I chanced upon a medley of LinkedIn Influencer posts, all writing about their first jobs as part of the #CareerLaunch series of articles. Most of them wrote about how their first jobs affected them or changed their lives. There were quite a few of note, including President Obama’s stint as an Ice-Cream Scooper at a Baskin Robbins in Honolulu. However, the one post written by Katie Couric, stood out to me. Here’s a quick excerpt, from the part which spoke to me the most:
It became so clear to me that everyone, no matter what their limitations, has something to offer. Part of our jobs as human beings is recognizing that.
I think there’s a lot to learn from this one sentence. While it’s a recognition of human limitations, it’s also a clear indication that our limitations are no reason for us to stop offering our best.
Reading all these posts reminded me of what I learnt in my first internship after graduating, and how that 6 month stint changed my life forever.
A Hard Landing
My first job was so hard to find, I couldn’t believe it. It was the 3rd Quarter of 2009, and we were suffering collectively in the deepening shocks of a Global Financial Crisis. No one wanted to hire a fresh Communication grad from a private university, and everyone needed a job.
I ended up taking an internship job at a media company that some people might be familiar with. The Singapore Business Review magazine had just refocused it’s efforts on the then up and coming website, and digital was very much still “the future”, as opposed to what we have now. Remember: The iPad hadn’t been launched yet, and Facebook didn’t have an app, there was no Instagram, Twitter was the “in thing” and Whatsapp wasn’t used in Singapore yet.
We still used SMS okay.
The Singapore team was a skeleton crew:
- Another Intern who did the news
- A designer who worked solely on the print edition
- The boss
Me? I carved out a new found position called “Social Media Audience Development Intern”. As that guy, my job was to set up, launch and drive social media growth for the magazine. This growth would in turn drive web hits to site, which meant the company could charge more for ads on the site. To make things worse:
- I never used Facebook in a professional capacity [This was my limitation: Facebook was for fun and games]
- Facebook wasn’t geared for Business: There was no such thing as Facebook Pages yet [This was the platform’s limitation: Nobody legitimately thought of Facebook as a place for businesses to market themselves yet]
- Everyone was winging it. I mean everyone, including Channel NewsAsia etc etc. [This was our advantage: a very open playing field and strategic “flat ground”]
- I had exactly 1 week to create a pipeline to channel hits from Social Media to the website, or else… it was back to being jobless [This was the proverbial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over my head]
What the HELL.
Existential Threats can create Exponential Growth
At that point, facing lack of employment and being caught in a situation where I had a very limited timeline to prove myself felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t know if I was going to make it, but it certainly helped me place myself in a “survive and thrive” frame of mind. My personal pivot moment happened only when I realised that I had to improvise and iterate rapidly. In that short span of a week, I learnt 2 valuable career lessons that I still hold close to my heart:
It was easy to start building strategies that use multi-layered approaches that leverage on omnichannel media to generate strong and sustained attention to a website….
… did I you get confused there? Well, that’s the problem.
I was forced to improvise my usual, considered approach. So instead of considering all things and then going in, I considered the most important thing then went in feet first before improvising along the way. I mean, you can’t actually consider every angle anyway.
I started piping content onto Facebook, and then sneaking links onto relevant threads on local Web Forums. That started generating hits on the website. After that, we started tweaking title copy to push more clicks. We knew that “Bad news sells”, so we started experimenting in a bid to figure out exactly what type of bad news sold better.
Porting this strategy to Twitter didn’t work as well. That was until we realised that it could work as a quasi real-time system. So when the 2010 Singapore Budget announcement came round, I floated the idea to be the first Business site to live-tweet the Budget (eat that, Channel NewsAsia).
2) Trust the Data and follow through on it
After that live-tweet session, follower growth started to become exponential, and so did web traffic. It would be easy to just lean back and let the hits roll in but I decided that it was the right moment to fine-tune the formula.
This coincided with my attendance at this Google Analytics Event which taught me how to look at web data to glean insights for behaviour. We used what we learnt from that, coupled it with endless content experiments to understand user tastes, then tweaked post copy and content to get even more clicks.
We ended up doubling web traffic in my first month there, and subsequently adding about 50-60% more traffic every month.
Honestly, it was brutal.
My boss kept the pressure on me, then turned it up when he realised we had something. He didn’t stop cranking up the pressure, and it wasn’t a conducive environment to work in long term.
I didn’t have many friends who understood what I was doing, and my family completely didn’t get how Social Media was a job. To top it all of, I was making what they called a “living wage”.
But I’d do it again…
I didn’t know it then, but this first internship job brought out the hunger in me. Even when I got fired from my first full-time job, I knew I wasn’t going to fail long-term because that just confirmed what I wasn’t good at. I just needed to chase after what I had found myself to be good at. It set me up for some great moments in life, like having this blog and working in what is basically a marketing sandbox.
I was able to use data and design to create moments like this:
Go hard, or go home
It’s been 7 years since, but that memory of picking something up and running like the wind still sits in the back of my mind, almost singed into those synapses that keep me going everyday. Those few months launched my career, and I’m truly grateful for that experience.
#CareerLaunch is a series of articles aimed at the millennial reader by millennials, helping them make career decisions. It is is written in collaboration with Carrie of carriesim.com. Join the #CareerLaunch conversation! Email contact[at]carriesim.com and kenneth.lee.rj[at]gmail.com to collaborate on future articles.