisement-buying, planning, creative development and implementation…I could go on and on. Despite the recession, two of my clients are planning new product launches, re-introducing brands that had been hibernating. Clients are still spending money and agencies like mine still need people-one media career site posted 2,000 new jobs in the past month!

If I could say anything about the road to finding my true calling in the career world, it is to seek the advice from women who have had years of professional experience. I came from a small town in Wisconsin, had no professional female role models, no contacts at all when I first came to New York. Without the advice and guidance from the woman I nannied for, the women I have met while job searching, and the professional women I am still meeting and engaging with on a daily basis, I would have never made it to this point.

No matter what the circumstance is, NEVER SETTLE and NEVER GIVE UP! Do not make excuses for yourself-whether you want to blame the struggling economy, the fact that you can’t find anything that doesn’t feel right, that the perfect job does not exist, whatever! Set the bar high and make goals for yourself. You are the only person that can make yourself happy and successful, so whatever you need to do to get to that point, make like Nike and just do it.

Talk to other professionals, network, be willing to try new things and do the unexpected. We all have it in us to succeed, we just need to have the courage to act on the unknown, conquer our fears and not be afraid to lean on others to propel us forward.

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Chapter 1 of My Journey as an Entrepreneur

So rather than a career or personal finance lesson, today I’m going to share what being a budding entrepreneur has been like for me lately.  A few words that immediately come to mind: coffee, energy, passion, and time management.

3195538796_e83eb19d4f Let’s start with coffee.  Yes, I read and loved Skinny Bitch and I know coffee is not the best habit to hold. Yet without it, I’m not sure how I could manage to write blog posts, launch a new website site, maintain a partnership with “The Mindset of Wealth” in Washington D.C., in addition to working a full time job in Commercial Banking that I really enjoy, work out and sleep. I always swore I would never be a coffee drinker because my parents are completely hooked on it, and of course I never wanted to do what they did. Yet now that I’m older, I see how my Mom ran a successful company, played Mom to 3 kids, cooked fabulous dinners most nights and made sure we all had what we needed. Thank God coffee is a legal substance, because to me it is a wonder drug that helps you make the most of your day.

Caffeine isn’t enough to start the engine of an entrepreneur though. For me it has taken an incredible amount of mental energy. Energy is important for me when I don’t feel like getting on conference call number 5 over my lunch break, waking up at 6am to run before work because I know I can’t do it after, coming up with new ideas, or focusing 100% on my job while I am there. Perhaps a better word for this energy is discipline. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself connect with others to market what I’m doing, or focus on developing a project I’m working on. Yet somehow I love what I’m doing so much that my mental energy carries me through.

That leads us to passion. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that you must be completely obsessed and in love with your entrepreneurial venture. Why? Because you will breathe, think and dream it constantly and live every moment of your day thinking about it. If you’re like me, you will talk about it while socializing at a bar with new people, you will talk about it the minute you get home from work and sometimes get up in the middle of the night to jot down a fleeting idea. Perhaps that sounds a bit crazy to some, but for me it has been crucial in getting things done.

I learned in one of my Ladies Who Launch workshops that female entrepreneurs are especially known to think of their business as their “baby.” Or even as an extension of themselves which they identify with. This is absolutely true for me. As I develop the new and improved version of this blog (which will soon be called “Ms. Career Girl”) and make it into an interactive site for women, I see my personality and things I need help with being brought to life through the new site. In addition to the blog posts, there will be tools, job postings, networking events, more personal finance information, “ask a professional career girl”, recommended reading and more.

The eight year old girl in me who talked to her friends and family about being a business woman when she grew up is coming to486569058_9b91ccc458_m life. Now I see why I played office instead of house, and preferred riding my pink BMX boys bike to playing with dolls. I see why coming downtown Chicago to visit my aunt while she was in law school excited me so much. I see why I’ve always been obsessed with Oprah and what she has done for so many women around the world. I feel less strange for wanting to read books any extra minute I get, because I see that the information I get from these books can be used to help and inspire others. It’s so weird how all my little personality traits have come together and can be reflected through my entrepreneurial venture.

Lastly, time management. I think we’ve gone over how I manage my time enough, but I do want to share something quick that I learned this weekend at another one of my Ladies Who Launch workshops. As my leader Megan McKenzie says, “time management is a myth because you can’t create time.” Therefore here’s a trick to make the most out of what you DO have.

Take a 3 x 5 index card and look at it vertically. At the top write today’s date. Under that, write your top 4 items you want to get done that day. One of those items must be for you. Draw a line beneath those four items. Any items below that line are tasks that can be pushed to tomorrow. I started using this little time management tool this week and it’s crazy how much more focus I have had. I’ve accomplished more this week than usual. Try it!

