Juliefromiowa is her Twitter name, and it suits her well: She’s earnest, gracious and approachable – the kind that never forgets her roots – even if she’s a big deal now. And she IS a big deal: This year, Julie made the 30 Under 30 List in DMNews.
She’s made some smart career moves in the time I’ve known her, and she runs the Boston Marathon every year for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising thousands of dollars for research and treatment. She’s one of those people who always do the right thing. She has integrity to spare. So I wanted to get a feel for the thinking and influences that have given her such a strong sense of self.
JS: Let’s start with college. Did you have a clearly-defined career goal before you graduated? How did you pursue your first job search?
JN: In college, I had a double major in Marketing & Entrepreneurship. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I’ve always been a hard worker so I knew I’d figure it out.
I moved from the Midwest to New York City without a job. I knew there would be a lot of opportunity here. For any industry, NYC has the best of the best. I called everyone, took typing tests for recruiters, did whatever it took to get a foot in the door. I interviewed to be an Admin at Ralph Lauren Polo, a Showroom Manager at Louboutin. I was up for anything because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked during college, but I had no internships and, since I went to school in Iowa, nobody knew me. I came in very humble. No connections, no relevant industry experience, nothing!
I wound up getting a lot of job offers – none super appealing. My big break came when I met a recruiter who introduced me to Lita Sands – then Client Service Director at Unit 7. She needed a seasoned Executive Assistant and I had no formal training. But my recruiter believed in me, and said “I’m going to tell her she has to meet you.” So I met Lita and within 15 minutes I loved her. I had read up on her, so I knew I could learn a lot from her. And it worked. I was hired for my drive and ambition.
JS: Was your first job what you thought it was going to be?
JN: (Laughs) I went in with zero expectations. I worked my butt off. I would go to meetings, get coffee, buy lunch, run all over the city. It didn’t matter what it was, I jumped at any opportunity to learn. My goal was to make my boss look good. It was rewarding for me to help her, and she happened to appreciate it. Lita set me up for success and wanted me to do well. When an Account Executive spot opened up, I was promoted from Marketing Assistant six months after I started.
JS: What’s the best advice/lesson you can pass along to people early in their careers?
JN: Work with people that impress you. Seek out good career influencers. Ask questions, learn from their experiences. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that I admire and can learn from. And they’ve taken care of me. That’s another lesson: If you do right by people, they will help you. Forming good relationships at work is very important, especially with senior management. Unit 7 was the only job I had to interview for, everything since has been through referrals, because of the relationships I built.
JS: How did you land in your current position as Sr. Director, Client Strategy & Product Development at appssavvy?
JN: After about two years at Unit 7, a friend of mine recruited me to work for Chris Cunningham at FreeWebs. FreeWebs (now Webs.com) was one of the early free website hosting services, enabling over 50 million users to create and register their own web properties. FreeWebs launched in 2001, a couple years before MySpace (2003), WordPress (2003) and Facebook (2004).
I knew I wanted to get digital experience and I loved the idea of going to the publisher side. A year later, Chris co-founded appssavvy and I joined him as the company’s first employee. In the three years since, we’ve launched over 500 ad campaigns within social media apps such as FarmVille and Circle of Moms.
JS: What do you look for when you hire recent college grads at appssavvy?
JN: Enthusiasm is a big selling point. I like to see that they’ve spent time trying to understand our business and genuinely want to be here and work hard.
Work ethic is important. For example, were they busy during college? Did they pursue internships and what did they take away from them?
A huge turn-off is people who think things will get handed to them – a sense of entitlement.
JS: Do you have a personal credo or motto that sums up your life philosophy?
JN: Earn your growth. You can’t ask people to pave the way for you. You have to work hard to do well.
JS: Who is your role model?
JN: There’s no one person I’ve tried to emulate, it’s more like different qualities from different people. For example:
- Lita Sands and her ability to run a meeting
- Serena Saitas, for both her tenacity and gift of uncovering strategic insights
- Domenica Davi, an extremely organized and an amazing educator. She actually taught me how to write a work email (sounds silly, but some people never learn!)
- Chris Cunningham is an incredible thought leader
- My mother is extremely humble and gracious
- My sister, who’s been dedicated to her company for nearly 10 years, diligently working her way into leadership roles.
Julie Nielsen is also featured in an upcoming blog about hiring a social media expert. Look for it next month.