I recently got promoted and I can’t help but reflect on how wild my post-college job journey has been. Every position I’ve been in, I’ve come into it in such a roundabout, serendipitous way. For those who are young and anxious about what it looks like to get started in a career, I hope my story gives you perspective.
Crying In The Fine Arts Library
My very first interview I had was for an entry-level marketing position at GMi Companies, a manufacturer in Lebanon, Ohio. My finacé at the time had a college roommate who worked there and told him that I should apply. It was a little outside of what I was looking for... longer commute, less creative atmosphere, but it was a job and I really wanted it.
(For a little background context, I graduated college a year early and had plans to get married a few months after graduation. I was desperate for pretty much any job that would pay enough for us to have our own apartment. My college journey was pretty nuts too, I should write about that later...)
[ Photo that Jake took of me after my interview with GMi Companies ]
I thought I absolutely nailed the interview and was convinced I got the job. I remember going back to my townhome that I shared with two housemates, looking at myself in the mirror in a super narcissistic way, and telling myself no one else had a chance. Sidenote—This is also the time when I learned that it's best not to share "potential good news" to anyone before you know the final outcome...
Well, I got the call while sitting in the Fine Arts Library at OSU. I cried and asked the woman who interviewed me what I could work on as I continue my job search. She actually told me that I did very well, but that I was too creative for the job and she didn’t want to hinder my growth or be the wrong stepping stone in my career path. She could tell I was more interested in design and she was worried I would get stuck in Excel making lists of MQLs and SQLs or something like that. I was heartbroken and couldn’t see how much of a blessing this “No” really was.
Thai Fried Rice and Two New Friends
She must have liked me, because she followed up with an e-introduction to GMi's design agency partner, CreativeFuse, located in Dayton, Ohio, my hometown. The two guys that were CC'd on that email agreed to have lunch with me and show me around the Nucleus Co-Share space where their office was located. We ate at Thai 9, had some really good fried rice, and a wonderful conversation about life that ended with them telling me, “You will have no problem finding a job, but if for whatever reason you want to work with us, the job is yours!”
I left that lunch shocked. I didn't realize that our one-sided conversation about me and all of my aspirational life dreams was actually them vetting me for a position on their team. They saw something in me that I couldn't see in myself and it honestly felt like it was too good to be true. Grateful for our connection, I went on to interviewed at three other places that all lacked the spark that I felt at Nucleus. I came back to CreativeFuse a month later and they kept their word and hired me. No formal interview, no portfolio review—just a lot of faith!
[ Photo from a few months later, after a meeting with the woman who interviewed me at GMi ]
Choosing My Own Job Title
When I got started at CreativeFuse, I had a BA in Art and a handful of websites that I had built with a DIY CMS platform for family friends. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew that I was interested in diving into the web design world. Our team was small and comprised of mostly director-level cofounders so I got to work closely with the stakeholders. My "boss" told me to choose whatever job title I wanted and he will allow me to grow into that position. I touched the walls, learning, growing, and seeing what suits me.
I eventually landed on the title "Digital Designer", vague enough to allow me to do a little bit of everything. I still remember getting my first set of business cards. "Savannah Rank, Digital Designer" was printed on the softest cardstock I've ever felt. This was kind of a big deal, since I wasn't married yet and hadn't changed my surname. I felt absolutely giddy.
The Blessing and Curse of Being a Generalist
I distinctly remember sitting in my Senior Art Seminar at OSU where the guest speaker told us that being a jack of all trades was career suicide and that the only way to get anywhere was to be the expert in one thing. This scared the crap out of me and made me feel so pressured to figure out what I was good at and only focus on that one thing for the rest of my life.
Despite that fear of always being "just okay" at a lot of things, I spent the first few months at CreativeFuse diving into as much as I was allowed and soaking in as much knowledge as I could retain. I was even given the opportunity work on things that were more organizational design, administrative, and business related. Like I said, the team was really small, so everyone wore a lot of hats which was awesome, but also was responsible for a few of my identity crises I've had—more on that later.
After a few months, I realized that I was mostly energized by all things UX. It felt super ownable and marketable based on my limited research online, so I was promoted to UX Designer and was able to lead all UX-related deliverables for our digital team. After about a year, the structure of our agency was changing and there was an opportunity for me to lead more. I was promoted again to Strategy Lead and had more ownership over all the projects that came through the door.
Gotta Have That Global Brand Experience
So after Jake and I got married, we honeymooned in Portland, Oregon and fell in love. Ohio was comfortable—it's where our families and friends are, everything we really knew—but if we were ever going to move away, we agreed that it'd be to Portland. I started following a few PDX design agencies on Instagram to stay inspired. I saw a job posting for a Brand Strategist position at one of them and I about lost my mind. I didn't realize that that type of position at a big design agency was real.