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. As things get off of the ground, I’ll be sure to write Chapter 2 of my journey as I know it will be an evolving experience with many lessons. In the meantime, it’s coffee time for me! Ciao!

Career Lessons from Two Great Quarterbacks

America is inevitably a bit groggy today after an absolutely fantastic Super Bowl Sunday. This year’s match up was a great one. I found myself torn between which team to root for. On one hand, I’m a Miami of Ohio alum who had the honor of seeing Ben Roethlisberger play while I attended Miami. On the other hand, I have a huge crush on Kurt Warner and his story.

I respect both quarterbacks a lot. Probably because I feel that they both overcame the odds to get to where they are today.

imagesFor example, Ben Roethlisberger did not play the quarterback position until his senior year of high school. He didn’t even know he had such talent for the position until he was 17 years old! Ben is from a small town called Findlay, Ohio, a place that could be easily passed over by recruiters. Thanks to going to a summer camp at Miami, an assistant coach spotted his talent and watched his senior season. By the time the big schools picked up on Ben, he had already signed with Miami. Although Miami is a Division 1 school, it is part of the MAC– which is not a flashy conference by any means. Yet Ben’s record and reputation quickly rose to the top and he became the youngest quarterback to ever lead a team to a Super Bowl to victory.

images-3Kurt Warner is another talented quarterback who did not start at the top. Kurt played football at the University of Northern Iowa where he wasn’t given the chance to start until his senior year. Since he couldn’t land a NFL try out after college, Kurt joined the Iowa Barnstormers, an Arena Football League team. He then played in Europe until finally playing for the NFL in 1999. Many people admire Kurt for the story of how he met his wife Brenda while working as a shelf stocker at an Iowa grocery store. Kurt is now one of the oldest quarterbacks playing in the NFL.

Learning more about each quarterback’s story points out some great observations.

• You don’t have to start at the top to end at the top.
• You don’t have to go to the best college to be the most successful.
• Your attitude, perseverance and passion for what you do will carry you through until the end.
• Your personality radiates in everything you do in your career. People are more willing to give you opportunities, and to follow your work if you are someone they admire and like to be around.
• Hard work is not always glamorous.
• Especially in the case of Kurt Warner, having a great support system is very important. When the times get tough, you remember who you are working so hard for.

So if you didn’t go to an Ivy League college, or perhaps you feel like you may be playing “the wrong position” at work these days remember that perseverance and hard work will lead you to the top, even if you started from humble beginnings.

The Double Edged Sword of Working With Family

If your family has their own business, the question of whether or not to work with them will inevitably come up at some point. Society has many views on young people joining their family’s business. Some say college grads are under qualified. Others think that the next generation are getting hand-outs, even though they are probably making a modest salary.

As you may know from reading this post my family has their own business so this thought definitely crossed my mind. I also have close friends who work with family and it seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

Many parents won’t allow their children to work for the family business until they have gained the necessary experience and proven a passion for the business. Other parents seem to lay a guilt trip on their children to join the business. It’s a really tough decision to make and it can have a huge impact on your relationship with your family.

59242515_934dbc0711_mIf you are in this situation here are a few things to consider:

-Do you have the skills and desire to manage the demand?
-Are you OK with blending your personal and professional life?
-Do you mind receiving work related phone calls early in the morning and late at night?
-By joining the business, would you be fulfilling your own legacy and dreams or your parents’?
-Would you be more valuable to the company if you got outside experience first, and then joined the company?
-Are you considering working for the family business because you assume you will get more second chances, more pay, more days off, and work less hours? If so, re-consider because the opposite is probably true.
-Have family members joined the business in the past? If so, how did that turn out?
-Can you handle working with people who know all of your “hot buttons”?
-Are you ready to accept criticism for your work from your family?
-Will joining the company continually challenge you, stretch your mind and interest you?
-Are you ready to talk about money daily-the most sensitive topic in most relationships?
-Are you willing to challenge the status quo to make things better, even if it is difficult?

I think the scariest part about joining the family business is the possibility for disagreements to ruin relationships or break families apart. It happens more than you would think. In my family, it caused a six year separation from my immediate family and our extended family. It’s pretty hard to fire a son, or quit your parents’ business because there is so much personal baggage at stake. Yet everyone has to do what is right for them to be happy and advance their careers.

I also think that parents are the toughest bosses (I cannot even imagine working for my parents right now!): they have much higher expectations for you than they do of other employees. Parents are likely to think they have the “right and obligation” to push you harder, to hold you accountable, and to make you learn lessons the hard way.

Again, I think that working for your parents can be the best and the worst of situations. I think that you would learn more about work ethic, dedication, and dealing with your emotions than you would working for anyone else. At the same time, make sure you’re not putting your dreams aside to make someone else happy. Also make sure you have a backup plan if things don’t work out!

