Are you the kind of person who has always known what they wanted to do since they were a kid? I was. At age 7, I wanted nothing more than to write books. My mom worked as the Library Director across the street from school. I spent every day and most weekends among the stacks either re-shelving or head down in a book. I loved stories. I still do. Since I can remember, I have always wanted to work at a job that related directly to literature.
My First Reality Check: Cashed Straight Into Student Loans
As I got older, I realized it’s difficult to write like Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries, anyone?) or David Sedaris (comedic genius). Reality sunk in and I made the decision to attend a state school for a major in English with a focus on publishing. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could help folks publish their stories as I developed mine? Four years, two minors and one bachelor’s degree with a 4.85 GPA later, I was a full year out of college taking any odd job I could find to pay off my student loans. I read every “what to do with an English degree” article I could find. Dozens of friends and professors reviewed my resume drafts by request.
Fast-forward to working in retail, part-time substitute teaching, and living at home when I finally got a call that brought tears to my eyes. A temp agency was looking for a warm body to perform data entry at a foreclosure office. I counted my blessings as I checked my voicemail and threw myself into interview prep. Two weeks later, I moved into an apartment in Buffalo, NY with two strangers off Craigslist, eager to begin my first “adult” job.
There’s nothing more frustrating than those first two months in a new position. All you want to do is prove yourself, which is a challenge when you don’t know what you’re doing. I do recommend taking some free courses on Microsoft Office basics. When you say you’re proficient at Excel, it comes in handy when you actually are. People will be able to tell.
From Panic to Plateau
After the initial shock of moving from a population of under 400 to a city over 256,000, I found my groove. I learned how to process invoices. I stopped being afraid of answering the phone. Eventually, I mastered my job and moved up to proofreader as the company expanded. It felt good not to be the colleague at the bottom of the totem pole. My superiors recognized the energy I put in. A word to the wise if you’re goal is move up within your first job, volunteer for extra work. Stretch yourself. Work outside of your comfort zone on new projects. If you have a good manager, they will notice. It will pay off.
Do It Yourself Work Experience
I couldn’t find any opportunities to volunteer in the publishing industry within the city, but I did manage to land a gig writing fifty cent articles on a no-name news website where I could choose my own topic. I started going to literary events around the city, writing about them, and then sending the published links to the event hosts. Through this, I created a digital portfolio and networked with companies that valued literary events. This led to more volunteer work, including a stint where I served as author hospitality and met literary greats like Toni Morrison and Dave Eggers. Just saying, you never know what opportunities arise until you create them yourself.
Although I worked hard in and out of the office, I did make some time for myself. I hung out with friends on the weekends. I practiced roller blading. I joined a local bicycling group. I did not spend every moment filling out job applications. Be kind to yourself. Remember that networking gets you a lot farther than resume blasting and cold calling.
Big City Big Leagues
After about two years at my proofreading job, I was itching for change. I wanted the opportunity to edit more than newspaper ads. I fantasized running from my glorious Manhattan apartment to my floor-to-ceiling glass windowed office, bagel in hand and too busy to take anyone’s calls. The sleek skirt and blazer combos hanging in my closet demanded their time to shine. I started applying exclusively to trade publishing jobs in New York. I didn’t hear back. I started applying to editorial jobs on the East coast. I didn’t hear back for the first 50. After the 52nd application, I got an interview at Wiley. Persistence! Exhaustion. Excitement! I experienced all these things.
I made it through two phone screenings, one self-recorded interview, two video chats and a follow up negotiation with Human Resources before I could call myself an Editorial Assistant. I performed a lot of research, ate a lot of peanut butter cups, and called my friends constantly for support throughout this process and the following six months. I moved apartments, drove in Manhattan traffic, slept on a deflated air mattress in March for three weeks without realizing how to turn on the heat, lived out of one suitcase, and got lost taking the subway to and from work every day. All of this occurred in addition to starting my first corporate job.
From Pollywog to Promotion
Working at a corporate office is challenging, especially if you’re from a small town like I am. I survived by networking, asking questions (even the “stupid ones”), and constantly communicating with my manager. I became well-known in the department. People saw me as an individual who would do whatever it took to get the job done. People liked me because I was friendly and I put in the time. I probably put in too much time, but since I didn’t have a booming social life, I could put in the hours. After a year and a half, pieces moved around and the position as Program Assistant opened up. Since I expressed such a strong interest in Editorial, management decided to create a hybrid role for me, as Assistant Editor, too. Ask and you shall receive! Communication is key, don’t ever think differently.
Things to Do, People to See
As it stands now, my future is bright. I’m moving into a Product Manager position this summer, again being promoted for my willingness to go the extra mile, ask questions, and fastidious note taking. I’m considering moving into User Experience (UX/UI). I take as many courses on continued education and personal development as I can. I still schedule informational interviews with anyone I meet whose job interests me. Even though I have a plan, I know it could change at any moment! I’ve learned not to rule anything out and to talk to everyone. I advise anyone reading this article to do the same.
While I couldn’t have predicted the last three years, somehow I knew I’d always make it to New York. At the risk of ending this article with an extra serving of sap, the key takeaway from my career path is that I always believed in myself. When it comes to finding the right career for you, think about your passion. It will help you keep it together when you see a cockroach in your kitchen, or when you get turned around on the A train for the 167th time. Resilience is much easier to build when you’re working towards your dreams. Don’t take them lightly. Listen to your gut. Read What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles. Find your passion.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, we’ve come so far together! We both deserve ice cream. I’ll get the bowls. You figure out your next move.