November 05, 2020 5 min read

For Naveed Ahmed, a Senior Strategist at Shoelace, he found his marketing stride by saying yes and leaning into the new opportunities that came his way for career growth. From corporate to entrepreneur roles, learn how he blends his experiences to move his career forward.

Opening Up the Marketing Umbrella

The biggest challenge for me when I was starting in marketing was figuring out where my focus should lie. I moved to Canada as an international student in 2013 to pursue my undergrad in business management. I had intentionally chosen a generic field instead of a specialized one at that time as I didn't know which aspect of business would interest me the most. Through my four-year program, I realized that marketing is what I truly enjoy and what I’d like to pursue as a career.

Naveed Ahmed standing in front of streetlight.

What really drew me to digital marketing is the blend of creative and analytical skills needed to excel at the role. The possibility of making a direct impact on businesses and seeing tangible outcomes of my work makes my work very fulfilling. While I was developing a slight penchant for marketing through my undergrad, it was only after graduation did I realize the depth of the field - everything from brand and product marketing to influencers and social media marketing, was under the broad umbrella of “Marketing”.

Evaluating Aptitude & Attitude to Find Your Focus

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was heavily involved in student unions, clubs, and other departmental initiatives. This not only helped me get firsthand experience in working for an organization but also allowed me to engage in opportunities to meet the right mentors within the field to guide me along the way.

I began my marketing career in my fourth year as a member of the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship Hatchery team. Upon graduating, I was applying to every role that had “marketing” in its job description. After countless coffee chats and 100s of job applications, I realized that this approach did not work. It was one of my mentors who pointed out my lack of focus and suggested understanding what each role in marketing actually entailed and to self-evaluate my attitude and aptitude for success in those roles. I then went on to work at OMD, a media communications agency and made my way to the position of Senior Social Strategist on their PepsiCo line of business.

This career exploration exercise is what helped me stand out in the job market and provided a clear path on what I needed to do next to land my first job.

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

I currently work at Shoelace  as a Senior Strategist where I help e-commerce clients with their customer journey retargeting. To further quench my passion for marketing, I run Potato Parcel Canada and also dabble with freelance work in my spare time. These projects along with my full-time role enable me to stay out of my comfort zone and push me to work towards my maximum potential.

I’ve been a strong advocate of “getting out of your comfort zone”. Throughout my journey so far, be it work or personal - I've not let myself get comfortable for too long. While striving for fulfilment in everything I do, being at the edge of my comfort zone has allowed me to gain new perspectives and grow.

Naveed Ahmed sitting on park bench on a fall day.

One such recent example of this includes a solo backpacking trip to Costa Rica. This trip was truly one of a kind. The new place, new people, new culture have left me with everlasting impressions. I unlocked a multitude of transferable life skills by exploring this unfamiliar territory.I constantly aim to do this at work as well. I take up projects that could be outside of my expertise and as such, I push myself to constantly learn and create.

My most recent and significant professional achievement was being the recipient of the Gold Award at the Canadian Young Lions Competition. I will be representing Canada at the 2021 Cannes Lions competition in France.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

“Getting A Job” upon graduation was my ultimate priority just like most of my peers at that time. In hindsight, I realize that this wasn't the right approach.

I did get “a job” but wasn't happy or fulfilled with it. I wasn't doing something I deeply cared about, and it made my life fairly miserable and monotonous. It's only when I worked with multiple employers did I realize that job satisfaction and fulfillment is a lot more valuable in the long term in comparison to just picking the highest paying or the first job you land. It is crucial to select ‘the’ job instead of just ‘a’ job that comes your way.

I’ve struggled with balancing between my work and personal life for a long time. It took a pandemic for me to realize what’s most important to me and reevaluate my priorities. To overcome this, I’ve been trying to not let work be the center of my life, with all other aspects in the periphery. Instead, I have been keeping a clear separation between the two while also letting them complement each other. That said, I haven't mastered the art of juggling between work and life just yet but realizing and acknowledging the issue is the first step. I am now constantly evaluating my priorities. This has helped me progress in the right direction towards a more holistic and fulfilling life.

Speaking of Balance…

Privacy is no longer a checklist for marketers but key consideration with everything we do. Social media platforms have always been in the spotlight for the mismanagement of user data. However, with stricter regulations, ad buyers and marketers are seeing a revolution in finding a good balance between showing the most relevant ads and make ethical yet productive use of personal data.

Fast Tracking Your Career

I can confidently say that almost all the job offers I’ve received to date have only been through meaningful networking and the referrals thereof.

Most students I talk to see networking as a one-sided relationship where the ultimate goal is to land a job. While there might be some truth to it, what has worked for me is to develop a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. I’ve always focused on the idea of creating value for both parties in every “coffee chat” or LinkedIn message I send. This truly enhanced my relationships with industry professionals and helped me gain mentors along the way.

Along with this, coming from an entrepreneurial background, I firmly believe in the power of “Yes”. This has opened doors from the most unexpected places from running Potato Parcel Canada (Yes, the one from Shark Tank!) to some great freelance opportunities. Saying ‘Yes’ to opportunities and adopting an entrepreneurial mindset to problem-solving has helped me stand out and fast track my career path.

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