Dad’s Career Advice From the Trenches

I just got back from a great family vacation to Florida where I shared many laughs with my amazing family. Getting the five of us together for a week is a hoot: we are all very hardworking, loud, opinionated and ambitious. We think it’s totally normal to be this way.

While we were at the pool one day, I asked my Dad to help me come up with some topics to write about. Our conversation offered some great career advice.

My Dad came from humble beginnings. He was one of six children and had been working since he was 9 years old. His summers consisted of getting woken up at 4am to go shovel concrete with his Father without pay, no questions asked, no complaining allowed. He was very shy and struggled academically throughout his childhood, opting for a work-study high school program. In High School he was already working so many hours that he out earned his teachers and therefore couldn’t take high school seriously.
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Perhaps my Dad’s story isn’t glamorous, but it sure is entertaining. My Dad was the guy who rode his dirt bike illegally on the streets-sometimes dodging the cops- to see my Mom as a teenager, he got fired for lying about his age so he could work as a dish washer at 13, he put Corvette engines in old cars and sold them for a profit, he jumped rows of garbage cans on his BMX bike, he punched his principal to stick up for a friend, he ran a gas station, and spent many years as a manual laborer. Who knew he would end up where he is today, and have three daughters who are so thirsty for success and education.

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My Dad admitted to me that until the last 2 years, he always felt disappointed with what he did for a living. He is the only one in our neighborhood full of accomplished doctors and lawyers who doesn’t have a college degree, and he is the only one that drives a pickup truck, which is parked in the driveway.

He said that he finally realized that you can still make it if you aren’t a doctor or a lawyer, and that it’s not your title or what you do for your money that makes you successful. I asked him what advice he would give to people just starting out in their careers. Here are some of his answers:

• Your twenties are all about learning lessons. In order to learn the lessons, you have to pay attention and watch for them every day.
• Be patient and it will come. Don’t waste time being disappointed with where you are right now: keep working and keep looking ahead.
• Remember that we all have the same amount of time given to us, but it is what we do with our time that will set us apart in the end. Use your time wisely and make the most of it.
• Little things become big things in your job. Although not calling someone back, not being prepared, or forgetting your client’s request may seem small, it could be a huge impact on you and your career down the road.
• Don’t blow your money. You will have nothing to show for all of your hard work and the years will pass you by.

I think my Dad’s career advice is very wise and very applicable to all of us. My Dad earned his education through long hours of hard work. In my opinion, he was very lucky. He was lucky that he was smart enough to see the lessons that most others did not. He knew he would make it somehow, and he took advantage of opportunities that were given to him even if they required more energy, time and sacrifice.

img_0454My parents now run a successful drilling equipment business, Rig Source, together which serves a niche market to customers all over the world. If it weren’t his days of coming home with burnt hands from welding or frostbitten feet from drilling in the middle of a cornfield for 16 hours on a January day, I’m not sure he would be where he is today. He is an example of someone who always saw the glass half full, who kept on plugging away, and set his eyes on his goals. Perhaps he is a real life example of “the survival of the fittest.” I’m pretty sure most of us today could not survive working conditions like his and come out on top.

Thanks Dad, for your example of the strongest work ethic I’ve ever seen and for doing what ever you had to do to send us to our college of choice. Thank you for leaving a legacy for our family and for everyone around you to see. You are one in a million and I am so lucky to call you my Dad.

Jump Start Your Career by Becoming a Leader and Decision Maker

Want to kick butt in the career world? Then get comfortable making good and timely decisions. Leaders are known for being decisive and admitting their mistakes if they make the wrong decision. Fear of making a decision makes you come across as a bad leader.

2609730948_7617deb345_mMy motivation for writing this post comes from my own experience of improving my ability to make decisions. Growing up I really struggled with even the simplest decisions of what to order for dinner, what to wear and what my plans were for Saturday night. As I got older the decisions naturally became a bit more complicated. I’ve come a long way since then, but looking back I realize how much time can be wasted and opportunities missed when you’re indecisive.

Start small. Start mastering small decisions because small decisions lead to big decisions. Whatever you do, don’t avoid small decisions at work because they will quickly snowball into big decisions and leave you looking unreliable and unworthy of being a leader. If you’ve heard the expression “putting out a fire” in regards to a tough situation at work, you understand that disasters happen. It is much easier to put out a kitchen fire than a forest fire.

