Why Thinking Small Can be a Great Decision

Posted by Kate Jurras on Tue, Apr 26, 2011

Guest post by Ali Robbins Hyatt. Ali is on the New Growth Platforms team at Avery Dennison, and is a member of the MITX 2010 Future Leaders Group, a group of six individuals who were chosen based on their leadership, spirit, entrepreneurialism, and early impact on the Massachusetts innovation economy. This post is part of our Digital Works: Careers in Digital Marketing, Technology, and Media Series. This series profiles the skills and experiences that make careers in this industry exciting, and provides advice to job seekers from the area’s foremost employers and experts.

seed resized 600In my search for a post-college first job, I was enamored by the large advertising agencies that created the commercials that I had admired since about age 12. Through a connection of a connection, I ended up with an interview at a small branding firm with the difficult-to-pronounce name of Desgrippes Gobè (now a part of Brand Image). The firm had such clients as Gap Inc., AOL, and Johnson & Johnson. There were about 40 people in the office in New York, and I was the first fresh-out-of-college person they had hired.

There was no real structure or plan for me, but they were excited to take advantage of a smart, over-eager 22 year-old.  I had no idea what to expect, and wondered if I should have held out for the job as an assistant coordinator at a giant brand name ad agency on Madison Avenue. I decided to take the risk. Going small for a first job turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, and set me up for my career options ever since.  Here’s why:

  1. Responsibility right from the beginning. Sure, you’re not going to be in a class of entry-level employees starting all together, so you are missing that safety net of like-minded peers of a similar age in a structured program. But, that’s the benefit. I didn’t always enjoy the task of having to do a manager’s expenses, but I knew if I completed that efficiently, I could spend time highlighting my skills in proposal writing or product naming brainstorms. You have to prove that you can take care of the "little things" seamlessly, but once you do that, you have full reign to ask for the "bigger things." Sometimes you will have to put in longer hours to pack it all in, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and have the opportunity to showcase your skills, your work happiness level will increase tenfold.
  2. High level feedback and access. When you’re only one or a couple levels removed from the top management at the firm, you get constant feedback from those same people. I received valuable and memorable lessons like, “Perception is reality – it doesn’t matter how hard you think you’re working, it matters how much value other people think you’re bringing” and “Make sure you dry your hands well when you leave a bathroom, because you never know who you’ll meet when you walk outside.” And there is actually a real chance you will be asked for your opinion at a meeting with a CEO or other C-level person that you remember reading about in a college business course.
  3. You become an expert at being scrappy. My job responsibilities involved everything from analyzing the entire bath and fragrance market to thinking up creative ways to launch new products. So, I learned to be really "scrappy," (otherwise known as learning to do more with less) to bring creativity and solid strategy to my clients. I traversed every pop-up shop in New York, bought every fragrance product I could find from Sephora to CVS and interviewed random strangers to acquire insights. I figured out a way to recruit and herd together IT professionals from across the U.S. for consumer research in New York.  When you have limited resources, you figure it out!
  4. Boredom will be absent from your vocabulary. If you’re like most people who want to go into careers in marketing, branding or tech, you would rather be juggling a thousand balls than be handling one task.  From getting a brand book completed on a deadline to developing a digital thermometer prototype to celebrating at the company’s Cinco de Mayo fiesta, I always had a million things to do. If you are a junior person at a small firm, you will always have a task list that outnumbers your list of Facebook friends. This is one of life’s certainties.

Since this first job, my career has morphed and re-focused a few times as I’ve gone into roles that are centered around business development and strategy. It was Job 1 at the small firm with the ridiculously hard name to pronounce, however, that taught me valuable lessons, incited my passion for business, and prepared me to be perpetually scrappy and resourceful.