I applied, interviewed, and was told that they went with someone else because I lacked global brand experience. It was a bummer, because I had only ever worked for CreativeFuse which has a more local reach. CreativeFuse started out as a non-profit design agency during the Recession of 2008 with the purpose of helping graduating designers land freelance work and supporting the people who lost their jobs and ventured into the startup world in getting affordable design work. So long story short, our clients were mostly small to mid-sized brands around our city.
Stay-At-Home Dog Mom
[ Photo from my last day working at CreativeFuse ]
When we got serious about wanting to move to Portland, I put in my notice and decided to take a few months off from work to hang with my dog, Zissou, and work on my portfolio / resume. Applying to jobs is like a full-time job in and of itself and came with a lot of rejection emails. It was really hard to make an impression as a 24-year-old from a small city in Ohio with only a few years experience out of college. I even applied to an internship that was for college students. I emailed the talent acquisition person at the studio and pleaded for a chance to get a foot in the door. I heard back and they told me they had a huge intake of applications and would reach out in a few months. I didn’t think much of it and continued on the hunt for other opportunties.
A couple months later, I got an email from Uncorked Studios in Portland asking if I would be interested in a contract to work on a Nike project. I couldn’t believe it! I called them to talk about the opportunity, but was still flabbergasted that they reached out to me. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how they had my contact information. Later, I learned that it was their Strategy Internship that I desperately applied to and that they kept my resume on file.
The team said I was more than qualified, no interview or portfolio review needed, but that they really wanted my strategy chops on this Nike project! They loved that I was an OSU alum and that they were ready to get started as soon as I could get out there. It was only a one-month long contract, but it was enough for Jake and I to take a leap of faith and move across the country!
Moving To Portland For a One-Month Project
[ Photo from the day we left Ohio to move to Oregon ]
We leased an SUV that had a trailer hitch, packed up our lives into a 5x8 U-Haul, and drove from Ohio to Oregon with our hyperactive Aussie drugged out on tranquilizers. We moved into an apartment that I had never seen in-person and was 2x's more expensive than our rent in Ohio.
At Uncorked, I really tried to make a good impression so I could join the team on a full-time basis. After the first month of Nike, they extended me a few more contracts—one to continue on the Nike work, and another to support the UX and brand strategy for AudioEye! I was thankful that they kept me around, but I really wanted something more secure.
[ Photo a custom name plate made for all of the people associated with the Nike project ]
A couple months later, it was announced that Uncorked was going to be acquired by Fresh Consulting. It was a strange transition for everyone, but it felt extra strange for me. I was sort of "grandfathered in" with the rest of the team, on a contractor basis. About a month later, post-merger, Fresh sent me an official offer letter for full-time position with a job title that I got to pick again "Design Strategist". Again, no interviews, no portfolio reviews, just a lot of good timing and a lot of amazing people advocating for me.
COVID-19 and a New Career
After almost a year at Fresh, I decided I was ready for change of scenery and welcomed the idea of switching from the agency / consultancy life to the in-house / product life. I reconnected with my AudioEye point of contact (the one I worked with from my second contract with Uncorked), we had a brief chat, and he sent me an offer letter by the next day. No interviews, no portfolio reviews, just a rekindled relationship from a year ago on a two-month contract where I must have made an impression.
I started at AudioEye during the pandemic, and as many of you know, trying to get a new job and onboard onto a new team is very difficult to do when you're remote. AudioEye was in a unique position at the time. The company, leadership team, product / service offering, everything had drastically shifted directions and they were in full agile startup / scrappy / reboot mode.
In just four months, we've been able to launch a new product, restructure our service offerings, redefine our brand, build out an integrated marketing function, and grow our team! I was just recently interviewing a woman for our Marketing team who graduated college before I was born and had more work experience than I had life experience. It was intimidating and I was honestly jealous. The position was more focused on the brand side of the company and it was a space I really care about. Unbenounced to me, my CMO and Creative Director both collectively decided (post-interview session) that I would be the better fit, even though I had less experience. Rather than hiring externally, they promoted me!
The Moral of This Long-Winded Story
Admittedly, this started out as a "look I got promoted" Facebook post, and somehow became a full-length article... so I don't really know how this is supposed to come to a close. I guess I just wanted to share my story, partly because I am really proud of myself for being 26 and doing so well in my career, and partly because I know what it's like to be young and inexperienced and clueless about how to find the right work opportunities.
So my advice from my own personal experiences? Make connections. Have lunches with new people. Don't just pitch your experience, share your aspirations. Allow yourself to be good at more than one thing, even if it makes it harder to "sell yourself" and explain what you do. Make space to pursue what you want, despite rejection. Apply to things that don't fit your "life stage". Take risks and see where it takes you, because who knows? One month might turn into many years!