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Career Crashers 61: Emily Cozzens on How She Built Her Career Launchpad with Projects and an Apprenticeship to Win Opportunity

Many people believe a job at a high-growth startup is completely out of reach unless you’re a superstar programmer or experienced marketer. The reality is that some great projects and initiative will go a long way to getting your foot in the door.

This week on Career Crashers Joel is joined by Emily Cozzens, a partner success manager at PandaDoc who build her career with projects that helped her win opportunity!

Many people believe a job at a high-growth startup is completely out of reach unless you’re a superstar programmer or experienced marketer. The reality is that some great projects and initiative will go a long way to getting your foot in the door.

“I was astonished by how quickly I was able to put something together, and then be able to look back and see why this approach works so well.”

Besides helping you get your foot in the door, projects are also a really great way to learn, in general.

“The lessons weren’t just in ‘How do I build the Marketing thing?’ it was also in: ‘How do I tackle something huge?!”

In this episode, Emily shares how she used her early career experience working in a cheese store to develop great customer service skills and how taking initiative to create projects allowed her to win a great opportunity and advance quickly once she had it.

Related: Career Crashers 68: Joe Pas on How Daily Blogging and Personal Projects Help You Win Opportunities

Also Related: Career Crashers: Learning Skills with a Crash Mindset

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Show notes – Build Your Career Launchpad with Projects to Win Opportunity

  • How Emily got her first job as a teenager working at a cheese shop
  • What skills Emily learned in her early service industry job that have helped her in her work at a tech startup
  • How Emily challenged herself to learn marketing and writing skills by creating a blog and Instagram page for the cheese shop she worked at
  • Why adding constraints can improve your creativity
  • How using projects to build skills helped Emily win opportunity and prepare for her current role
  • Breaking down big projects into small stages to make it more achievable
  • How Emily was able to win her opportunity at PandaDoc and what her experience and evolution from customer success to marketing was like
  • Using you current job as a launching pad for more interesting opportunities

Connect with Emily

Full Transcript: – Build Your Career Launchpad with Projects to Win Opportunity

Isaac
Welcome to Career Crashers, where we tell the stories of those who are not content to wait around following rules and hoping for good things to happen. Great careers aren’t found. They’re forged.

It’s time to crash the party.

Joel
Okay, I am excited to be joined by Emily Cozzens, who is partner success manager at pandadoc. And Emily is also an alum of the Praxis program. One year program, six months, professional boot camp and six months apprenticeship program. And Praxis is the company that crash actually grew out of. So there’s a lot of overlap in what we preach in terms of mindset and forging your career.

So I’m excited to have Emily and she’s going to dive into that. And I’m want to start though, with your sort of first story, which is one of your first professional experiences was actually working at a cheese shop. You put together a little blog at the cheese shop Instagram. And I’m curious how you you got into that fun little store and what skills you kind of built there?

Emily
Okay, yeah, so I started working at the cheese shop when I was 17. Just because I wanted to make my own money. And I was also humanly opposed to working at any sort of fast food chain. So I realized early on that my options were quite limited, but I managed to just land a job with the the owner there. On the common basis we have in being relatively politically conservative/libertarian. And I’m just really liking trying new foods, and tasting things and working with people.

I didn’t really know at the time that I liked working with people, as much as I found out that I did. One of the biggest soft skills I learned there was just how to relate a more more of a professional level but being able to break out of that comfort zone, and go up and talk to people that come into the store and ask them how their day is going and ask them about what cheeses they’re interested in. And really be able to build rapport with the customer.

When they walk in, and being able to send them out the door with something they enjoy. And a good experience. Right good conversation.

Joel
I love two things about that one that you kind of had your value system kind of gone already where you’re like, Oh, I want to work at a cheese shop more more so than a typical fast food. And kind of figuring out what you didn’t want to do in order to find what you did want to do building the soft skills of leaving your comfort zone and and customer service.

