“What I learnt on the job” Ca­reer lessons from Michelle Obama, Tina Fey and more

Tips from 10 pro­tégés who’ve worked with idols rang­ing from US First Lady Michelle Obama to ac­tress Tina Fey.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Front Page -

“Michelle Obama taught me that I be­longed in the room.” Kristin Jones, spe­cial as­sis­tant and di­rec­tor of spe­cial projects for First Lady Michelle Obama

So you’ve landed your dream job work­ing along­side in­spi­ra­tional pow­er­houses. What next? Once the pleas­antries and po­lite con­ver­sa­tions are over, it’s time to start watch­ing and learn­ing. That’s what hap­pened to the 10 women pro­filed here. We’ll let them tell you the rest.

As one of the few peo­ple in res­i­dence with the US pres­i­dent and first lady be­fore of­fi­cial events, I’d found a thou­sand things to do rather than brief them about the heads of state or del­e­gates they’d soon be meet­ing at a pri­vate re­cep­tion. I’m nat­u­rally shy, and I was ner­vous. The stakes are high! The First Lady re­alised what I was do­ing. She started beck­on­ing me over for the brief­ing. When peo­ple tried to in­ter­rupt, she’d tell them to stop. She would look at me and say, “Kristin, con­tinue.” She al­ways said, “You be­long in the places you’re find­ing your­self be­cause you got your­self here. So if you’re hes­i­tat­ing be­cause you don’t feel like you be­long here, that’s you lim­it­ing your­self; that’s not re­al­ity. That’s a feel­ing; that feel­ing isn’t a fact.”

“As­tro­physi­cist Neil degrasse Tyson taught me to weigh the pros and cons.” Emily Rice, re­search as­so­ciate in as­tro­physics

While I was work­ing at the Hay­den Plan­e­tar­ium, where Neil is the di­rec­tor, a ma­jor as­tron­omy re­search in­sti­tu­tion of­fered me a job in pub­lic out­reach, a shift away from academia. Neil had faced a sim­i­lar de­ci­sion once. He laid out the pros and cons of the two worlds to me, and sug­gested that I think about them in re­la­tion to my long-term goals. Analysing both sides of the coin led me to my de­ci­sion: con­tinue teach­ing and re­search­ing. I’ve never re­gret­ted it.

“Tina Fey taught me to learn from the as­sis­tants.” Tracey Wig­field, co-ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of The Mindy Project

I was a mar­ble-mouthed 23 year old in a room of 12 loud writ­ers in the 30 Rock writ­ers’ room. Of­ten, I or an­other junior writer would qui­etly pitch an idea, and Tina would say, “Wait, say that again.” She made sure that ev­ery­one could be heard, even the newer and more timid writ­ers. Those mo­ments drove home the point that all voices were im­por­tant. Re­cently, when I was run­ning the The Mindy Project writ­ers’ room, an as­sis­tant sit­ting in the cor­ner was tak­ing notes and said, “I have an idea for a story.” Of course I let her speak, be­cause that was me, eight years ago. She sug­gested a good plot twist in­volv­ing Mindy’s char­ac­ter, which I brought to Mindy. It was a re­ally great idea, and we worked it into the show’s script.

“Makeup artist François Nars taught me to use my ner­vous en­ergy.” Lena Koro, fash­ion and celebrity makeup artist

Even though I’ve done makeup for A-list celebri­ties like Jen­nifer Lopez and Kirsten Dunst, I still get ner­vous for a big shoot with a new pho­tog­ra­pher, ac­tress, singer or model. When I was François’ as­sis­tant, he told me, “If you want to work with the best, you have to be the best.” He taught me how to chan­nel my nerves into prepa­ra­tion and to come on set hav­ing done my re­search, with a clear point of view. So that’s what I do. Be­ing pre­pared gives me the con­fi­dence to walk into any sit­u­a­tion feel­ing ready – and it helps me do my best work.

“Wine­maker Abrie Beeslaar taught me that team­work is the key to suc­cess.” El­marie Botes, as­sis­tant wine­maker at JC Le Roux

As part of my three-year in­tern­ship with the Cape Wine­mak­ers Guild Protégé Pro­gramme, I had the great priv­i­lege and plea­sure of in­ter­act­ing with a range of Guild mem­bers and cel­lar teams. Abrie Beeslaar, from Kanonkop Wine Es­tate, taught me some­thing that I’ve car­ried with me ever since those days: the im­por­tance of team­work and the value of every in­di­vid­ual in that team. It’s im­pos­si­ble to achieve and main­tain suc­cess and ex­cel­lent qual­ity without the ded­i­ca­tion of the whole team, so it’s cru­cial to in­vest in peo­ple, to in­spire them as you go along, and to en­sure that they feel ap­pre­ci­ated for be­ing the back­bone of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“For­mer Twit­ter CEO Dick Cos­tolo taught me to raise my hand!” Sara Haider, lead staff en­gi­neer for the app Periscope

