In just two weeks after she was laid off from a NY magazine this fall, Susan Waits found herself a new job – and now her updated LinkedIn profile says “Love my job!!!
What can we learn from her story?
The first job
2 suitcases, a degree in journalism, no apartment and no job. That was Susan Waits arriving in New York from Arkansas three years ago. “The biggest mistake people make is to try and find a job in New York before they come – the first step is to just move here. I was waitressing to pay the rent,” she told me.
She landed a job as an unpaid intern at fashion magazine Gotham – part of Niche Media. “I had responded to a job posting on www.ed2010.com which is particularly good for finding internships. I worked usually 9am – 9pm and many weekends. I think that I wanted to do a good job for myself, and I stayed late because I wasn’t done yet: as long as you are happy, then the extra work is not an issue.”
“When a Fashion Assistant opportunity opened up after 2 months, I got it. But I not only did the job, making their fashion closet my own, I offered more: I wanted to write, so I wrote the price credits – the boring bits that no-one else wanted to do – I made the job unique to myself.”
After a year and a half as a Fashion Assistant, Susan had impressed the Niche Media management enough that they created a position for her on the editorial side where she worked for both Gotham and Hamptons Magazines.
A year after she had been promoted to Assistant Editor, the dismal media economy of 2009 hit her: her position was cut. “I was escorted out of the building – no talking to anyone, no touching anything – with colleagues sitting and watching my departure – it was mortifying.
“The day after, I was shocked and p-ssed. But then I looked at it positively. I hit the ground running. I bombed everyone I knew. I had good working relationships and people jumped into action. I told them ‘I’ve been laid off and I need your help.'”
“It’s a hard business – in a tough city. Everyone is type A. You have to put yourself out there. I contacted all the channels I could come up with – even a girl I met just once at a Cosmopolitan party.”
Even if her friends and colleagues didn’t have direct leads to a job, they connected her to HR staffers so she was able to set up informational interviews at all the big media companies. “Every day I had coffee or lunch with people. And you have to think a bit broader – if you are a good food writer, you might think can I parlay that into entertainment?”
She answered ads on mediabistro.com and ed2010.com and she got job alerts from Time Warner and Conde Nast and Hearst.
“The thing that helped me find work was positivity,” says Susan. “I had practiced my pitch with my friends and at the informational HR interviews. I was putting in pretty much a full time work schedule on the search.”
Susan told me that she used a few versions of her resume to highlight different bullet points of her skill sets. It’s a one-page resume that she attaches as a PDF so it will appear as a preview.
“For the cover letter I believe in erring on the casual side. I write it like I speak to a person,” she said. “I want to be on first name basis. Its all about brevity, people are looking at them very quickly: 2 paragraphs max. The first paragraph asks to speak to them; the second says, “Here’s why I‘m awesome.”
When she was running the intern program at Niche Media, she sometimes got 300 resumes sent in for one posting. She saw so many mistakes – one was the attached cover letter, “I never opened an attached cover letter – it has to be within the email.
“I recommend harassing people – you have nothing to lose – don’t call them, but email several times about a week apart – it refreshes the contact. And if you have connections use them – have them write in to support you saying: ‘I understand that you are looking at Susan for the post – here is why you should hire her.’ The more someone hears your name the more likely your resume is to be opened.”
A step backward to move forwards
“You have to be willing to be humble when you are looking for a new job: the job I took was at an assistant level. I had no qualms taking a step down – I figured it is better to be working and getting the experience – it can only help you – you are learning more, rather than sitting at home for 8 months.”
Susan hadn’t been at the top of the chain at Gotham, but she was at an editor level, editing Oscar De La Renta and Vera Wang, making decisions and producing photo shoots. But she was open to taking a step backward in order to move forwards.
The new job
Answering a posting on mediabistro.com, Susan found herself in a series of six interviews at The Knot, an online magazine all about weddings. The Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Carla Roney needed an Executive Assistant and Susan had just the right combination of editorial experience and admin skills. She got the job – after being out of work for just two weeks. “I am excited that I have a job and I work for a company that people like and respect.”
But that is not where it ends. Within a couple of weeks of starting at The Knot, she had already earned added responsibilities, becoming the Editor of NYC Metro coverage and serving as a Staff Writer for both The Knot and its sister publication The Nest.
But what about us?
So what can we learn from this? Stay positive. Work at it when you do have a job. Work at it when you are looking for a job. Be open to making lateral moves to develop the skills and experience that you are interested in. Don’t just do the job you are offered, do more and make yourself valuable. When you are out of work, be open to expanding your horizons and to taking a step back to get back on the track.
Susan’s story is an inspiration. I am sure you will find something in it that you can use as you grow your own career.