Jen Cho | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jen Cho

Background:  

Weber Shandwick is a public relations agency that works with major clients like General Motors, Verizon and the U.S. Army. The company has expanded to 79 cities in 34 countries and has taken home numerous awards in recent years. The goal is to connect people with a brand through consistent messaging and storytelling on all platforms. In addition to marketing, Weber Shandwick also handles crisis management for clients. Jen Cho joined Weber Shandwick as general manager and executive vice president at the Dallas location in November.

 

The Mistake:

Everybody has to start their career somewhere in life.

I was a political theory student at Columbia University so I jumped at the chance to get an internship at a law firm.

This would be my first introduction to the legal field on my way to becoming an attorney. What I actually did was make photocopies. Over and over again. It was mind-numbing work. That wasn’t what I signed up for.

 

I took my frustration straight to the boss, telling him I wanted to learn how to be an attorney, not a secretary.

He paused and looked at me. Took a deep breath.

Then, he explained that you are a college student who hasn’t graduated yet. You have a bright future ahead of you but it’s critical that you learn your place in this world and earn your way. Pay your dues.

I was at the top of the food chain at the university, one of the top students in my program. This left me horrified as reality sunk in. My transition to the workplace would mean going back to ground zero.

I took my concerns to my family and they agreed with my boss. They told me to continue working hard, make myself a needed person and create my own skillset. That was hard to hear at the time.

I’ve rolled my sleeves up and worked my way up at every job since then.

The Lesson:

Now, 20 years later, this moment still resonates with me. The attorney I interned for became my mentor over the years and he still is.

I’ve enjoyed a wide-ranging career from the music industry and healthcare to marketing and content creation.

I’ve rolled my sleeves up and worked my way up at every job since then. That’s given me a valuable perspective that I wouldn't have had if I just walked in the door and hadn’t paid my dues.

It’s a tough lesson to learn, sometimes you have to do jobs that you don’t want to do, that you might think are beneath you. No one writes in a textbook that you will have to do this sort of work when you start out.

 

Follow Jen Cho on Twitter at @Jen_Thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Weber Shandwick

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