In 2012, when Twit­ter ac­quired Vine, the com­pany was look­ing for a lead soft­ware en­gi­neer to build the app’s An­droid ver­sion. Even though I’d risen up through Twit­ter’s en­gi­neer­ing ranks, it didn’t oc­cur to me to ap­ply. I thought that there were more qual­i­fied peo­ple for the job. Dick, who I’d worked un­der, called me into his of­fice. He went over my ex­pe­ri­ence and wanted to know why I wasn’t throw­ing my hat into the ring. His pep talk gave me the con­fi­dence I needed to nom­i­nate my­self – and I got the gig. To­day, I do the ex­act same thing with my own team. Some­times, that lit­tle push is all you need.

“DJ Zan D and DJ Dim­plez taught me the im­por­tance of learn­ing the ba­sics.” Ms Cosmo, DJ

A few years ago, I told DJ Dim­plez that I was in­ter­ested in Djing. He en­cour­aged me to go for it be­cause, he said, the in­dus­try needed more women, and I have al­ways been grate­ful for that pos­i­tive re­sponse.

I en­rolled at the girls-only DJ school, Fuse Academy, where I met DJ Zan D. He taught me ev­ery­thing I know, in­clud­ing beat­match­ing and scratch­ing – all on vinyl! Learn­ing the ba­sics, like catch­ing a cue and be­ing able to count the beats per minute, have en­sured that no mat­ter what method I use – CDJ, vinyl or USB – or where I’m play­ing, I al­ways have the con­fi­dence needed.

Once I started get­ting booked for club gigs and events, I con­tin­ued to call on Dim­plez for ad­vice. He taught me DJ eti­quette and how to build a set for a gig. He even helped me pick my DJ name! We went out for drinks with a mu­tual friend, and three cock­tails later, we got the name DJ Cosmo. Dim­plez took to Twit­ter and pro­moted my name to his fol­low­ers, and that so­lid­i­fied ev­ery­thing. I later added the ‘Ms’ in front to high­light the fact that I’m fe­male, so it all came full cir­cle to his orig­i­nal ad­vice!

“Chef David Higgs taught me that you can never work hard enough.” Ju­lia Hat­tingh, head chef and restau­rant owner

When I be­gan my stud­ies at Meeren­dal Hos­pi­tal­ity Academy in Joburg, I had a very glam­orous idea of what life as a chef would be like. This was quickly put to rest when the first pan was thrown across the kitchen, fol­lowed by a cou­ple of pro­fan­i­ties! With chef David Higgs, my teacher on the hot kitchen’s savoury side, there was no such thing as great re­sults without great ef­fort, and that meant tak­ing in ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on in the kitchen, from writ­ing down recipes to help­ing ev­ery­where I could. Chef David showed me that ex­cel­lent ser­vice is im­pos­si­ble without good team­work, and he taught me to re­spect the hi­er­ar­chy that’s in­volved in that ser­vice, from the chefs to the clean­ers. Ten years later, I still turn to him for ad­vice and sup­port, and it’s largely thanks to his in­spi­ra­tion that I opened my own restau­rant, Rev­erie So­cial Ta­ble, in Cape Town last year.

“Fash­ion de­sign­ers Mary-kate and Ash­ley Olsen taught me that I’m only as good as the rest of my team.” Tanya Tay­lor, fash­ion de­signer

I was fresh out of de­sign school when I started work­ing at the cloth­ing store El­iz­a­beth and James as an in­tern, and later as an as­sis­tant de­signer. Mary-kate and Ash­ley had launched the com­pany only a year ear­lier, but as busy as they were, they still took time to sit with me and learn about me in my first week. I saw how valu­able their per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions were to team build­ing, and now I do the same thing with my em­ploy­ees at Tanya Tay­lor.

“Fash­ion de­signer Ste­fa­nia Mor­land taught me that there’s beauty in ev­ery­thing we say and do.” Ni­cola West, fash­ion de­signer

When I started work­ing at Ste­fa­nia Mor­land, I had no idea of just how great an im­pact she would have on my life; it was a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences and lessons that would change my per­cep­tion of the fash­ion world.

Work­ing in her stu­dio was my in­tro­duc­tion to the in­dus­try. Grow­ing up, I wore sec­ond­hand clothes that were mostly syn­thetic, but once I started work­ing for Ste­fa­nia, I be­gan fall­ing in love with nat­u­ral fabrics.

I learnt that we are all the same re­gard­less of how much money we have, and that even the most beau­ti­ful woman can dis­like some­thing about her­self. Most im­por­tantly, I learnt that if you’re go­ing to do some­thing – sketch­ing, help­ing a cus­tomer, or dress­ing a man­nequin – take pride in it and do it beau­ti­fully.

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