Not least because the publications offering fledgling writers exposure in lieu of payment generally aren’t read by anyone with the power or inclination to hire you.
What can work is writing to build your portfolio. Take the unpaid gigs when you need to, but make sure you knock the work out of the park.
Then, when you’re applying/pitching for paid work, show them those assignments to prove to them that if they do hire you, you’ll do the same for them.
Writing for love also works: because you love what the publisher stands for, you want to create something awesome with your friends, or you want to do a friend a favour.
But the publishers that offer writers genuinely good exposure? Are almost always publications that pay their writers a respectable wage. Or something approaching it, if they’re small and indie.
1. Know someone. It helps if your dad is friends with the editor, or if you went to school with the assistant director.
2. Happen to be doing work experience the month they’re hiring and make a really good impression.
There’s also 3. Be qualified for the job and really, really lucky, but it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t rely on that one.*
I’ve written before about how much those first few months (should that be years?) after graduating from college/university can suck, and one of the main reasons they suck is because it can seem damn near impossible to get a job.
When I first left university, five years ago now, I had a pretty good CV. My grades were good, but more important than that, I already had a lot of experience behind me: countless (student) publications, a raft of volunteer positions I no longer list, and even a couple of paid jobs in the industry. I didn’t expect things to come easily - throughout my degree, the running joke amongst my friends was that we’d be lucky to ever get a job, let alone earn more than $30,000 a year - but my early success rate in the employment market was pretty abominable nonetheless.
As I moaned, in true White Wine style, to my (decidedly more attractive to employers) boyfriend back in 2006 “Unemployable is the new unfuckable.” (Incidentally, I think Frankie published something along those lines, albeit less crass, recently.)
But here’s the thing: entry level jobs suck. And when I say that, I’m not saying you’re above doing the tasks required by them - I would have been happy to photocopy and answer phones at the offices of [insert the many publications I applied for here] - I’m saying that the way in which they’re distributed often doesn’t make much sense, and usually seems to rely on the first two points I mentioned in my post.
This isn’t bitterness talking. Like the famed new 23-year-old Monthly editor, Ben Naparstek, I made a habit of applying for jobs I wasn’t really qualified for (don’t read that as an insult - he applied for the position at 18. He was clearly underqualified!), along with all those Editorial Assistant and Junior Writer roles. And the weird thing was that my interview rate for these positions was actually higher than it was for the positions you would think a recent university graduate would be qualified for.
I never got a call back for any of the Editorial Coordinator roles I applied for, but like Naparstek, I did get an interview for Editor. I never heard back about the Junior Writer position my clips were ideally suited to (I figured, at least, although now I suspect part of the reason I didn’t get it was because that magazine and I didn’t 100 per cent mesh - see point 4), but I got through to the second round for a Senior Writer position at the same magazine. I got an interview to be Deputy Editor of a national magazine when I still hadn’t held down a mainstream media job.**
All this might suggest I was underselling myself in applying for those entry level jobs, but I don’t think I was - keep in mind I was 22, 23, 24 at this time. The real issue, I think, is that the number of applications for these positions is so high that it’s difficult for the people doing the hiring to distinguish between them or give them their proper due (a friend of mine who’s now in the hiring seat says it’s hard to find the best person for them for this reason). Add that to this the fact that a lot of the people applying could do these jobs fairly solidly - that one applicant might be able do them better than another isn’t as important as you might think it would be.
That’s not to say you can just walk into a higher level interview either - to even get a look in, you need the equivalent of entry level experience and beyond. My point is that you need to go out there and get that entry level experience yourself. Submit stories to your favourite publications. Start a not-for-profit. Make a film. Put on a play. If major galleries won’t exhibit your artwork, put on an exhibition of your own. The main reason I started freelancing was because I realised the only way I’d ever get to write the stories I wanted to write - or get a job in the industry, for that matter - was if I proved I was capable of doing it by, uh, Just Doing It.
I tend to be cynical of the fawning over young high achievers - mostly because I’ve gotten to know so many of them over the years. They’re clever, sure, but they’re not superhuman, and rather than being lauded as such (“OMGZ! What a genius!” etc) I think they’d serve better as How Tos.
So if it interests people sufficiently, I’d be happy to start a semi-regular series here profiling Self-Made Twentysomethings in non-traditional job who are doing pretty amazing things - not so you can “oo” and “ah” over how great they are, but to demystify how they got there. And so that you too can get your ideal entry level - or not-so-entry level - job.
