THE GENERALIST ESSAYS > JUNIOR ROLES
Moving from entry-level positions to junior roles felt like Upsizing a Big Mac meal. Easy. Natural. Almost an afterthought.
I started my slew of junior-level roles as the Personal Assistant to the CEO of a Travel and Tourism company. It was a small company, which made me the default assistant to everyone. Management. Sales. Operations. I was the point of contact for clients, investors and senior management. That type of exposure and integration is invaluable. I was reliable and consistent, which developed trust between the managers and myself. So they gave me more tasks. More scope. More responsibility.
I developed my copywriting skills, creating strong narratives and itineraries which became sales support tools.
I quickly developed customer relationship skills and learnt how to manage difficult accounts.
I’m so grateful for that space of trust, autonomy and accountability. Having that experience so early in my career really established my expectations of good management and excellent leadership.
When the company started scaling, I was a part of the original support team. Watching executive decisions being made, understanding the motivation behind them and seeing the impact, taught me the value of decisive decision making. I learnt to discern between low impact and high impact decisions and radically prioritise. I was trained to think quickly, focus on impact tasks and do it all with kindness and a smile.
The founder’s attention to detail and creating value for the customer set her apart from almost any other executive I’ve worked with. She didn’t let options immobilise her, she held the attention of a room with ease and she did it all from a place of sincerity and kindness. Always.
Working as an Operations Assistant was less about the nuances of leadership and business management and more about process-thinking, agility and efficiencies. It was like real-life Tetris. The stuff of Type A personality dreams!
In this role, critical thinking was, well, critical. Everything was challenged. Could it be better? Were there gaps? What, if anything, could possibly go wrong? Did we have a backup plan?
I loved it. My inquisitive nature blossomed in the opportunity to critique and assess every corner of a process. Finding gaps. Fixing them. Reallocating resources. Shortening timelines. Delivering more value. It was a rush. It taught me to adapt. Quickly. It taught me deep resilience. It also developed my “No Problem!” Poker Face.
And then my next role was New Media Manager at Quiksilver. It’s what the youth today would call a Social Media Manager 😉
I remember my interview with the Managing Director and the Sales Manager. The Sales Manager and I chatted for ages about community and the power of connecting directly to the customer. The MD sat quietly, listening until he finally stopped us and said. “Candice, I know what you’re talking about is important but I don’t know what it is. Can you do this for us?”. I said yes. Within a month, I had an office, unfettered access to every corner of the internet and a very open remit to “Do this new media stuff” (*gestures broadly at everything*)
Falling headfirst into Social Media marketing in 2006 meant marrying my Marketing studies with tactics that had yet to be studied or quantified. I learnt on the go. Testing and focusing on the actions which lead to impact. Building communities, integrating strategic partnerships and closing the loop between these and our retail operations.
The MD taught me that autonomy and complete responsibility is a double-edged sword. I’ll never forget him saying, in a flippant style that did nothing to hide the seriousness of the statement, “Make sure I’m not giving you enough rope to hang yourself”. 😳 I made sure to always deliver. And in the moments where I fucked up, I made sure to own up and learn. Never to repeat those moments again.
I learnt that Social Media marketing, much like raising a child, takes a village. But they won’t give you one. So you become a very dangerous Generalist. Graphic Designer. Copywriter. PR executive. Community Manager. Strategist. Planner. Art Director. Producer.
I learnt that you can build it and they might not come. That the power of Brand is more than social pages. It’s integration. It’s action. It’s consistency.
I also learnt how to explain things that people don’t understand. Social media can be a generational divider and it takes diplomacy to bridge the divide between the platform, strategy and decision-makers.
So, what did I learn in my junior roles that I still use now:
- Understanding how tactics play into the strategy
- Prioritising impact tasks that deliver to the bigger picture
- Autonomy means accountability
- Listen. Watch. Learn. Then make a decision and commit to it
Growing from entry-level to junior roles showed my managers that I was reliable and responsible. It developed their trust in me and my skills and led to more access, learning and inevitably, ownership of my role.
These roles honed individual capabilities. Strong, but still separate…until I threw myself into the world of Freelancing and running my own business. #eeeeek