Ladies, let’s talk unabashedly about the things we’re proud of. That’s what this series “How She Does It” is here to do. We share stories from amazing women who have navigated the growing pains essential to personal and professional growth, and are proud of how they’ve done it. By sharing their stories they remind us all that we can do the same and we can be proud of the things we’ve already done. 

How many times have you held yourself back because you didn’t think you had the “right” degree or experience to do something? (I’m raising my hand over here…) Well, Justine Chan is proof that having confidence in your self-taught abilities and pushing yourself a little outside your comfort zone can yield amazing results.

She started with some self-taught knowledge from working at a small business during college and applied that to move up to a role that would really stretch her at a large, well-known e-commerce company. Though she worried about not having the proper knowledge to excel at her job, she dove in, learned on the job, and created a career that she loves. She’s used that self-starter attitude to make multiple career pivots and advocate for herself confidently and authentically.

As she says, “No job, person, or circumstance should limit your ability to learn, grow and do more. If you have the internet, you literally have a world of knowledge at your fingertips.”

Name: Justine Chan

Location: Los Angeles, CA

For your first full-time gig you were hired for a role that was outside of your comfort zone: e-commerce for a large, fast-moving retailer. How did you get this role and were you at all intimidated when you started the position?   

I had experience working on websites for small businesses but wanted to take the next step in my career with more digitally advanced companies. I was unsure of how my skill-level and education would compare to roles at large corporations, so I only applied to jobs that I was 100% comfortable with. During my interview, I spoke passionately about multiple areas of ecommerce. It became apparent that the job I applied for would only utilize a fraction of what I had already been doing and have a lesser scope of responsibility. I didn’t want to make a lateral move, so I quickly shifted the conversation to growth potential. I asked, “where could this role take me in 1 year, 2 years etc.?” After that, I was immediately recommended and hired for another position that offered more upward mobility and built upon my experience and interests. I was nervous and intimidated but was excited to be set on a new path of opportunities.

You’ve said that you had to dive in and act like a sponge, but I’m sure you also wanted to put a good foot forward and act like you knew what was going on. How did you balance that?

Even though I had experience, a lot of my knowledge was informal and self-taught. I didn’t know if I had learned things the “proper” way or where it would be appropriate and beneficial to apply it, so I simply listened, took notes excessively and asked a lot of questions. Over the following weeks, my Q&A sessions became more conversational and focused on building relationships and establishing long-term value.

How did you approach learning your job? Did you have a mentor you could look to? If not, who did you look to for answers and support?

The day-to-day responsibilities were relatively straightforward because there were established tasks and procedures, however, the process I inherited seemed to replicate issues, rather than alleviate them. I observed how problems and frustration were magnified as projects moved from team to team. Everyone I worked with provided invaluable support and candid information on the context and effect of these ongoing challenges. This helped me to gauge and prioritize where my contributions would be most valuable.

Was there any moment when you just felt completely in over your head and defeated? If so, tell us a little more about that and how you worked through that.

During the first few months, I validated myself by the amount of work and stress I could manage. I believed the more I did, the more valuable I was; when in reality, I was limiting my own potential by surrounding myself with chaos and monotony. After that, I refined my own workflow by automating time-consuming tasks and learned to delegate more effectively so that I could focus on larger objectives.

I was limiting my own potential by surrounding myself with chaos

You were able to have a very successful career with multiple promotions and raises. What do you attribute that success to? How were you able to stand out?

Success is fluid (and relative), so I like to follow my own structure that can be applied to every career stage. Foundationally, it’s about: 1.) The continuous pursuit of growth and learning opportunities 2.) Moving forward while thinking ahead; identifying vantage points in any situation The point is to stay focused on your path ahead, but be sure to always:

  • Be an asset.  Make sure your contributions generate value, not just output.
  • Align yourself to business needs and goals. Invest your energy into things that have measurable value for the business or your professional development.
  • Consistently exceed the expectations of your role and keep track of it. Record your milestones and accomplishments. Use them to negotiate raises and promotions.
  • Know your market value and advocate for yourself. Don’t blindly accept that what you’re getting paid is what you’re actually worth. Do research on what your skills (not job title) are worth by comparing salaries at other companies (via Glassdoor, LinkedIn, CareerBliss etc.).

What was the most important lesson you learned during this time in your career?

Get in front of the right leaders and challenge the status quo for the purpose of doing and being better. Every company, organization, and project has issues; View them as opportunities and demonstrate value by offering scalable solutions.

What’s one piece of advice that you live by?

Never get to a point where you feel 100% comfortable with what you’re doing. Feeling like you have so much more to learn will help you adapt to more challenges, uncover additional opportunities, and expand your knowledge exponentially. No job, person, or circumstance should limit your ability to learn, grow and do more. If you have the internet, you literally have a world of knowledge at your fingertips. There are no excuses not to learn a new skill, or continuously refine existing ones on a regular basis.

Never get to a point where you feel 100% comfortable with what you’re doing.

Ready to add your story to the conversation? Share your story here, and lift others as you climb. 

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