And I think oftentimes, people who are at the beginning of their career are just kind of see one of those types of jobs is just maybe just to bring in some cash, but there’s not really much transference to a more official job, if you will. But I’m curious about now that you’re at PandaDoc. What skills do you see from the cheese shop, that kind of transferred over to help you win opportunity?

Emily
100% is the conversational skills. Being able to strike up a conversation with somebody and build relationship. Build a relationship or rapport with them very quickly. That’s it was a lot easier during the cheese shop days because people were walking in, in person. It’s a little bit different now because everything is done online and over zoom. But all of the concepts are the same.

So the just the simple act of saying hello and wearing a smile and asking them about their day. And all of those little things are really just what add up to build that very transferable skill that isn’t just going to apply in any retail situation, but will also work in a number of other positions, no matter who you’re talking to.

Joel
Yeah, absolutely. And so you built this Instagram page as well for the cheese shop. Can you talk talk about that?

Emily
Yeah. So um, around a year or two, probably a year into my job at the cheese shop. That’s when I found Praxis. And I started the program in April. So around like April, May or June. That time is what I was getting into a particular module in the Praxis boot camp called 30 day blogging. And the first time I tried the 30 day blogging I did not do well at it. But the next month I tried again. And this time I focused my focus my attention on a much more specific topic. Which was really helpful.

And I also was exploring the idea of practicing marketing. As a more professional skill set to take somewhere else, I was really interested in that at the time. And writing a blog about something that I know about. Sort of pushing the boundaries there. Just in terms of what formats I’m used to, seems like a good way to practice that.

So I wrote a little post every day for 30 days. And I sort of split it up between the two mediums. Because I found that I was getting bored with the website. And I wanted a different path to follow there when I was getting bored. But the, the gist of it was, it’s one cheese at a time. That’s what I called the blog. And I wanted to make cheeses and like the world of cheese a little bit more accessible to people that wanted to learn about it. But maybe we’re a little bit intimidated, because there are a lot of intimidating seeming cheeses that people are scared to try, but are actually quite delicious.

And it’s a, I always found that it was a nice way to enjoy something with friends or host a little party or even just enjoy by yourself. But it’s less easy to enjoy if you’re getting in the way of yourself. And thinking that you’re not right for it. Or it’s too high class for you, or whatever you want to believe there.

So the purpose of the blog was to make cheese more accessible to people who are interested in learning about it and trying new things. So I wrote a little bit about what each cheese type is. Just based on what I learned during like on the sales floor. And a little bit of research, I gave tips for what my favorite cheeses were and why they were my favorite different ways. You can entertain people different ways. You can find budget cheeses, so that they still tasted good, but weren’t supermarket cheeses. And they weren’t expensive.

That was the purpose for the blog. And initially, I thought wouldn’t it be so cool if I could convince my boss to run these little blog posts as part of their social media marketing. And that didn’t happen. But it was still a really good learning experience for me. And just in terms of that initial 30 day blogging challenge that I mentioned, because I learned how to write something even if I didn’t feel like writing and how to deliver and produce something every day consistently.

Joel
Yeah, oh man. So fun, because you’re sort of killing two birds with one stone, in a sense in terms of your your skill development to help you win opportunity. And when you’re thinking about what does the customer need you recognizing this sort of niche of, yeah, people know, cheese, but they know like two types of cheese. So you’re trying to expose that the array of sophisticated cheeses, if you will, and but do that in this sort of welcoming way, through these blog posts and these photos, and at the same time, you’re you’re creating this frame of the 30 day blog challenge.

And that’s invaluable for what you said about developing the consistency soft skill, and then just having the framework of the platform to go ahead and document what you’re working on. Then that brought you the idea to try to get it into the companies, you know, social media marketing and in all sorts of ripple effects. And but I just want to underscore for our listeners, if you are trying to build that body of work, that 30 day blogging challenge, or if you can make a seven day or 14, it’s a great way to start off because it gives your mind this is framework, this scaffold thing where you’re like, Alright, this is the deadline, this is what I need to get done.

