$23K and a Piece of Humble Pie

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It has been close to 20 years since I entered the world of marketing and advertising. I was always very focused on my career and at an early age thought about pursuing a number of different professions ranging from being a doctor to a marine biologist to a stock market trader. I ended up not choosing any of these paths, either because I dipped my toes in it and didn’t like it, or I didn’t think my strengths matched the profession.

By the time I entered my last year at university, I had narrowed it down to the world of advertising. The industry wasn’t something I had considered until a fellow classmate told me about her internship experience at McCann Erickson one summer. The more I learned the more fascinated I became with the industry. Advertising seemed like the perfect marriage between art and business. It seemed glamorous and I thought it would be fun to work with young people in a high energy, fast-paced environment. I decided I would try my luck on Madison Avenue but moving to New York City would be a risky endeavor. We just graduated post 9–11 to one of the worst job markets in history, I did not have any contacts in the city or the industry, and I would need a work visa which the US wasn’t too keen on handing out after those horrific attacks. The outlook seemed pretty bleak. Yet working on Madison Avenue was very alluring to me, and so why not give it a shot? What is the worst that could happen?

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After a few months of sending resumes and cold calling, I landed an interview with a tiny ad agency in New York that specializes in Asian American advertising. It was a niche part of the industry but they served cool clients like Hennessy, Foxwoods, and Citibank. When asked about my salary expectation, I naively blurted out “$50K!” explaining that I had graduated from a prestigious business school in Canada with a list of important skills. The hiring manager exclaimed “$50K is almost what I make!” That was really embarrassing. Luckily, the hiring manager wasn’t turned off by my unrealistic expectations and offered me a job as an Account Coordinator — but at $23K. Of course, I took it without hesitation because it was exactly the type of work I wanted to do in one of the greatest cities in the world (my dad on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled, but was supportive nonetheless).

So was the job what I envisioned it to be? Yes and No. But taking that first step became a springboard for more experiences and better opportunities later on in my career. And it has made all the difference. When I look back, there are so many things that I learned. I have listed three key takeaways from my early career:

  1. Humility is really important: Your alma mater is important to some companies but most people don’t really care. Especially when you start working, everyone is on an even playing field. You soon realize that you don’t really know much, you need to listen and work hard, follow through, and be humble. At the beginning, most of what you’ll work on may be administrative and menial tasks, but it serves as your foundation. Don’t discount it.

The founder of Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists.

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