Name: Jill Sanford
College & Majors/Minors: University of Puget Sound, English (Writing, Rhetoric & Culture) & Studio Art.
Current Location: Seattle, WA
Current Form of Employment: Admin & Marketing Assistant
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I started at this company immediately after graduating college as an Editorial Intern. It has a small but extremely talented staff, and I was thrown right into all that the magazine publishing world has to offer: e-newsletters, blog posts, travel writing and the works. The company definitely needs and uses their college interns, and I loved seeing my name in print! Towards the end of my summer internship, an Administrative position opened up within the company, and in need of employment and in love with the magazine world, I applied and was hired. A year and a half later, I still have this role.
I answer the phones and handle customer service, which are not the most glamorous sides of the publishing industry. But working the front desk at a company that produces two lifestyle magazines that are on par with national publications has opened a tremendous amount of doors for me. I gained experience with circulation, sales and a lot of marketing and advertising support that I would not have experienced as an intern. I have a more well-rounded understanding of the magazine world and a lot of transferable skills that will help me in this industry across the board.
Most significantly, I was on hand and always willing to take on freelance assignments for both publications. I have a strong background in visual arts, so I gradually received more and more responsibility to cover the Arts & Entertainment sections for these magazines. I am now expected to manage a few key components of the publications each month and I contribute feature length articles as well as short clips for both web and print.
Taking a job that is essentially more of a stepping stone in my career rather than the end all be all right after college really allowed me the freedom to build my portfolio. Now that I have some substantial clips and a solid relationship with a respected publishing company, I am confident that I will have some tethers to grab hold to when I venture off on my own in the near future. I am beginning to explore what the next few years of my professional life will look like, and I am smitten with the idea of working in a communications, marketing and social media field at a larger corporation while freelancing on the side.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
To put it simply, I was hired for my first job because I had made a good impression as an intern. And I was hired as an intern because I had already had published work through my work with a web only publication, Post Defiance.
I can’t tell you how funny it felt to have my writing chopped up and dissected the first time by the editors at Post Defiance. As English Majors, we are accustomed to our professors critiquing and marking up our papers with a red pen and trying to decipher their often illegible scribbles. Your editors won’t take the time to give you that kind of feedback. The first piece of writing that I had published had whole paragraphs missing, quotes I hadn’t even gathered and words I would never use in a million years.
But it was okay, because that’s what editors will do to your work.
So I would suggest looking for any opportunity as a student that gets you comfortable with someone else chopping up your writing, be it on the school newspaper or even a friend’s blog.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
As I am relatively new to the writing world, I hope to one day count my current position as the illustrious start to a successful and adventurous career! I am at the bottom rung of the publishing world, but I already know what I like and dislike about office environments, managers, topics to write about, etc. I know how important marketing and advertisements are to sustain publications like the ones I write for. I know that taking criticism and working to improve my writing skills are important to success in this business. I have a good feeling that this knowledge will be very important for my future career path.
In this experience and in others, I have often been told this piece of advice, which I was given as a student: if you want to make it as a writer you have to be writing all the time. Not when you are in the mood for it or suddenly feel a burst of creativity, but every day when you sit down in front of that empty word document.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I was busy! I was an editor on the school’s literary magazine, a varsity athlete, I double majored, I worked a part time job… I was a pro at multitasking and I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I think those skills translate into the real world in any setting, but they especially helped me with in publishing because people notice my willingness to pick up extra tasks and learn new skills. Most writing jobs are based on deadlines, which makes them fast paced and usually chaotic during drop-dead week. It’s a good skill to be able to roll with the punches and put out fires while you are on the go.
Nothing can beat solid writing skills, but I would also suggest learning as much as you can about something that doesn’t pertain to your English degree. Your excellent rhetoric won’t get you very far if you can’t ever think of something to write about, and it always helps if you have an idea ready when you finally get your time to shine. Find a passion and know what you want to say about it. Do you love horses or a particular kind of music? Pitch a story about it to a niche publication, or explain why more people should learn about your favorite topic to a publication with a really broad audience.
If possible, learn about other avenues of communication since these can only ever be considered an asset. Social media, press releases, web content and design are all avenues that require a way with words, so take a class in business or marketing if you have the ability and want to hone the skills.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Say goodbye to the oxford comma! I really miss it…
Never say no. Even if you can’t stand the assignment or you think it’s the dullest topic ever, do it with a smile. Also, you’ll never know for sure what you enjoy writing about until you give it a try, so try everything. Eventually the people giving you these assignments will notice, and they always appreciate when their lives are made a little bit easier.
That being said, editors and publishers can usually tell what you like writing about based on the quality of your work. This can be both a good and bad thing, so always strive for excellence but don’t be afraid to tell them how much fun you are having with a particular assignment. Hopefully you will get something similar passed your way again!
Also, never be afraid to ask if you can do something. There were so many times when I pitched a topic and was rejected or just flat out ignored. But there is also a handful of articles, some of which are my favorite things I have ever written, that started with a quick conversation with in the break room or because of a brief email query.
*As of June 16, Jill has accepted a role as Content Editor at Expedia, Inc. She brings an editor’s eye to learning and explaining tools and software as well as her attention to detail and customer-service skills. Her responsibilities include creating new hotel content on Expedia, Hotels.com, and Venere brand websites.