Some Tough Love Advice On Landing Your Dream Job After Graduation


June is college graduation month, which means my work inbox is flooded with job referral requests and questions about how I got hired — mostly from the children of parents my mother works with (thanks for passing out my contact info, Mommy!). While I just started navigating my professional life and am probably not yet qualified to give advice, I always write back anyway.

date: Wed May 9, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Hi there,
My name is Amber [redacted]. My mom works with your mom and she told me that your company has an editor position opening up and encouraged me to contact you since I’m graduating soon and would very much like to work as an editor as well. I would appreciate any advice or insight you might have on the subject. Thank you very much for your time.

date: Sun June 10, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Hello, Amber! Nice to e-meet you. Sorry for the delay in my response to your inquiry. As you can probably imagine, I am very busy. To answer the first part of your email: No, there is no editor position open. There was a position open, but it was filled back in the beginning of April — sometime in the month between when my mom passed you my email address and when you actually emailed me.

So, my first bit of advice: Don’t waste time. If you see a job opening you think you might want, apply immediately. There are approximately one bajillion people with your qualifications or better vying for the same jobs as you. You need to apply for those jobs before anybody else does if you want a fighting chance at getting hired.

At the risk of sounding rude, I have to ask: What were you doing in the month you weren’t emailing me? I took the liberty of googling you (like every single potential future employer will do), but… nothing showed up? I couldn’t even find a Facebook page. Amber, are you a real person? Where is your internet presence?

Anyone who wants to be successful in a creative field needs to have a website. It’s so easy, so if you don’t maintain one, it tells me you’re lazy and unmotivated. And if you’re lazy and unmotivated, why would I want to work with you? If you want to be an editor, you need to have a blog — even if you hate updating one, and even if the only person who routinely checks it is your Aunt Leslie.

For example, an old blog I dedicated to my vagina (so daring! sassy! original!) is, much to my surprise, what got me my first (and current) job. My company’s creative director basically ignored my cover letter and résumé, instead printing out pages of entries which we then talked about for two hours. My post-college curriculum vitae didn’t stand out much, but my blog helped someone important get a sense of my voice and the kind of promise I had.

I realize my interview process is probably slightly unusual, but the point is this: People are less interested in what you’ve done. They want to see what you’re doing right now.

You should also have a public Twitter handle with a real photo of your face as your profile picture. Your tweets don’t need to be Megan Amram brilliant or anything; it’s mostly just good for other writers and editors to see you are alive, present and know how to use a computer. But definitely have a picture of your actual face up. I need to know what you look like so I’ll care about you a tiny iota more. It’s kind of gross, but personally, I’m less likely to return to a non-famous writer’s Twitter feed if they have a picture up of gazpacho or whatever.

Beyond that, I don’t really know what to tell you because your email was a little vague. You would like to work as “an editor,” but what does that mean? Do you want to work with books? Magazines? An advertising agency? And what kind of editing do you want to do? Let’s say you want to work at a publishing house. There are so many different types of editors it’s mind boggling. There are editors who decide if manuscripts are worthy of working on; ones who rewrite plot holes and cut out superfluous chapters; ones who correct grammar, syntax, and spelling; ones who factcheck and rewrite; and so on. I don’t even know all the job descriptions! There are so many. You need to research and get a vague idea of what sounds the most fun before you start applying places.

From there, make a list of every company that you think you might be interested in working for. I would not suggest Craigslist for real job hunting (that is a better resource for finding quick projects that will make you a little bit of cash). Most companies you want to work for don’t do classified ads — they want you to come to them. So, give them what they want and check their career pages daily. Make this the first thing you do every morning when you wake up. Don’t even get out of bed until you’re done!

I would spend about three hours job hunting and sending out applications every morning. Then, I would spend another six-to-eight hours writing. This could include updating that blog you now have, but you should also be pitching every media outlet you can think of to build up your portfolio. Like, do you have something interesting to say about personal finances? Contact The Billfold. Have an oddball sense of humor? Try McSweeney’s. Find yourself writing a how-to guide to a total stranger? Send it to Thought Catalog and see what happens (which, just so you know, is what I plan on doing with this correspondence. This is how you turn things into clips).

If you’re at a loss for where to submit, make a list of your favorite writers on your favorite websites. Google their names and see where else they’ve written (there will probably be comprehensive lists on their LinkedIn profiles — by the way, start a LinkedIn profile). Bookmark those websites and get to pitching.

If in those six-to-eight hours you really, REALLY can’t bring yourself to write another sentence without barfing, use your time on the internet wisely. Instead of making a fantasy wedding Pinterest board for when Ryan Gosling eventually proposes, try reading sites and watching videos that inspire you. Some personal favorites when I feel stuck: TED talks, that Ira Glass video on storytelling (it never gets old), Edith Zimmerman short stories, Longreads, and Radiolab.

But sometimes you feel permanently stuck in this depressing, creatively constipated brain fugue. In those times, it’s nearly impossible to become unstuck without the help of someone else. That’s why my final piece of advice is the most important: find a writing partner. Unfortunately, this advice is really hard to follow because most writers you meet will make terrible partners. Sometimes this is because they don’t know what they’re doing. But most often, they will make terrible partners because they will always care more about themselves than they will about you.

You need to find a writer who will sit with you for hours and help you hash out your harebrained half-ideas; who understands what you’re trying to achieve, will edit your work and hold you accountable when you don’t make your self-imposed deadlines; who won’t get jealous and weird when you are published one week and they are not; and who will commit to your partnership and not bow out after a few months, because just a few piddly months of working together is not going to make a difference in the long term. You have to be willing to reciprocate all this as well (obviously).

When I first started writing this response, I didn’t know what to say to you. To pretend I have it all figured out is an embarrassing lie to tell. So, I emailed my writing partner. She wrote back with a very long and firm — but kind — email that ended on this note:

“Tell her that being a professional drunk and a professional writer are not the same thing. Tell her that suffering for art is bull and to get ready for all of her ‘artistic’ friends to try and make her feel like less of an artist because she (should) believe otherwise. Tell her that everyone she ever meets with tell her that ‘they also write’ and will secretly think her job is not actually work.”

I think if you take away any part of this email, it should be that: trying to make it as a writer and editor is often frustrating, sometimes degrading, and always extremely difficult. But if you love what you do and are proud of your work, it won’t matter.

Good luck with everything. I hope you think of me when you land your first sweet job.

Rebecca Pederson, editor

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