Five years ago, right around this time of year, I pitched myself for a full-time junior publicist role at CNN. College graduation was just a couple months away, and my internship for the network’s public relations department was coming to an end.
My parents were clear: “Get a full-time job by graduation day or move back home to California until you get on your feet.” I was determined to find a permanent role at CNN’s New York bureau.
Spoiler alert: My first full-time job was not the junior publicist position I’d initially envisioned.
Instead, I was hired as an executive assistant to CNN’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president of communications.
I was ecstatic to have secured a full-time position, but wondered how much responsibility I’d have in this type of role. My new boss assured me that if I didn’t drop the ball on my core duties, she would happily expand my set of responsibilities. After all, she had a strong reputation for mentoring her assistants. They had all gone on to have incredible careers. This brought me peace of mind.
Without a doubt, being an “EA” was one of the most invaluable experiences of my career, and an opportunity I never discredited.
You shouldn’t either.
Studies show that millennials want growth, development and leadership opportunities fast. And if they don’t get what they need, they’re likely to leave for another job. That’s not surprising– when you are young, hungry and ambitious, it’s normal to want success at an advanced pace.
But the reality is, being an executive assistant can be very rewarding. Many people start off as assistants and eventually go on to do incredible things. Ursula Burns was an executive assistant to Wayland Hicks, who was at the time a senior Xerox executive, before ultimately becoming chairman at VEON. Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Emmy-winning news correspondent, was an assistant at the network’s foreign desk in Atlanta. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a law clerk to Judge Edmund L. Palmieri before she became the second woman named to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bill Hader started out as a production assistant before becoming an award-winning actor and comedian best known for his stints on SNL. Ralph Lauren was a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers before launching his fashion empire. The list goes on and on.
A global survey facilitated by LinkedIn and Imperative found that one’s sense of purpose in the workplace becomes more apparent as they grow along in their career. Starting out as an assistant can be a great place to kickstart that growth because your colleagues depend on you for just about everything.
Top-performing assistants possess a number of quality traits, like being an excellent leader, an intuitive thinker, approachable, and essentially a director of office operations. Upon taking this type of position, you very quickly become a core member of a team—the glue that keeps everything together. If you keep a “yep, you got it!” mindset, growth opportunities can be vast.
I’ve learned that when you work hard and prove that you can tackle more than what’s on your plate, you’ll often be able to leverage well-earned connections to explore different areas of a company. As an assistant, I’d raise my hand for anything and everything, from handling the check-in process at events to pulling press clippings. My goal was to be the go-to girl for everything.
Looking back, I feel incredibly lucky to have worked for an executive who invested in my career growth early on. This isn’t guaranteed with any job that you take, but I found that when you go the extra mile and make the most of each opportunity, you set yourself up for success.
Today, as a senior editor at Thrive Global, I can honestly say that every business lunch that I catered, every trip I booked, every meeting I arranged and every phone call I answered has shaped my success in some form or fashion.
If you’re looking for job opportunities in your early career, keep an open mind. Being an assistant is a great place to launch your professional journey. After all, it’s up to you to decide how much juice can be squeezed out of each opportunity in your life.
Did your first job pay off in the long run? We want to hear from you.