I got a really lovely email in my inbox the other day:
I’m posting my reply here in case other people find this useful:
It’s so lovely to hear from you, thank you for your email. It totally made my day.
Here’s what I would do:
1. Read voraciously. Talk to your friends, teachers, family, acquaintances — ask what they read and start trying out the publications they recommend. Explore and find publications on your own. Get to know publications by knowing the voice and position they write from.
2. Find publications that you love, because you love their voice, and apply.
3. Find publications that are local to you, and apply.
4. As much as possible, go on informational interviews with whoever you can get in touch with. This might be a friend of a friend, this might be someone a teacher recommends, this might be someone you meet via Twitter. Informational interviews open up doors by sharing with you opportunities you might not have thought about before.
5. And meanwhile, continue developing your own voice. The only way that you can do this is to continue to write. For your own blog, for a friend’s blog, for a publication at school. You’ll need to find your style, your pace, your rhythm. This will teach you about what publications are a better fit for you, or, what publication you need to go learn from. For a while, I was better at working with other peoples’ voices — this turned into editing Denizen. Now that I’m more clear in my own thoughts and opinions, I’ve been writing more on my own, at HoppyCow.
I hope this this helps! Let me know if you have any questions.
The backstory behind this list:
Growing up in Singapore, I never got the exposure to the huge amount of publications that’s so readily available to folks in the United States. When I moved to the U.S. for college, my friends, classes, and professors introduced me to all sorts of media that I had never seen before. I spent a crazy amount of time online reading and absorbing. I also fell in love with podcasts, which I’m still addicted to.
Find publications that you love, because you love their voice, and apply
My junior year of college, I applied to Slate.com for an editorial internship. I slaved for hours and hours over my application. I’d been an avid reader, so I wrote my application in the tone and style of their columns. I even designed my cover letter to look like a Slate article.
I didn’t get the internship (I ended up at The Oregonian, which was an awesome gig), but I’ll never forget the rejection letter, which I still have saved in my inbox:
I’m writing to let you know that we selected other applicants for our internship this summer. But I did want to thank you for your utterly charming cover letter. I’ve read hundreds of applications and pitch letters that attempted to be clever, and almost to a one they fail. Yours was a notable and much-appreciated exception to the rule.”
This taught me how important it was, for any job application, to do your research, get to know the publication, and be as genuine as possible about why you wanted to apply.
Find publications that are local to you, and apply
I’ve had four internships/jobs that were “local” to where I was living at the time — one at Shape Magazine Singapore, one at a web startup called Centerstage Chicago, one at Northwestern’s alumni magazine, and one for University of Edinburgh’s The Student.
When you work for a local publication, you are forced to go out and explore the city you live in. You end up going to places you’d never thought of, and interviewing people you’d never otherwise get to meet.
For Shape Magazine, I visited all these ritzy spas and boutiques that I would never normally have had access to. For Centerstage Chicago, I checked out all the new restaurants and event spaces that I’d never made time to do before (my friends loved this). For Northwestern magazine, I got to have conversations with crazy smart people, like doctors building robotic arms. For The Student, I travelled across Scotland following and reporting on student protestors.
These experiences broadened my horizons, and gave me so much more depth and understanding to the place I was living at the time. I found these experiences so valuable to my overall college education.
Go on informational interviews
By the time I was close to graduating, informational interviews (or really, networking), made all the difference in finding a real job. A professor I’d kept in touch with throughout my college career told me about a competition that landed me an internship at The Boston Globe. I met an editor from the Chicago Tribune and kept in touch, and he helped me get a job there a year later. Anyone who goes to journalism school will tell you: it’s all about the networking and informational interviews.
Continue developing your own voice
One of my favorite things to do in the world is write and create. It has always been, and always will be, a part of me. This has manifested itself in different ways over the years, whether in editing other people’s work, making Denizen, creating websites, or blogging right here. Either way, my writing style is something I’ll keep working on probably forever, and the process of doing so brings me a lot of joy.
The nice thing about being writer today is that you don’t need to wait for anyone else’s approval to publish. If you want to be a fashion writer, you don’t need to wait for a gig at Vogue. You can start writing, learning from your audience, and making it on your own, like Tavi Gevinson. And, being a blogger with a following can only improve your chances of getting hired.
Good thing WordPress.com exists, and better yet, Emily’s already ahead of the game. When she got my reply, she told me that she already has a blog! You can find it at https://emexplores.wordpress.com/. :D