The second semester has officially started. For freshmen, it’s back to weekend parties, greek socials and complaining about essays you’ve put off for weeks. For seniors, it’s a constant state of anxiety until graduation day, when you’re expected to pack up your dorm room, go out into the real world, find a job and pay your student loans. It’s easy to freakout (obviously), but thanks to Lisa Sugar, you could get a dream position sooner than you think.
We talked with POPSUGAR co-founder and author of Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice & Build Your Dream Life Lisa Sugar about getting your foot in the door, how to make yourself stand out in an interview and what to do when you’re feeling discouraged about your job hunt.
When did you first realize you wanted to write and how did you get your foot in the door?
I knew at a young age I enjoyed writing in school and always had diaries. I didn’t think I could actually write and get paid for it until I was a junior in college and had a PR internship at a live morning show on FOX. Even landing that internship was difficult. Getting my resume in the hands of a friend of a friend helped, and it was important to use all the connections I had in order to get that start. Once at FOX, I loved the energy of the show and entertainment space. However, when I graduated it was even harder to get a full-time paid job in entertainment so I decided to start working in advertising. It was a great training ground for learning the basic work skills like managing budgets, project management, client presentations, negotiations, and more. However, it wasn’t creative enough for me.
It took over seven years before I decided to leave advertising to pursue my passion to create content. I started POPSUGAR on the side to get myself into the habit of writing every day and to share things I was excited about: a new show I would review, a fun article with great quotes, a new beauty product I had just tried. I made sure it was a different voice than everything else out there. It was a fun, positive, safe community and very fan friendly. Once I started posting regularly, I became addicted and couldn’t stop, and neither could our growing audience!
What was your first experience like when searching for a job and what advice would you give to those who are discouraged?
Ha, well, not to age myself or anything, but the internet was a much less resourceful place at the time. Job searching relied heavily on any network in place (which wasn’t very deep) and resources in my college, which had address books and generic HR listings. Online job listings were starting so I jumped on that, but they were very slim pickings. I also tried to get as many informational interviews as I could.
My advice here is to cast a wider net than you think you should. Timing is everything, and a few months before graduation, I started to apply. I wanted to work as soon as I could but getting a job in entertainment was difficult, so once I opened up my search to include ad agencies and PR companies, I was finally getting calls back. Once I was starting my interview process, I learned from each one and took lots of notes afterwards. I followed up with a handwritten thank-you note. It was hard when I felt like I was just waiting to hear something back, but it’s important to know to be patient. If it’s taking way longer than you planned, then you are probably being too picky or limited. You need to at least get a job at a restaurant, retail store, or somewhere you can make money and learn some basic work skills. You must also be willing to work at tough jobs that may not be perfect — in fact, they won’t be! — and work hard at them. Your early jobs are important not just for the experience but for helping you understand what you don’t want to do. Don’t be too proud to take an internship even after you’ve graduated from college; they are actually a great way to get that full-time job when a position opens up.
What kind of job candidates stand out to you and what characteristics should come across in an interview?
I love when I’m interviewing someone and they get so excited and start geeking out about what they love to do. What stories they love to read, what projects they’ve felt were successful to them, what lessons they’ve learned about themselves in past jobs. A cover letter with personality also goes a long way. If someone wants to write or be at our company in a creative capacity, it helps to see how they pitch themselves and what kind of stories they want to create. Having a strong level of confidence (without being obnoxious) is important. I also look at:
– How excited are they to learn about what we do
– What research have they done prior to coming in
– What questions do they ask (hopefully beyond the same question everyone else does where answers already exist online)
Note that when you get time with a director level or higher, be thoughtful of their time. Don’t ask how they got started — ask their favorite parts of the job or company, ask how their job is different from others on the team, ask how their job has changed over time, etc.
What stands out most to you on a resume? What tips do you have for those building their resume before college graduation?
When taking quick glances at resumes from those just starting their career, I am hoping at least to see some experiences, whether that may be a few internships, a paid job, or engagement in school organizations that shows they spent extra time committing themselves to learn basic organizational skills. I want to know they have people we can call for a reference that says, “Jane was on time, reliable, pleasant to work with, eager to learn more.” I also love to see writing candidates having their own sites even if it’s just for friends and family or sharing their social handles to share their opinions and personalities.
What should you never lie about on your resume?
You shouldn’t lie. It will come back to haunt you, and it’s not worth it. Being yourself is the most important aspect of selling yourself. If your resume isn’t as full as you’d like, add personality to it somehow with a short story or expand on your hobby section with some fun details about what you do in your spare time and why.
If you weren’t doing what you are now, where would you be?
I’d love to design handbags or create a beauty line. I have an unhealthy habit of shopping for bags, which is funny because when I was younger I refused to carry them and my mom was always trying to get me to have a nice one. 😉 I’m also a beauty junkie and love new products, so if I was not in media in some capacity then I would probably be doing one of those two things.
What advice do you have for college girls who are looking to break into the field?
The advice I would give is to start small and set realistic goals. If you want to be a writer, get yourself in the habit of writing every day. I used to keep journals, so that was one way, but those were personal and just for me, so it was a huge change to write to others. When I started POPSUGAR, I wasn’t telling anyone at first because I was setting personal goals of writing a few stories every day. Since the topics were fun, friendly, and interesting, people found the site quickly. When I was becoming addicted to analytics and seeing how often people would visit the site or comment on stories, it only made me want to write more. So while I was still working in advertising, I found time before work, on a lunch break, and at night. The key was updating a lot throughout the day, so I also learned how to be really quick. That helped too! Figure out what you can do that allows you to set these small goals and make time for it every day so you can get feedback and set the next goal.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
It’s short, sweet, and easier said than done, but my dad always said to “do what you love.” Obviously that takes time to figure out and even once you have a job you love there are good and bad days, but if you find yourself excited to go to work most days and are surrounded by people you are having fun with, inspired by, and learning from, then it makes that paycheck even more gratifying!