* Thinking on this further, I can also genuinely recommend applying for dedicated cadet and scholarship programmes (which, in Australia at least, usually offer more than one position).
** This raises a raft of questions in itself, such as the disposability a number of 30-somethings in my field have warned me about once you command a certain salary. But that’s not the point of this post, or an area I have any expertise in at this point in time. Wait 10 years for that post.
You’re so obsessed with trying to find love that you don’t even remember how to live… let alone what love even is. Or possibly worse, you think that since you have already found love that you no longer have to live, have to grow and change and fail and learn anymore.
Love life. Love the things that you’re passionate about. Love yourself. Genuinely and whole heartedly love life. Then work on finding others to truly love too.
My friend Kristen already has a job upon graduation in June 2009. Along with the job signing, she was given a $7500 signing bonus. She plans on taking a month off to visit Japan and China, and volunteer in a zoo.
This sort of stuff makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life.
sigh…this is the main reason i’m not looking forward to graduation.
why doesn’t an offer like that plop in my lap?
Graduating from university sucks. Seriously. It’s a great achievement and all, but it’s also really hard for pretty much everyone.
If you’re a smart, reasonably privileged person (and based on your blogs, I can affirm that all of you are at least the first of those), life up until graduation is a relatively simple equation of “work hard” followed by ”reap rewards”. Work hard at school, get into the course or university of your choice. Work hard at university, get good grades. Get involved in campus life, become part of an awesome community and end up with a great CV.
Leave university, and it doesn’t work like that anymore - at least, not at first. You might find it difficult to get a job in your field of study, and face unemployment for a while. Maybe you’ll decide to work for yourself and find yourself living off baked beans and spending no more than a bus/tram/subway fare on your nights out. Maybe you’ll luck into your dream job and discover it’s not the dream you thought it was after all (it happens to almost everyone).
Been there, done it all. I graduated university with good grades and an even better CV (being an overly social person who participated in every extracurricular activity on campus, and having held down part time jobs in my industry while I was studying), only to discover that none of that really mattered in the real world. I got a few job interviews here and there, but nothing remotely exciting, and I was unemployed for three months after I finished, before taking up a position at a not-for-profit.
I ended up leaving that job a year later to pursue my dream of writing columns and features for magazines and newspapers, and running cool online and print publications. I had some quick success with big bylines, but I was also completely broke for a year.
Then, a year after that, I was headhunted for my dream job. It was awesome, but it wasn’t the dream I thought it would be, because no job can be. No matter what you do for work, there are going to be dull, unfulfilling and frustrating days. But you have to make sure you keep doing the things you find most fulfilling somewhere: whether it’s part of your paid work or outside it.
In any case, this is meant to be a good news story, so here’s the good news: four years out of university, I run the homepage of the most highly trafficked news site in the country, and get paid enough to live off whilst working part time. The rest of the time I freelance - I’ve written for pretty much every Australian publication I aspire to, bar Vogue - work on my thesis, and am writing my first non-fiction book.
I’m pretty happy with my lot, but the even better news is that so are all the people I went to university with. A couple are radio news journalists with the coolest station in the country (Triple J), another works for France 24 (yep, in Paris!), another is a key player in Australia’s Catholic social justice movement. And those successes just off the top of my head.
So yeah, there are probably going to be some difficult times in the months and maybe years ahead. And you really do have my sympathy - I remember feeling completely hopeless some of the time, and getting rejected for plenty of “dream jobs”. But it will get better in time. You just need to hang in there, and keep chasing your dreams and pushing on.
You guys are great - smart, talented, insightful and driven - and I have every faith you will get where you want to be eventually.
I turn 22 about a month from now — August 20th. Leo baby! (People usually guess I’m 26 or 27. Does this mean I look old or act older than my age? Hmm.)
Tell me, Tumblr advice would you give your 22-year-old self? Alternately, if you’re also turning 22, how do you plan to celebrate your terrible two redux?
On work: Be patient. Your loftly dreams will frequently seem impossible over the next few years, but if you keep plodding along and doing what you’re doing, they’ll eventuate in the timeline you wanted in the first place. Also, Woody Allen was absolutely right when he said that 80 per cent of success was showing up. So show up.
On love: If they seem interested in you, they probably are. So for god’s sake, pash them.
Also (and this is more to jgh than to my 22-year-old self), pick up a copy of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin. It’s mostly about body image, but the chapter on post-college life - ‘The Real World Ain’t No MTV’ - captures the 22-year-old experience beautifully. See also: Avenue Q.