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, editorTC Mark


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  • JAMIE (//∇//) (@jemmehlee)

    some advice on not landing your dream job: you watch ppl in the same field as you land your dream job while you’re working a service job doing the same fucking basic activity everyday.

  • durr

    This is absolutely great. I wish someone had told me all this when I graduated college.

  • florrieish

    Reblogged this on Purified Bride and commented:
    This is really one tough love advice! I guess I should also keep this in mind. :D

  • H

    The last thing I’d want my potential employer to see is my Internet presence. That’s why I, and everyone I know with half a brain cell, changed my name on all social networks and blogs.

    • k

      It all depends on what industry you work in, bro.

    • bp

      You could try not doing things you’re ashamed of online. Same goes for social settings with cameras (or without, frankly).

      • H

        I’m not ashamed of anything I do online, some people just aren’t big on having every aspect of their lives open to anyone who wants to look at them. It’s called privacy.

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  • amyrosebrown

    Craigslist is hit or miss, depending on which city you’re in. San Francisco Bay Area? She should be using Craigslist, because all the companies post their full time positions there. Midwest? Definitely not.

    • bp

      All companies do not post their job listings on Craigslist – as someone who lives in San Francisco and spends time on that site, I can say this with absolute certainty. This is in part because companies want applicants who want to work for THEM, not who want to work wherever is hiring. Also, a lot of not-so-great workers have stock responses they sent to every Craigslist listing they see. When we post listings for my company’s department on Craigslist, we receive too many applications that literally look like they were submitted by a cat walking across a keyboard.

      While this isn’t true across the board – there are a lot of really great jobs on Craigslist and a lot of great people responding to them! – I think actively searching for jobs via career pages as opposed to relying on a recruiter to clue you into an opening on something like Craigslist will yield better results.

  • M

    Just put in notice at my current terrible job. This is very inspirational – thank you.

  • T

    This is horrible advice. Write for 6 to 8 hours a day, after having spent 3 hours job hunting?!
    You’ll be working over 50 hours per week unemployed. I can understand loving what you do…but damn. If you’re smart, do what you do. Things will work out, if you’re a middle class white person, like everyone reading this site, you’ll be fine. It might take longer than you expected, so enjoy life in the meantime. You’re young once, don’t spend your prime working your ass off out of shape. Don’t stress about finding the perfect job, your job will also stress you out inevitably. Everyone needs to chill.

  • Chris Foster

    Here’s the problem with this: Rebecca is writing as if everyone is in the same exact position she is in. Also, the advice about applying to jobs for three hours and writing for six to eight hours is just ridiculous. You do not have to work 11-hour days in order to succeed as an editor or writer. If you do, you’re bound to burn out, and quickly. Sometimes it’s actually a good idea to take a non-writing or -editing position so that your time writing/editing is more sacred, is not your full-time job, and is not completely draining. Also, other jobs yield experience. Believe it or not, they can yield adventure. The problem with “tough love advice” is that there are many different ways to arrive at the same destination, and this article proposes that there is really only one way of doing things.

  • Viggy

    From this website you’d think that every young person in the world was a directionless liberal arts major….where’s the love for my fellow engineers/medicine/business….basically real jobs?

    • Melissa

      There is so much wrong with what you just said. I’m not a writer/editor or a “directionless liberal arts major” but I am a graphic designer so I feel as though I can relate to their plight – You know, one of those people with a “fake” job. I was going to write a really lengthy comment about what a terrible person I think you are, but from your comment I can see that you are about as dense as a black hole and any attempts to make you realize that would be futile. I’m going to get a little passive aggressive right now and ask you to PLEASE not put down and insult people who choose to study and pursue things other than those you deem important and “real.”

    • K

      Does it feel nice being an arrogant douchebag?

      • Viggy

        Sure does!

    • VU

      I agree with the original poster. He didn’t word it well, but there is a lack of representation for young people interested in “non-creative” fields. As a college student who’s hoping to go into business, it would be nice to read something about my future prospects. For example, the “whole internet presence part” is completely the opposite for business majors. Let’s add some more perspective to thoughtcatalog…if only business majors knew how to write blogs. *sigh*

      • bp

        I agree there is a lack of representation, and I wish someone who knew what they were talking about would step up and write something. I will say, though, that my most successful, “non-creative” friends maintain a blog dedicated to whatever field they’re working in. You don’t necessarily have to be a writer/creative person to update a blog – you can also reblog news articles, videos, or images with a little blurb of commentary. I imagine you’re already reading up on stuff related to your major that you have an opinion on anyway, so why not catalog it? It can’t hurt, especially if you feel like doors are just getting slammed in your face.

      • Sam

        There’s a lack of representation because you’re looking for representation in a context that is specifically geared towards representing certain areas of expertise.

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  • O

    Becky, this is so awesome. I can’t do all of this stuff – my mind would explode – but I can do some of it. These suggestions are perfect.

    • bp

      Thanks, partner!

  • Marc

    THANK YOU! Your piece was a nice mix of sarcasm, truth, and inspiration. More young people need to be like you. So many of my peers (college seniors) feel like they’re entitled to a job because they went to class (sometimes) for the past four years. If someone TRULY wants a job, they will go above and beyond.

    In the words of my mentor at CNBC, “I don’t hire people coming in at 100% competancy…I want someone to come in with enthusiasm and skills at 110%.” It’s a harsh reality, but it makes perfect sense.

    • durr

      your mentor sounds like he could be retarded.

      • Marc

        Thanks for the sophisticated response.

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    This. is friggen brilliant.

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    love this post. good luck on the job search rebecca! :)

    • cruise829

      whoa take that back just realized you were the advice giver lol.

  • leetal

    this is excellent.. wish more of it applied to my field, though .

  • maybeemaily

    Whoah, I just found this super condescending. Am I the only one?

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