This is a story about a girl (me) who flew from Texas to New York three years ago to interview for a job at a women's magazine with a résumé that was pretty much blank.
To my shock, I got the job.
Less than a year later, I landed my dream gig at Cosmopolitan.com—even though I was never president or chair of any club or committee during college. (I almost can't believe it myself.)
So how did I go from a lifelong self-proclaimed underachiever with an unimpressive résumé to associate beauty editor at Cosmopolitan.com in just a few years' time? I have no idea. Just kidding (kind of). I've been thinking about it a lot, and I've come up with some answers.
I would like to make one thing clear before I start: I have always been a hard worker, and I am by no means a lazy person. If you are also hardworking, motivated, and passionate, but don't feel equipped with the right experiences on your résumé to accomplish your big goals, I'm here to tell you there is hope.
All my life, I was perfectly aware that I would need to do whatever it took to stand out during the job search. However, my priority as a 17-year-old (and during the five years after that, let's be honest) was not my career. I wanted to spend those few, precious years doing "normal" college people things like spending time with my friends and traveling.
And then one day after I graduated, while literally lying in bed, staring at the ceiling fan, wondering what I was going to do with my life, I decided it was time for me to finally go after my dream of working at a women's magazine, despite the fact that, on paper, I had little to offer anyone. Because I knew deep down I did have a lot to offer. I just didn't know how to translate my qualities to bullet points on my résumé (how do you write "I will literally work harder than any person you know if you give me a chance" on your résumé?). So I had to go about the job search a little bit differently than the common overachiever.
Here are seven things I was told I should do in preparation for the job hunt, what I did instead (because yolo), and ultimately, how I was able to use those experiences in ways that were actually beneficial to my career.
1. The right thing to do: Have a résumé with so many accomplishments that you have to cut it down to fit everything on one page.
What I did: Relied on other ways to make myself stand out like refining my interview skills and expanding my portfolio.
A résumé is only the very beginning of the application process. I've hired enough interns to know that just because they have a handful of credible companies listed on their résumé does not mean they will be stellar interns. Keep that in mind when you feel discouraged because your résumé doesn't stack up against all the private school, Ivy League kids who started interning in kindergarten. When you're starting out, employers mainly want to know that you can do the job well. That means standing out in your edit test (or whatever entry test you have to take), polishing your in-person and phone interview skills, and providing good examples of your work at your interview. I didn't stand out on paper, so I knew that if I could land an interview by something like word of mouth, my chances of getting the job would be much better.
2. The "right" thing to do: Go to expensive private and Ivy League schools.
What I did: Went to all public schools (shout-out to all my public school kids), including University of Missouri (Mizzou), where I studied journalism.
People who went to fancy schools throughout life do have an advantage, but that doesn't make my experience at public schools invaluable. Mizzou, although public, is a great school. I grew up around people of many different cultural and financial backgrounds, and wasn't surrounded all my life by people who look and talk just like me. You learn a lot about yourself and the world when you're exposed to new things and people, and I try to use that perspective when coming up with article ideas that maybe someone else wouldn't think to write about.
3. The "right" thing to do: Join a sorority, or a bunch of clubs and committees, and then become president/treasurer/chairwoman/boss lady/whatever of said clubs and committees.
What I did: Joined a sorority, and I'm not totally sure I made it to more than one meeting. Clubs can cost a lot of money and aren't all that necessary in my humble opinion. Yes, they are beneficial in helping you learn how to interview, network, or work with a team, but clubs are not the be-all and end-all. I learned a ton about responsibility, working with a team, and interviewing when I applied for the part-time retail jobs I had in high school and college, during which I was able to earn money while also gaining real world experience.
4. The "right" thing to do: Intern every summer/winter/semester/spare moment of your college life.
What I did: Interned one semester (not at a women's magazine, might I add) while I studied abroad and spent the rest of my summers working at a summer camp.
If you want to do something completely unrelated to your career path, do it! I didn't apply to any internships my first two years of college, a decision my advisors and professors strongly opposed. "You're hurting your chances by not taking advantage of these opportunities," they'd tell me, like, every day. "This industry is so competitive and you'll never stand out without experience." I heard what they were saying, but I didn't let it affect me. I had already committed to working at a summer camp, the same one I went to growing up that had had a tremendous positive influence on my life, and that was more important to me than interning at a local paper. I knew a magazine wouldn't look at my summer job and count it as relative experience, but it was a decision that I knew I would be happy I made for the rest of my life, so I went with it. And I'm still glad I made that decision. I learned a lot about myself as a leader those summers and still refer to those experiences to this day.
5. The "right" thing to do: Start applying to jobs before you graduate so you have something lined up as soon as that fateful day comes.
What I did: Moved back home, and spent my money and a few weeks traveling around South America.
Don't forget to do stuff for your soul, not just for your résumé. I love traveling. I knew one day I would be old and my back would be too bad to sleep in hostels and my stomach to sensitive to eat sketchy foods, so I wanted to take advantage of my youth and travel around a bit before settling into a routine. Traveling is so enlightening and life-changing. Through my time in South America and studying abroad in Australia, I developed my own independence, and that 100 percent prepared me for when I would one day move to New York to give life by myself here a shot.
6. The "right" thing to do: "Know people" and have a lot of connections in the industry you hope to work in someday.
What I did: Asked around until I found someone who knew someone in the industry.
If you don't have connections, make your own. Although I knew a lot of journalism people from going to a journalism school, I had very few contacts in New York, and that would make applying for jobs in New York very tricky. My résumé wasn't going to stand out in a pile on its own, so I needed someone on the inside of the industry to put in a good word for me. I asked around until I found someone who knew someone at a women's magazine, and then I asked to meet with that person for coffee or an informational meeting. I did this a lot. Eventually it landed me in the office of a very important person who offered me my first gig in New York.
7. The "right" thing to do: Have everything in order (a job lined up, your housing figured out) before moving to a new city to start your career.
What I did: Decided I was going to move to New York, moved there the next day, and had no permanent place to live for a month.
One of the few things I had to offer that other more qualified applicants did not was that I was willing to move at a moment's notice for a job and start whenever. TB completely H though, moving without a plan wasn't easy. I slept on a lot of air mattresses, almost signed a year lease to live with a porn star by accident, got lost in the wrong parts of NYC way too often, was taken advantage of by too many people who could tell I wasn't from around there, and cried a few times. Sure, having a plan and some money saved up before I moved out to NYC would've saved me a little stress, but I would've never been offered that first job if I couldn't start as soon as they needed. Since I didn't have a good résumé, I had to make up for it in other ways, which I was happy to do and I'm so glad I did.
I still can't say I know for certain how I landed my dream job, but the main piece of advice I have is not to stress if your journey doesn't look like everyone else's. Overachievers are cool and impressive and all, but you are too.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.