But it’s also short enough timeframe where you don’t feel like you, it’s super overwhelming, but it’s a great little frame for you to go ahead and document your work that can help win opportunity.

Emily
I would add to that too. And just say if you do find that you’re struggling with the 30 day blogging challenge, like I was, one, that’s okay, because it’s supposed to be a challenge. It’s going to be difficult, and only a few people are able to like, truly sustain it beyond 30 days, but it’s doable.

And if you are struggling there, try diving into something a little bit more specific that you’re interested in. So you’re not trying to find out what in the world should I talk about today, where the sky’s the limit, rather focus on something that you’re interested in. And that if you put if you put guard rails around yourself basically then that helps with the creativity because you’re not going to be looking at a bunch of different directions to find something to do. Rather, you can focus in on one thing and exercise your creativity in more of a micro setting.

Joel
Yeah, absolutely 100% Yeah, creativity, needs constraints and constraints and breed that creativity. You can even do something like, I’m going to write a blog post, but no less than no more than 20 words. And then it becomes a much more focused activity in a sense.

So what other, as you get into Praxis, and you’re in this boot camp, a big component of that is building that portfolio, building projects, documenting. Tell us more about other projects that you built during that six month boot camp, and how that helps you kind of build your leverage into your professional roles to win opportunity.

Emily
Yeah, so I guess the You were right, when you said that the blogging challenge and the the cheese thing sort of killed two birds with one stone there. There was one other relatively large milestone during that boot camp with as far as projects are concerned. And that was a marketing spec campaign, basically, for a company called FEE.

I’m sure like all of your listeners are probably familiar, to some extent, the foundation for economic education. And this was actually a company that I was super interested in working for. I was playing around with the idea because they’re obviously very Liberty minded, and I loved education and learning new things at the time. And one of the projects that was presented to me as part of the job interview was to put together a marketing spec campaign.

It was specifically for gathering donations. And they wanted to model it after a similar structure. For fundraising and for charity. Charity Water is a very transparent sort of structure. If you Google it, you’ll find that a lot of like a lot of the donations, obviously, they do need to go to overhead costs just to keep the company running and to keep operations running smoothly, but they’re very transparent and upfront about where your costs are going.

And so some people have elected to donate towards operations only. Then other people have decided to donate towards the projects that are actually part of the charity, which is drilling water, drilling for water in Africa and in other places, so that everyone around the world can have clean water. And I really liked that concept.

But I did not know how to build a campaign, or like a spec for how a campaign would run. And I had just a few days to do it. I panicked a little bit for the first day. And then I asked one of my advisors at Praxis to help me out. And he did. By the time the deadline rolled around, I had created a pretty comprehensive plan for how I would create structure and market on this fundraiser and this charity.

And it was a really fulfilling experience for me, because I’d gone from knowing nothing on day one to putting together a fully fledged project on day three. I realized, you know, asking for help when you need it is incredibly powerful.

On top of that, just breaking down a giant project into really tiny bite sized pieces, like break it down, so you can’t break it down anymore. That’s what really helps you start taking those steps to achieve something that seems really big. Without getting super overwhelmed. Those are the two big takeaways for me.

Joel
That’s fantastic. Yeah, I’m reminded of Henry Ford quote, something along the lines of everything is achievable when divided into small jobs.

Emily
Yeah, and it’s infinitely divisible to so like, you can really go pretty deep there.

Joel
Yeah, absolutely. Just figure out what that next physical step is. What’s the next little micro step and then you can keep the ball rolling to win opportunity. And you and you sort of started from scratch?

Like I think a lot of people think i think that the typical mindset maybe I think we’re taught growing up in school maybe is learning something through getting trained on it. Right, but you just had this deadline, and you had no prior knowledge on this and you had a few days to figure it out. And necessity is the mother of invention. And that sounds like it really just leveraged a lot of growth really fast.

Emily
Definitely, yeah. And I was astonished by how quickly I was able to put something together to win opportunity. Then like being able to look back and see Oh, this is why it works so well. was super powerful to me. And it really made those lessons stick. And on top of that, like the lessons weren’t just in how do I build a marketing thing?

