We knew that Aliaa Zulkifli, digital marketing manager of Jambu/Vida Shoes International, had an inspiring career from the get-go but learning about her move from Malaysia to New York, and all of the ventures in between, left us motivated on a new level. From intern turned editor at Cosmopolitan to accidental businesswoman to her digital marketing guru, Aliaa is the prime example of how hard work, education, and audacity will take you places.
After transitioning out of her own business venture, Aliaa elected to go back to school for her master’s degree in New York City—thousands of miles away from her family in Malaysia. Despite the hardships of being half a world away from home and carving a new career path in a notoriously competitive city, Aliaa thrived in her new environment and soon found herself in a marketing specialist position almost immediately after graduation.
Aliaa landed her current role as digital marketing manager for Jambu Footwear in the best way she knew how: digitally. After following the company on their social media channels and becoming acquainted with the brand and their mission, Aliaa went after a role that suited her talents and found herself interviewing a couple of short weeks later. Read on to learn more about Aliaa’s inspiring career path, her transition to living in New York City, and what she values most when making a career transition.
Name: Aliaa Zulkifli
Location: New York, NY
Current Title/Company: Digital Marketing Manager for Jambu/Vida Shoes International
Education: Associates degree in Marketing and Public Relations from the University of Science (Malaysia), Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Curtin University (Australia), Masters of Business Administration in Media & Marketing Management from the Metropolitan College of New York
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was as a fashion coordinator for Cosmopolitan in Malaysia. I had been an intern during my last year of college, and a few months shy of graduating they offered me a job. I never imagined my career would be in fashion, but I knew I wanted to be in communications and at that time social and digital marketing was still very new (Friendster anyone?).
You eventually worked your way up from fashion coordinator to editor at Cosmopolitan in Malaysia. How did you move up in the company and what steps did you take to ensure your success while you were there?
The first day I started at Cosmopolitan as a full-time employee, my editor-in-chief sat down with me to talk about my goals and growth. She spoke with me about her mission and vision for the team she created, and the specific goals she had for me as well. In doing so, it helped me to grasp what steps I needed to take in order to bring success to my team and myself.
Also, I didn’t mind doing work that others found unappealing if it helped the success of everyone. Eventually, my work spoke louder than my words and that is when my editor-in-chief noticed my passion and hard work and I was rewarded.
After your time at Cosmopolitan, you left your job as editor to pursue your own business venture with a co-worker from the magazine. Now, tell us about Soi66! How did you come up with the business idea and what steps did you take to transition from your full-time position to entrepreneur?
I took another job right after I left Cosmopolitan as a director of marketing and communications for an event company and there was a bit of required traveling. One of my many work related trips brought me to Thailand, so I planned a meet up with my future Soi66 co-owner. The company was created right after the trip because as my business partner and I saw a lot of tourist buying things in bulk. I imagine they were doing this to support their business. So I thought, if they could do it, why not me?
The transition from full-time job to business owner was one I was surprised by. I thought it might have been difficult seeing as how I was changing everything, but it was smooth sailing for the most part. Of course there are always hiccups as with anything, but I credit my job as a fashion editor helping me to tackle my new venture as it taught me how to channel my creativity and promote it. It was very similar to owning my own business, except now I was calling the shots.
Though the company was considered a success, you still didn’t feel it was the right fit for you. Looking back, what was missing from your career at that point?
I was juggling my career in marketing with my own business responsibilities, which were plenty. I felt like I was walking a tightrope juggling everything. I didn’t anticipate how successful Soi66 would become in such a short amount of time. I became an accidental business lady with a full-time career so I needed to change it up, again. It was the best possible decision I could have made.
Ultimately, you decided to go back to school for your MBA. What guided you to make this decision? What were you hoping to achieve?
While building a business and a career, I always knew that education was very important to me. Once I made the decision to go back to school, I went after it full steam ahead with as much courage as I could muster.
I wanted to get into business school to learn about operations, management, marketing and entrepreneur strategies—my MBA gave me that knowledge. It was a passion I couldn’t deny—the success I had with Soi66 made it nearly impossible to turn down the opportunity for continued learning. My graduate school years gave me the time to refocus, which was important for me to stay present and work toward my goals.
Tell us about your transition to life in New York City from Malaysia. What were those first years like? How did you find a support system on the opposite side of the world?
To say it was terrifying would be a huge understatement. I packed up and moved my whole life with only two suitcases and few dollars. I remember I didn’t tell my friends that I was moving to NYC because I was scared they might try to talk me out of it. Yet when I was at the airport they all showed up to see me off. I was so surprised by their kindness—it was reassurance I was doing the right thing.
Thankfully I have an aunt and cousins in NYC, so I naturally had a support system. I had to find my own way, though, in a city I had only visited once before. In the most random way possible I happened to meet a wonderful friend who has since become a best friend, along with her family who are so welcoming and have shown me so much kindness. Between her and my aunt, they didn’t let me starve as I was navigating my way through this new city. The city is big and bright and intimidating, but I had support!
I eventually found some places I could volunteer and through that I met another group of close friends. My keen eye for detail helps me to notice things others might miss in the hustle and bustle of the day, so while I might have not the biggest group of friends, the ones I have are true treasures.
After earning your MBA, what was your next career move?
