You Won’t Believe What These Successful Women Did For Their First Jobs

By Carmen Collins

Fun fact: I’m the baby of the team here at CS by quite a few years. I graduated from college only two short years ago and quickly fell into my dream job of producing photo shoots and blog posts for CamilleStyles.com (and yes, I’m still pinching myself.) In this industry, I’m surrounded by so many successful women that it can often be easy to fall into the comparison game. I often feel like I’m ten steps behind, and honestly, I’m about ten years behind, but that’s right where I’m supposed to be at this age. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to stop comparing myself to other creatives who have years and years more experience than I do. Everyone has a starting point — and most people aren’t lucky enough to land their dream job right out of college. So, I asked nine influential creative women (including two right here in our office) about their first jobs and what they learned from them. Whether it was making cold calls, running errands all day in traffic, or working multiple jobs at once, it turns out every successful person I talked to spent years paying their dues.

featured image via gamfratesi

“When I moved to LA right after college, I was an assistant in about a million roles — assistant to a line producer, assistant to a couple different directors, assistant at an agency. For years, I was either chained to a desk answering phones and scheduling, or I was on set getting everyone (endless) cups of coffee. The most exciting change was when my schedule became my own. In my current role, I get to meet with writers and filmmakers and discuss stories they want to tell. And, I now realize what I was soaking in all those years watching my bosses do their jobs. Whether it was sitting next to them at video village watching takes or listening to calls about development and production, it all added up to build a comprehensive perspective on different aspects of the business. I might have felt like I was in the shadows and like I was job-hopping in an endless pursuit to find the right path, but in retrospect the varied experiences created a great foundation.”

Katy Rozelle, SVP of Development at Paramount

“My first job out of college was tele-marketing for MCI (gah! I haven’t thought of that company in forever!). I was literally the person that would call you to sell you a long distance plan… on your land line. So, basically, I was the person you hung up on after about 5 seconds. It was brutal to get rejected over and over again, not to mention just talking to complete, faceless strangers for the 8 hours a day. Honestly, I learned a lot — the worst someone can say to you is “no,” and I learned that hearing the word means nothing to the next person you run into. Failures and rejections are things that you take on yourself — many people don’t even know about them so don’t let the trauma of that affect your future conversations and potential clients, guests, and relationships for that matter. Also, I don’t dally about when it comes to getting to the point when I talk — within 5 seconds people tune out or hang up — so be impactful from the start. Get to the point and you’ll be surprised how many people say ‘yes’ to you!”

— June Rodil, Master Sommelier + Beverage Director at McGuire Moorman Hospitality

“I moved out of my parents house at the age of 17, between graduating high school and attending Otis College of Art and Design. During that time, I worked as a sales associate at Diane Merrick, which was really one of my first real-life experiences in the industry. I did everything from steam clothing, unpack boxes, and deal with all sorts of clients! I learned so much about visual merchandising, how important it is to have excellent customer service, and really what it takes to run a successful boutique. From there I studied at Otis for a year, and left to start my brand at the age of 19. I was lucky to start my business at a young age, but I have to admit that many of my learnings about the business happened in real time!”

— Jenni Kayne, Founder + Creative Director of Jenni Kayne

“My first job was working as an extra on movie sets. It was actually kind of grueling. Weeks on end of 12 to 13 hour days, standing around on set and being treated like cattle. But I paid attention to what was going on around me, and learned a lot about film production. I kept all of the call sheets, scripts, and production schedules I could get my hands on and then used those things to model my own projects off of. A lot of people had terrible attitudes — they thought it would be more fun, more glamorous, less time consuming. But I always looked at it as an opportunity to learn, and I think that attitude served me well. Now I get to direct and act in our own films here at Camille Styles. Just don’t ever call me ‘background’ again!”

— Jenn Rose Smith, Art Director at Camille Styles

“My first job out of college was at a commercial architecture and design firm. Because I wasn’t trained as an interior designer but wanted to learn about its commercial industry I started as a part time receptionist, mostly handling plans being couriered to various job sites, organizing carpet samples and so on. It wasn’t glamorous but gave me the building blocks for what is now my own to-the-trade program.”

— Katie Kime, CEO + Creative Director of Katie Kime, Inc.

“My first job was as a lowest level fashion assistant at a PR firm in New York. I remember landing in the city for the first time and thinking that I’d somehow managed to score my “dream job” right after college. Ha! Pretty soon into my first week, I realized that things were going to be a little different than I’d envisioned… think The Devil Wears Prada, but with less glamour. I got to deliver clothes to the Condé Nast offices (!!!), and was promptly received at a dingy loading dock by a doorman who took the garment bags and sent me on my way, hoofing it in my heels the half mile back to my office in the swampy July heat. The rest of the summer was more of the same — 4 hours spent searching the city for the perfect paper clips to secure a client proposal, taking the subway across town to buy an iPad for my boss’s daughter’s friend’s birthday party. And you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world. I worked my butt off that summer and learned the value of being humble, not taking everything personally, and doing what it takes to make a stellar first impression. I was also exposed to the world of event planning, and when I moved to Austin soon after, I knew that was the field I wanted to pursue next.”

— Camille Styles, Owner + Creative Director of Camille Styles

“I had more than one first job out of college since the job market was tough in 2009. I was a design assistant to about 3 different designers around town which meant I did anything from pick up paint samples to drop off dry cleaning. It wasn’t easy but I worked hard and paid attention to how each one ran their business and learned from them all. Now I own my own design business and get to do everything from product design to YouTube videos!”

— Claire Zinnecker, Founder of Claire Zinnecker Design

“I was 23 when I got my first job as a wardrobe styling assistant.  Everyone thinks styling is so glamorous, but I lived in my car most days doing pick ups at showrooms and studio departments at stores.  Some days I would be back and forth to Beverly Hills and West Hollywood from Burbank 3-4 times and would regularly trek up to Santa Barbara to shop just two or three great stores.  In January during my first year on the job I got my first paycheck  and thought I had gotten a raise, but really minimum wage had just gone up that year! I was an avid note taker during fittings, proficient in every short cut up and over “the hill” in Los Angeles, and spent countless hours steaming clothes, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.  It gave me the opportunity to learn the job and the business from the ground up and made me confident when I went out on my own as a stylist.”

— Jen Pinkston, Author of The Effortless Chic

“My first job was at “Fox 24 News…Where your news comes first” — this is what I had to say at the end of my live reports. “Live in downtown Macon, Whitney Casey, Fox 24 News, Where your news comes first.” So those are pretty awesome videos to watch on YouTube. Hahaha. I used to sleep in a news room with the scanners — hoping for breaking news where I would be the first one to cover it. And if there was breaking news??? I would have to carry this massive camera and set it up (by myself) and stand in front of it with a mic and then run back to the edit room at the station and edit it. Then go back to the scene and go live for the 5 PM news. Only thing I did not do was run the live truck — but I would have!!! Luckily, CNN was next. But I paid my dues in Macon, Georgia for sure.”

— Whiney Casey, Founder + CEO of Finery