I have heard there is a hidden job market. I have listened to countless stories of people getting jobs via friends or friends of friends. In the decade since my graduation from college, I have had virtually no first-hand experience with these phenomena.
I am a shy, introverted person, and I find it difficult to ask for favors. I’ve forced myself to do so on a few occasions, but I don’t think I’ve been very convincing. Although people have “put in a good word” and “passed along my resume” a few times, their generous acts have never resulted in a job or even so much as a freelance assignment.
So I look for posted jobs and apply to them. I have been lucky enough that this has worked a few times.
Intern at a political magazine, 2003:
When I was in college I wrote for the student newspaper and did journalism internships over the summer in and around my hometown: one at a small but respected investigative magazine, one at a tiny rural newspaper where the secretary still smoked in the shag-carpeted reception area. This was in 2002. One of my assignments was to report on an escaped horse.
I liked reading and writing, and journalism seemed like a way to spend a lot of time doing one of those things, at least. After graduation I applied for entry-level newspaper jobs all over the country. I didn’t get any of them. Then I applied for a magazine internship in New York. I knew of the magazine because it had published my favorite English professor’s poems, though it was mostly concerned with politics. My application included a story I’d done for the school paper about a gay couple’s struggle to adopt. I got a phone interview, then the “job.”
I cashed the savings bonds my grandparents had given me for birthdays and Christmases and used the resulting $2,000 to rent a tiny room for four months in a Brooklyn neighborhood so remote that most New Yorkers I’ve met haven’t heard of it. I covered the rest of my expenses with the $150 weekly stipend the internship provided.
It was a shock. I grew up white and middle class, but not the kind of white and middle class the other interns embodied. They had attended Ivy League or similarly prestigious East Coast schools; their parents were journalists, professors, or doctors; they had grown up living in or regularly visiting New York.
I went to a public university nowhere near a coast; my parents had decidedly unglamorous albeit still white collar jobs; I had never seen Manhattan before the morning I took the Q train there to report for the first day of my internship. The first time I ate cranberry sauce that hadn’t come from a can was the Thanksgiving I spent that year at the Park Slope brownstone of another intern’s parents.
Assistant editor of “business intelligence,” 2004-2005:
When the internship ended, I hadn’t found a job, I had no money left, and my only credit card had a $500 limit. I had no choice but to go back home and live with my parents. While they couldn’t offer money, they had shelter.
About four months into my ensuing search for work, I saw a post on JournalismJobs.com for a part-time editing position at a small “business intelligence” firm. It wasn’t a journalism job, not exactly, but I was desperate to get out of my childhood bedroom. I sent my resume. After a single interview with the entrepreneur who had founded the company — a nice guy who seemed not to have heard of the magazine where I‘d interned — I was hired. What was “business intelligence”? I had no idea but soon found out: We assistant editors would scroll through thousands of articles and press releases every morning to compile custom newsletters that quickly summarized any information relevant to a given client’s business interests. I developed tendonitis in my right arm from the rapid, ceaseless scrolling. Many of the clients were pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
My internship had stoked my class consciousness — not in an admirable way — and I felt the lack of glamor acutely. Plus, I was working part-time and could barely afford my rent. I never stopped applying for other jobs. I also started pitching freelance articles.
Academic book publicist, 2005-2009:
After a little less than a year of continual resume-sending, I got an email from a university press. I had applied to be an assistant and they wanted to interview me. It turned out they knew one of my references, the book review editor at the magazine where I had interned. He gave me a good recommendation, they said, and I made it to the second round of interviews, but another woman (who is now my friend) got the job.
Several months later, my future boss sent me another email. She had a different position open — would I like to come interview for it? She told me she’d enjoyed the article I’d just written for a local alt weekly about a shop specializing in political and academic books (just the sort the press published). She hired me during the interview.
It was a glorious day. Finally I would have a job that seemed somewhat interesting (to me and maybe — I’m not proud I had this thought — to anyone who happened to ask what I did). I did end up making some good friends there, and books were indeed more interesting than medical devices as things to write copy about. I stayed for several years, pitching said books to review editors and bloggers.
Teacher of English, 2009-2010:
But what was I going to do next? This wasn’t in New York; there was no publishing ladder to climb (though I sometimes thought of moving). There were so many people ahead of me for my boss’s job that it felt like I could end up doing the same thing for decades if I were to stay that long. I was in my mid-20s and restless. An editor I worked with asked me on more than one occasion: “So what’s your endgame here?”
I had no idea. And without my noticing it my day jobs had led me away from journalism. When I got home at night I was too tired to write; when I did it wasn’t always journalistic. I was pitching less and less until I wasn’t pitching at all.
Eventually I tentatively embraced my uncertainty and applied to be an English teacher overseas. I wanted to travel and had never been able to. And I thought teaching would offer a more flexible schedule, which would allow me more time to write (articles? essays? I wasn’t exactly sure what). The application process was bureaucratic and didn’t involve so much as an interview. I sent in my materials and a few months later got an email saying I’d been chosen.
I had a fun year, but learning a new language and keeping in touch with people at home left me more tired at night than my publishing job had. All I wanted to write was a huge quantity of emails.
Nonprofit marketing writer, 2010-present:
My boyfriend, who’d conveniently taken over the lease for my apartment, was laid off from his job just before my short-term teaching contract ended. I had planned to move in with him and live without worrying too much because his salary could cover rent while I job searched. When he told me that salary had disappeared, we both cried. We both started frantically sending out applications.
I sent one of them to a large science-oriented nonprofit in my hometown (which is actually, as you might have gathered, a pretty big city). They were looking for a writer and editor for their marketing publications and their website. In my cover letter I talked about writing academic book jacket copy, pitching myself as a specialist in “translating complex or technical information for non-specialist audiences.”
They called the day my plane landed. After two rounds of interviews with five different people, none of which I felt went very well, the human resources person called. I had been planning to negotiate if I got the job but when she quoted the offer that plan seemed absurd. It was, I now realize, a very average offer for a science- or medicine-related writing position. But compared with my starting salary in publishing — which it very nearly doubled — it seemed enormous.
Nonetheless, I do sometimes miss working with books. I have as little contact as I ever have with other people who share my interests. (I’m one of the unlucky few for whom social media heighten, rather than soothe, social anxiety.) But my boss is great, my hours aren’t bad, and I’m slowly finding more energy to write at night and on weekends. Hence this.
M.E. is an office worker and freelance writer.