For marketers and professionals, both young and old, mentorship and learning from others is essential. Once per month, Digital Creative invites an experienced mentor to an apprentice session to share their background and advice based on things they’ve learned in their career. This month our topic was how to prove your value and move up the ladder from entry level to executive in a corporate environment.
Dawn Hamilton, a 20 year veteran of USAA, joined the apprentices to share her experience of working her way up the ladder into ultimately, the CEO and CMO seat, leading a team of hundreds of marketers. She talked about her background and offered career advice to our digital marketing apprentices and fellows. From her first marketing job to executive vice president level and all the hurdles along the way, the apprentices took away huge insights from Dawn’s journey and gained a new mentor.
Apprentices around one table to hear Dawn's insights and ask questions.
To kick off the discussion, Dawn shared this insight: To prove your value you must show results. How do you go about proving your value and showing results? Here are 5 ways Dawn outlined.
- Don’t just meet expectations. Everyone is going to meet the expectations, but if you want to stand out you’re going to have to exceed the expectations. If something is due Friday, turn it in Thursday. If the goal is to sell 10, sell 15. Set yourself apart. You’re going to get results by exceeding.
- Take the assignments that no one else wants. There are things that aren’t getting done at work that your bosses would love for someone to do. Look for the little jobs or side activities that are broken that you think you could fix, volunteer to look into it on the evenings or weekends. I fixed this one problem and the next thing I knew I was in my boss’s office and they told me I would be briefing to one of the most senior people in the organization on a small item I solved.
- Listen for problems and brainstorm solutions. When you see a problem and take it to your boss, be sure to bring with it a potential solution. Supervisors are hungry for employees who are always looking out for solutions and improvements. They’re looking for better, faster, cheaper, smarter, quicker. It doesn’t have to be on a huge scale, it can be little improvements and tweaks - it’s all relative.
- Take initiative, be proactive, get involved. Get in the middle of team projects. If you work in teams from across the company or departments, you start to automatically network and start to learn how other departments work. Be thinking about ways to network within your company, which is just as important as external networking. Always volunteer and make sure others see you are involved and engaged.
- Just work hard. Get out ahead of your peers. A good solid work ethic will go a long way in getting results. You just need to work hard. “Work while they sleep, learn while they party, save while they spend, then live like they dream.” It’s simple, good, old-fashioned hard work.
“If you’re known as the problem fixer and going out and coming back with solutions, your boss will love you and you’ll become indispensable. You might not always make friends in some cases. You’re there to make the company stronger and better - that’s why they hired you.”
During Q&A the apprentices had awesome questions for Dawn.
What skills did you use most often in navigating your career?
Open communication and courage. You need to be transparent and people need to see your passion. You need to communicate in a real, honest, and open way. You also need the courage to figure out what to do, how to do it, then actually do it. Most people fail to have the courage to just go for something. You’re doing to fall down, skin your feels and hurt yourself a time or two - you’re going to fail. It’s okay to fail; it takes courage to be a disruptor.
Tell us about a time you became in charge of a department but didn’t fully understand that area of the organization.
I’m a marketing person, not a financial planning person, but all of the sudden I was running financial planning with little to no experience with financial planning. I was the boss of 99 people who all know more about the topic than me and I knew there was going to be some animosity. I took a deep breathe and got up in front of them and admitted that I knew nothing about financial planning, but that I did know about the market and about the organization. I told them to come into my office whenever and be open with me about what was or wasn’t working. That open communication provided so much insight and allowed me to help my employees accomplish what they needed to.
What role did mentorship play for you? How did you find mentors and what did they teach you?
I never had just one mentor, I had thousands. I learned from many people - peers, bosses, others in the organization. Some of the best learning that I did was how not to be from others. Sometimes you have a boss and learn that you don’t want to be like them or use their leadership/management style.
“Open, honest communication fosters trust.”
Since leaving USAA and taking time to be with her family, Dawn does consulting and provides businesses with market insights and corporate strategy.
Core to any apprenticeship is developing technical skills, but also professional skills and career building. Want to hear from mentors such as Dawn who can provide invaluable professional insight? Join the movement today and apply to become an apprentice!
Group photo with Dawn and the apprentices.