Thursday, June 13, 2013

Networking For Extreme Introverts

We’ve all heard it a million times: This industry is about networking. Oh, your friend talked to her mom who talked to her coworker who talked to her cousin who works at Condé Nast to score you that huge interview? Well, of course, that’s how everybody gets in.

Except what happens when you’re looking to break into magazines and the only industry connection you’ve got is a great-aunt’s friend who works in the art department of a local Alaskan lifestyle magazine?

For the longest time, I thought that all the connections I needed were a resume, a cover letter, and access to Ed’s website. That was all I had when I scored my first internship the summer after my freshman year, and that was all I had when I got two big, sparkly fashion internships as a sophomore and a junior. One of my fashion mag co-workers and I would joke about how our friends reacted after we got the job. The most common response tended to be: ‘How did you get this? Who do you know?!’ And then we’d quip wittily: ‘Uh, he’s this great guy, Ed. You should really meet him...’

But, as is normal when I make fun of things I don’t understand, I was quickly forced to eat my words. Last summer, I completed an online internship for a small website owned by a hip little menswear PR company. (I always feel like an 80-year-old when I use the word “hip,” anyone else get that vibe?) At the end of the summer, my editor and I had built such a good relationship—I might even dare to say friendship—that she convinced one of the company’s co-owners to hire me on as a daily freelancer to the site.

Even after she left the company, I was able to stay on and freelance for an entire year. In the end, I wound up with more clips than I could count plus another great relationship with the co-owner who had hired me. My old editor and I stayed in vague contact and, six months later, she scored a huge gig as the Editor-in-Chief of an enormous entertainment website with the kind of traffic that can make a writer feel a little famous.

About a month after she started her awesome new gig, I got an email. It was late Friday night on the weekend before the last week of classes. (The stress from that weekend evidently seared specific details into my memory.) The email basically read:

Hey! Hope you’re doing well. Got some free time? A co-worker of mine is looking for a freelancer to write _____ and it’s due Monday and he’ll pay you $500. Interested?

I let myself have one minute to freak out before responding with an overly enthusiastic yes. That was a real game changing moment for me, because I finally realized how important it was to get someone already in the industry to pull for me. To make sure I get paid for my work every once in awhile. And, to connect me with opportunities that a little girl from Kentucky would never have otherwise had—even with a resume, cover letter, and access to the internet.

After I completed that freelance job, I got my act together and properly asked if I could work for her this summer. Even though I didn’t have any experience in entertainment writing, I knew that I needed to keep this relationship going and, if she was willing to recommend me as a professional freelancer to a co-worker, maybe she’d want me as an intern again too. As you may have guessed, she did.

So, here we go, Edsters. I may have taken the idea of networking way too literally by asking my one close connection to intern for her again, but here I am. I think it also partially comes from being an introvert: I hate talking to strangers so why not extremely play up the one connection I have?

In retrospect, I’m a little worried that my resume is going to read like a girl who can’t make up her mind (Fashion! PR! Entertainment!), but then I think back to a particularly embarrassing informative interview that I held with the editorial assistant at one of the fashion mags where I interned. She basically told me to get out of the fashion closet and get in any editorial position that I could find, because a big name fashion magazine won’t mean squat to a future editor if I wasn’t in an editorial internship. I guess I was just too hyped up on getting to see that Chanel hula-hoop bag in person to understand that it probably wasn’t doing much for my writing career.

Now, I’ll be exchanging the designer clothes for a keyboard, where I’ll report on artists like Macklemore and Jason Aldean. It’ll be quite the learning experience. But in the meantime, what are your networking experiences? Good, bad, or nonexistent? Let me know below.

Until next week,
Ed’s Entertainment Intern

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