Being A Junior

Photo credit: Jip van Kujik

About 3 months ago, I joined the Marketing team at Buffer. I started working on more (traditional) marketing projects — traditional as the lines between Community and Marketing are quite blurry at Buffer. I have been managing our Medium publication, experimenting with a guest posting strategy and helping out with content distribution.

Despite being at Buffer for slightly more than a year, I recognise I’m very junior in this new role! In fact, I’m simply very junior! This is my first job out of university and my first proper job in my life.

Beginner’s mind

Being a junior can be quite advantageous. It helps me look at things with a beginner’s mind — because I am a beginner!

As I’m not very knowledgeable about marketing, almost everything that I come across in my work is new to me. Each time, I’m presented with a great learning opportunity. Having a desire to learn new things and understand them better, I have been asking quite a bit of questions regularly. (I’m so thankful that the team is so helpful!)

Asking good questions to the right people helps me learn faster. However, as helpful as my teammates are, their time is valuable and limited. So I tend to ask my best friend, Google, first, if possible. Thanks to the great internet and amazing people, there are many helpful resources and articles online. When I still don’t understand the topic after reading up on it, I’ll ask for help.

Apart from asking questions, it’s also important to store and act on the new knowledge. I know I’m quite forgetful so I usually write notes in my Evernote. I have a notebook called “Marketing” for marketing related notes and another called “Development” for more general knowledge such as feedback from my team lead and good phrases to use when communicating. Also, I found that if I could act on the new knowledge as soon as possible, I tend remember it better.

Looking through the beginner’s lens keeps me in the learning state. It is a way of thinking, which I feel shouldn’t change even when I become more experienced.

Asking for advice

Apart from asking questions, I often reach out to more experienced teammates for their advice on the things I’m working on. For example, when I first started working with our guest bloggers, I wasn’t sure what to look out for and I wasn’t confident about my judgements. So whenever I receive an outline or draft, I’d ask Kevan or Ash for their advice and thoughts.

Things become much easier with their help. However, it’s almost like they did the work (and thinking) for me. I don’t think I’d learn as much as if I attempted to assess the outline or draft myself first. When I reached out to them, I made it a practice to say something along the lines of “Here are my thoughts on this: … I’d love to hear what you think about this too!”. I don’t get it right all the time and neither am I a pro yet. But through the practices, I gained a better idea of the things to look out for and I feel (slightly) more confident about my judgements now.

In my recent 1-on-1, Kevan shared a 30–90 principle with me — asking for advice when the work is 30% done and again at 90%. At the 30% checkpoint, I should have done my research and written down my rough thoughts or plans. The check-in is for making sure I’m heading towards the right direction. If all feels good, I’ll continue working on it with the advice given. The second check-in is for refining the details and bringing it from 90% to 100%. That’s the ideal situation and there could be more check-ins in between. We have taken this approach with things such as my blog posts and my Quarter 4 Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Bringing a different perspective

As a junior, it is easier to think that my opinions or suggestions are not that valuable. I think that might not be a great mentality to have. I like to think that every team member brings a different perspective to things since we all have rather different background and experiences from one another — a great benefit of diversity! So I might think of something others have not.

There might also be a chance that I have come across something the rest of the team has not — though, the reverse might be more likely. I recently started a practice to help me build up a handy repository of ideas and examples. I have been storing good articles, marketing examples and inspirations in an Evernote notebook called “Marketing Inspirations” and giving them an appropriate tag so I can easily find them in the future. The idea is that whenever we are discussing new projects, I’d be able to pull out a few relevant ideas or examples to share.

Having said that, I think it’s important to recognise that I do not have as much experience and context as them. They might have tried some things before and found that those didn’t quite work for us. A practice we have at Buffer is to be suggestive rather than instructive, which I found is a great way to share my thoughts. So I tend to say things like “I wonder if (suggestion) might work” or “Perhaps we could try (suggestion)?”. Sometimes, I’d add “You might have thoughts of this already!”.

Keep practising my craft

This probably doesn’t apply to juniors only but I think it is especially important for juniors. Practising is a great — or maybe only — way to improve our skills.

The frequency and consistency are crucial. I have been learning to code since about 4 years ago. I would usually code for only a few weeks, lose the habit and forget quite a lot of things by the time I want to code again. That’s why after 4 years, my coding knowledge is still rather basic. I wasn’t coding often or long enough.

On the other hand, my sister has been practicing her craft very regularly over the last 6 years. When she started, she was baking simple cupcakes. Now… well, I’ll let photos do the talking:

(The flowers on the cakes are all edible!)

Right now, writing feels like the best way to improve my marketing skills. I’m not very confident about my writing but I know writing more is the only way to get better and writing frequently will help me improve faster. (Fun fact: My team lead, Kevan Lee, used to write 2000 words minimum every day! I think few would dispute he is a great writer and marketer.)

Being a junior is a very rewarding experience and I’d love to hear your experiences as a junior! If you are a senior in your company/team, do you have any advice for me?

Originally published at on October 9, 2016.