On a side note, I think this is a simple strategy that can be applied to almost any area of your life. I’ve started thinking this way when it comes to decisions about money “Those shoes are amazing, but do I want to deal with the bill later when my goal is to have no debt?” Or relationship decisions “I disagree with him on this so I will discuss how I feel now rather than blow up about it in a week.” Or if you’re single: “Why should I agree to drinks with Mr. Obnoxious when I know I’m not into him and never will be. He’ll probably get the wrong idea and keep calling. I will run out of excuses so I should probably cut off communication now.” Nip it in the bud ladies; start small to avoid being in a big jam later.

Back to decision making in the workplace. Women need to be especially aware of their decision-making ability so they are not seen as pushovers, too emotional or too docile to deal with the aftermath of making a decision. Leaders who make good decisions do so in a timely, decisive and courageous manner.

Another trap I think young career women, including myself, fall into is asking others for their opinion. Keep in mind that these other people are coming from a completely different frame of reference than you are and ultimately this is your decision. Us Gen Y’ers are guilty of needing constant feedback and support. There are going to be times when you’re on your own. Girls with guts get ahead.

Lastly, remember that you do not need to have ALL the information to make a good decision. Having all the information is unrealistic so get used to having ENOUGH information and go from there. There is always more than one answer to any problem.

I will share another personal example. In my first job out of college, I was in sales and would constantly analyze the prospect’s financial situation and start crunching numbers and googling the company they worked at before I picked up the phone. I would waste so much time doing this because I felt that I needed to know every possible fact in order to answer to the prospect’s questions. When I would finally make the phone call, I would get their voice mail 99% of the time while my co-workers had already made 4 phone calls. I was so hung up on knowing all the facts that it ended up putting me behind my co-workers who were willing to pick up the phone knowing enough facts to get through the call.

I came across the following list of skills that leaders use in an article written by Moya K. Mason. I think this is a great list to take into consideration if you want to start being seen as a leader.

1. The ability to accept people as they are, not as you would like them to be.
2. The capacity to approach relationships and problems in terms of the present rather than the past.
3. The ability to treat those who are close to you with the same courteous attention that you extend to strangers and casual acquaintances.
4. The ability to trust others, even if the risk seems great.
5. The ability to do without constant approval and recognition from others.

Challenge yourself to be more decisive today and see how it goes. I have a feeling you will quickly feel more in control and respected by those around you.

Why an entry level sales job is a great way to kickoff your career

Most recent grads are absolutely petrified of sales jobs that require cold calling. Others feel they are “too smart” or that they just spent way too much money on their college degree to sit on the phone and cold call all day. While these points are valid, consider the following reasons to consider giving that first sales job a chance:

You will learn how to overcome adversity early in your career. Get used to being uncomfortable, not getting everything you want, being at the bottom of the food chain, not getting constant feedback, and realizing that your good grades in college do not necessarily correlate to bringing in good paychecks in sales. These are harsh realities you must face and get over right away in order to be successful in your twenties. For Gen Y’ers who love instant gratification and come from homes with “helicopter parents,” this may be a bit of a shock.

“We work hard and we play hard.” Although this phrase was actually slightly unattractive to me personally, and ended up being one of my pet peeves, this is a phrase I heard in almost every sales interview I went on. For many, transitioning from college life to working in a serious, quiet and boring environment with no people your own age sounds like hell. Many entry level sales positions know that this is a tough transition and accommodate for it. Many sales teams are very young and offer group training, a fun environment, and plenty of happy hours and fun parties when making sales goals. If you are moving to a new city, this might be a great way to initially make new friends and expand your network.

You will become living proof that attitude is everything. My very inspirational first sales manager/boss in the real world always stressed this point. He had us put a sticky note on our computer which reminded us “If you are not getting the results you want, look at your attitude first.” Bitching, moaning and complaining will not help you get the results you want. Shut up, pick up the phone and put a smile on your face. Assume and believe that you will get that sale. Attract the results you want and know you are capable of achieving any goal you have. Once you start changing your attitude and seeing results from it, it is addictive and contagious to those around you. On top of it, your great attitude will cause others to see you as more capable and as a leader. Apply this to other areas of your life too.

“Inch by Inch is a Synch”: corporate structure and goal setting.
Your office consists of a sales team that must hit a monthly goal which will most likely feed into a district and then regional goal. In order for everyone to be happy, your sales manager will take the office’s monthly goal and assign each sales associate an individual goal. From there you will break that goal down into what you need to sell each week and each day to achieve that number. Then of course you will decide how many phone calls you will need to make on a daily and hourly basis to keep consistent in meeting your goals.

Although this is a fairly simple concept, I don’t ever remember using this type of “inch by inch is a synch” strategy until my first sales job. Again, apply this to any goal you have in your personal life. You want to lose 10 pounds by spring break? Break it down to monthly, weekly and daily goals so that you can have mini victories rather than huge mountains to climb.

These are just a few of my favorite lessons from my first sales job that I take with me wherever I go in life.