I accepted a position as a marketing specialist in the city almost immediately after graduating in the spring of 2012. I was fortunate enough to have met my mentor and I learned so much from him about online marketing and e-commerce. I was eventually promoted to online marketing manager and I am blessed to have the knowledge from my previous jobs and MBA to guide me through it all.
Let’s talk about your current position. How did you land the opportunity working for Jambu Footwear?
Digitally—we do live in a digital world after all. I followed my current company, Jambu Footwear, on every social media platform and subscribed to their newsletter. I went to the company’s website to research their shoes and mission of the company. Jambu believes ‘Life’s A Journey’ and that caught my attention.
I spent two weeks navigating my way through all their media online that I could find in hopes to see if my talents would be a good fit for their growing company. Once I felt confident in my ability to apply for the position, I did. I received the invitation to interview a few weeks later and two interviews later I landed the job—a job that I truly love and grow in everyday.
Tell us a bit about what your job entails on a daily basis. What does a typical (or as close to it as possible) day in the office look like?
This is hard because I don’t have an average workday. My responsibilities are ever changing. Currently we are selling for fall 2015 in stores and planning for spring 2016 for three different brands. I start preparing for my day as soon as I wake up by checking all social media platforms I manage—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, and Tumblr while making mental notes of things I need to attend to once I am in the office.
After I arrive, I have my to-do list I created the night before and this helps me stay organized and on top of things as there are many moving parts I am dealing with at any given time. I start once again by engaging myself on all social media platforms by checking, replying, managing, creating, listening, and composing, which normally takes a few hours. After, I’ll do a quick check on Jambu keywords and online retailers to make sure the brand identity is represented well.
I usually grab a to-go lunch with my coworkers and head back to the office. Once back, I find myself skimming my newsfeed for anything interesting to share with our Jambu community, while having my lunch and replying to messages and comments from fans on social. After lunch I normally have meetings, depending on the day. There are some days I attend more to Google ad words, email marketing, marketing meetings, photos, and videos sessions to brand partnerships and ambassadors.
Like I said, my days are ever changing. I am also responsible for making sure that I build strong relationships with all bloggers that I work with, and I like to dedicate about 30 minutes to reach out to them and keep the lines of communication open. Checking social again, running to a quick meeting, making a to-do list for the next day, and finishing up any loose ends is how I finish up my day at around 6 p.m. or so in the evening.
What do you believe are the most important things to look for in a company when job searching or making a career transition?
The culture of a company is important to look for when making a transition, at least for me. Pay close attention to what’s important to you (you’ll be investing more time at work than at home). It might be the company size, their reputation, career development and perhaps a work/life balance. If those things are important to you, make sure your new company will suit you as much as you will be an asset to them.
You also need to feel supported even on the toughest of days. It’s the worst feeling thinking you’re going at it alone. It’s important to feel like you’re part of a team, with everyone communicating and working toward the same goal.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how were you able to overcome them? What are the greatest rewards?
I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career is the task of educating people about what I do. I don’t “just” handle social media. There is a lot more to digital marketing than that. I am not much of a talker; I’m pretty shy by nature, actually. I have always tried to leave a footprint by letting my work speak for itself, but I am learning gradually how to speak up for myself more and more. I am still trying to find the balance; it’s a process.
The greatest reward for me is the feeling of accomplishment and knowing that my team can count on me. I take great pride in education and keeping up with the always changing media platforms. The position I’m in now provides me that opportunity every day.
Best moment in your career thus far?
Tough one! I have so many small victories, but if I have to choose just one I would say that I get to earn a living doing what I love with a team that’s passionate about growth—feeling that I have finally found a fit. I’ve been given a lot more responsibilities this year and it feels good to be trusted with big projects that are beyond digital marketing. I’m blessed.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
I would tell 23-year-old Aliaa that the only way to succeed is by working hard, following your passion, and believing in yourself. Failure is part of it, so keep on doing what you’re doing because you’re right where you need to be. Don’t be in such a rush!
It’s also OK not to know things because you’re 23; you’re not supposed to know everything. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and move on from negative people in your life. Take more trips! There is a big world out there and it should be explored.
I would tell myself to take more risks and not worry so much. The most important thing I would tell 23-year-old Aliaa is to spend more time with your family because one day you’ll be living on the other side of the world and you will dream about a hug from your mom in the middle of the night. Oh, and stop being so skeptical about love.
Aliaa is The Everygirl…
Best part of living in New York City?
This is a hard one! The energy, the scene, the food, and the people are so great and even on a bad day, there’s always something special about it.
Favorite splurge in your closet?
I don’t splurge… but I do have one favorite, my Burberry watch!
Go-to trick to stay organized?
With so many distractions and competing priorities, it’s easy to get derailed. I usually have a to-do list waiting for me at the office. Writing things down and making mental notes of my top five tasks to get done for the day is most important. Lists, lists, lists!
Brunch or happy hour?
This is a trick question right? It’s always brunch for me… always! Almost all my friends know that about me.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Hands down, my mom! I haven’t seen her in about a year and I just want to catch up with her in person. She and my dad dedicated their life for my sister and I. While growing up, she would leave her job as a brand manager on lunch break to pick us up from school. I never really thanked her enough for it. Can I pick a place too? It would be Eleven Madison Park.