It was also in like, how do I tackle something huge, and, like, conquer it. And that was the most powerful piece to me that I still remember the the details of how to put together a plan for a campaign like naturally ever needed.

Joel
So then tell us about how you you leveraged into your, your apprenticeship at Panda Doc, right? And then eventually that turned into your your full time roles. Did you? Did you send a pitch to PandaDoc to win opportunity?

Emily
No, what I did not send a pitch to PandaDoc. It read a little bit more like a regular job interview at the time, it’s just that I was the connection was made through Praxis to PandaDoc. I started out as a support specialist. And just you know, normal tech support, people reaching out for help and learning all the technology. I was there for about nine months. And during that time, I really had my eyes on the greener grass.

I’m on the marketing team, what I thought was going to grass. And I was still very interested in learning about marketing and developing my skill set there. So after about nine months, I really started to ask questions from the marketing team, I started out asking really terrible questions that were super giant and overwhelming and open ended. And so I never really got much of a response there.

But after a while, I started to hone in on particular people and asking more specific questions. And one day I asked our Director of demand generation, hey, what little projects do you have that you just don’t have the time to tackle right now. I would love to help you out with when I can and learn along the way. He was very receptive to it.

And I was expecting something like, Oh, can you write this blog post for me or Oh, I need to run this one report out of Salesforce. And what I got instead was a referral program that needed to be built from the ground up. I had, again, no clue how to do it.

And I was sort of doing that as a little side project on top of working as a support specialist. And gradually I leveraged that to go into the marketing team. I work full time there. And again, it was a lot of learning to the task googling What the crap is of a referral program and technology companies. Learning all the different tools and tech stacks and requirements and what the concept is and how to make it run. And so I ended up going through two or three iterations of the program, before moving on to my next position.

Joel
So you can really see the trajectory there. Where you leverage your growth mindset. Like that was the thing that you got your foot in the door, started with a customer success role.

That wasn’t necessarily your perfect spot. But you were thinking ahead. And because you had gotten in, you could you could lateral, right, like we talked about this, launch your career, just get into career orbit. And then once you’re in orbit, you can go bounce around from planet to planet kind of thing.

Emily
Yep, that’s been how it worked for me.

Joel
Yeah, and I imagine that you were, you’re still given it 100% with the job you had in front of you. But then you didn’t stop there, where you’re thinking, Okay, what is it that’s gonna make me even more happy, more alive? And how can I empower myself to indirect myself in order to win opportunity, rather than just kind of cross your fingers? Right?

Emily
Yeah, I think I was very internally motivated at the time, because I knew that technical support wasn’t the place that I wanted to be. So that was a big driving factor. And plus, I had big dreams of starting my own company and learning all the skill sets to make that company run and marketing was the first one on the list because we got to figure out how to get customers.

I still have that mindset of just learning all of the different skills I possibly can to then one day for another company or to create my own and these is valuable and effective, effective as I possibly can there.

Joel
Awesome. All right, Emily, this has been great to flesh out this store. I think it’s awesome to see that sort of path unfold from the beginning.

Any parting words to sum up, or someone who’s listening might be starting from scratch in their career. What advice do you have?

Emily
Don’t panic first of all, because there’s a lot of different ways you can navigate in the professional world and you’re not necessarily going to be pigeonholed into any one thing. So start with what’s in front of you, and find a way to leverage that into something you’re interested in. And that’s going to really help you find out what you’re interested in as well.

And yeah, whenever possible also just ask smaller more specific questions so that you can bring something big down and really take small baby steps towards what your goals are.

Joel
Love it. All right,

EmilyCozzens.com. Check her out. Thanks so much for making the time today.

Emily
Thank you.

Isaac
Like what you hear? Go to crash.co and join the career revolution. Do you want to share your own career crash story? Send it directly to me at isaac@crash.co.

If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, don’t hesitate! Email Joel at Joel [at] Crash [dot] co.


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