I was 19 and a junior in college when I landed my first full-time job.
I’d seen an ad for a copy editor/page designer position at a newspaper about half an hour from my school, and I decided to apply on a whim. I didn’t really think I’d get it, because the listing asked for a Bachelor’s Degree, but I later learned from the editor at the paper that I got the position because a) I actually followed all the instructions in the job description, including sending a resume, cover letter, and work samples, and b) I had clearly displayed my experience and impressed him in doing so.
Before I was 20, I had a full-time, salaried position.
After seven months at the local paper, I fell into another full-time opportunity that was a huge step for my career, and one that I was (and am) immensely grateful for—but I have to remember that it wasn’t just luck that got me my current job as lead reporter at the largest newspaper in the area. It was hard work and intense focus that got me where I am today. Here are a few of my secrets to success—the five things I did to land a full-time, salaried position before I even turned 20.
1. I focused on my career early.
Many of you know that I didn’t start college as an English major. I actually went in thinking I would become a music teacher, but after joining the school newspaper in October of my first semester, I quickly became hooked. Once I realized I was good at writing and that I had a passion for journalism, I jumped in with both feet.
I stuck my music major out until the end of my first semester, but I didn’t wait to get a head start on internship and freelancing opportunities in the world of journalism. In fact, it was before the end of the my first semester when I clinched my first regular, weekly byline in a national politics publication for millennials.
I started picking up freelance gigs from then on, and spent a lot of time honing my skills for the school paper, so by the time I started as an English major with a minor in mass communications, I was already well on my way to a career in the field.
2. In the beginning, I always said yes.
I was hungry to learn about journalism, an industry that I had absolutely zero experience in before joining the school paper. So to kick-start the process, I jumped on every opportunity that came my way (without overbooking myself).
I was offered an internship with a millennial-focused start-up, where I quickly climbed the ranks and was one of the top contributors. I started submitting stories to other publications, mostly for young people, and landed more and more regular gigs. By the end of my first semester as an English major, I had worked my way up to editor in chief of the school paper, with four regular freelance gigs. Plus, I started this blog, and it was super successful in getting my name out there, too!
By the end of the summer, I’d written on a long-term basis for six distinct publications, and my resume was growing before my eyes. By this point, I had to start to decline offers, because I didn’t have time for every publication who wanted me! It was around the start of my second semester as an English major, in the fall of 2016, when I decided I would not accept any more unpaid internships, and at that point, less than a year into my career, I could pay all my bills with my writing career.
3. I didn’t rely on others to make sure I was on the right track.
I dual enrolled a lot of my classes in high school, meaning that I took accelerated courses that doubled as both high school and college credit classes. Because of this, I had two years of general education classes under my belt when I graduated high school at 17.
And of course, I threw all of this hard work away when I went in as a music major; because music education majors at my university didn’t spend two years on general eds, I effectively did all of that work for nothing.
It wasn’t until I switched my major that those classes actually started counting. When I switched to English, I had the transfer office at my school re-evaluate the courses I had taken, and it ended up cutting three semesters off of my time in college. (It would have cut four, but I spent my first semester in music, of course.)
Had I not taken the time to go through the requirements for my English major myself, I would never have known that I could finish so soon. Each semester, I went into my adviser’s office knowing exactly which classes I needed to take each semester before graduation, and I took the maximum number of credits to make sure it happened as soon as possible.
Because I had all of this planned out myself, I recognized when I got my current job that I wouldn’t be able to stick with a “normal” schedule during this final semester. I had to jump through a few hoops to get online/independent classes for this semester, since I couldn’t be there in person, and it even involved taking one class at a local community college (online), because my university wasn’t offering it at a time that worked for me with my new job. I had to work all of this out on my own; I couldn’t rely on my adviser to figure these solutions out for me.
Now, I’m sure my adviser would have done as much as he could to help me if I hadn’t done this myself, but having the peace of mind of knowing how to get out of school and into the working world in the least amount of time was invaluable to me, and it ensured that I made the most of my short time in college.
4. I took the time to develop a healthy, harmonious relationship between my work and my personal life.
There was a hugely successful post on my blog from October of last year about how I was pushing myself toward the edge of burnout, and what I did to remedy it. My life was totally out of balance, and I was becoming a bit of a workaholic in a way that hurt me, my family, and my relationship. It sucked to have to learn this the hard way, but it’s been great for my career to now have the skill of balancing my life.
I now know when it’s time to call it quits on my work and focus on my family—and of course, vice versa. And trust me, you’re a lot more productive when you’re happy with your personal life, so it’s good for your work to step back every once in a while.
Plus, as a writer, how would I find things to write about if I didn’t take the time to live my life?
5. I took risks that scared me—in a good way.
If you think I was 100% confident on my first day of any gig, internship, or job, you have another think coming.
I was always super nervous to be turning in my first article to a new publication: is this what they’re looking for? Is my writing good enough?
Then, when I started my first remote internships, I learned that I was also nervous about phone calls and video chats. And I mean really nervous. To the point, even, that I looked for ways to get out of having to talk on the phone at any and all costs. Even conference calls!
But I wouldn’t be able to be the reporter that I am today if I hadn’t gotten over the fear of calling people, so I just had to do it. And I’ve come a long way! (Although, I still think video chats are very awkward; I’d rather talk on the phone or meet in person!)
I also had to take the risk of going in for interviews. I’ve never really had a bad interview, per se, but I would always overthink what I should wear, what I should bring, and what I would say in response to a particular question. But if I hadn’t taken those risks, even though they didn’t all end up turning into job offers, I wouldn’t have been so comfortable in my interview for my current job. This is one of those things you can really only learn by practicing!
Finally, I had to take the risk of applying for jobs that I didn’t know if I could realistically get or not.
And I got a lot of rejections.
Actually, I only got one or two rejections. Mostly, I just didn’t get a response from companies at all.
But after sending close to 100 job applications, I was able to land the job of my dreams, and I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t take a chance and just apply. What’s the worst that could happen?
I was definitely a lucky girl to end up in this position before I even had my Bachelor’s, but I think that these five “secrets to success” really pushed me over the edge.
I had the ambition, I put in the time, I took the risks, and I managed the consequences of my actions—and because of all this, I can say that I had a full-time, salaried position at one of the largest local newspapers in the D.C. metro area before I even turned 20, and I could not be more excited for all that is yet to come in the rest of my career.
What tips do you have for your job-hunting peers? Share in the comments!