GGG Firsthand: How I Turned an Internship into a Job

Monday, December 13th, 2010 10:56 am

Name: Jennifer Paxton

The gig: Production Editor at a Health/Lifestyle Website

Job search time: 10 months (while completing two internships, and working part-time gigs at The GAP, waitressing, and babysitting)

I can make a mean cappuccino.

This is one of several unexpected talents I discovered about myself over the past year, teetering between part-time jobs and a desperate struggle to land a full-time, entry-level job in the editorial industry.

Following graduation and against skeptical warnings from friends and family, I moved to New York City with very little savings, a suitcase, a journalism degree, and no promise whatsoever of a job. A young writer in Manhattan trying to make it big  — how horribly cliché. Naïvely, I was hoping that things would just “work out.” Because they had to, right? I graduated from one of the best journalism schools in the country, and was an editor for one of the top student newspapers in the South. I had clips. I had experience. I had the cute little haircut with bangs. I deserved to get a full-time job. Sure, the economy was at rock-bottom, but I could write!

My story is about what happens when things don’t “fall into place” just because they should: when you’ve met all of the credentials, you’ve perfected your résumé, and you’ve nailed the interviews, but you’re still not getting hired.

How I made it to the finish line was entirely based on the sincere catchphrase of fashion advisor Tim Gunn: “make it work.” The route I chose for myself wasn’t play-it-safe, and by some, it wasn’t necessarily smart. But it’s what I wanted, and when you commit to a risky decision, you have to commit to the consequences as well. Case in point — the reality of the post-grad internship. Here’s a brief history how it went down for me:

Arrive to the Big Apple at the start of 2010. Search Craigslist, Mediabistro, and Ed2010 like a madwoman. Go on as many interviews as possible, regardless of the pay, title, or level of interest in the company. Drink copious amounts of caffeine to accompany job-hunting adrenaline. Snag an editorial internship with a monthly stipend of $500 a month. Cry a little.

Arrive first at internship offices, leave last at internship offices. Schmooze. Network. Tweet. Blog. Ask questions in meetings. Go to happy hours, paying for $13 cocktails on a heavily-abused credit card. Receive sad, sad bimonthly $250 paycheck. Babysit weekend nights to scrape by. Work evenings at The GAP. Wonder why I’m folding T-shirts when I have a bachelor’s degree, but continue to fold knowing it’s only temporary . . . Cry, a little.

Leave one internship for another, which pays hourly for 40 hours a week, at a company I’m thankfully interested in and inspired by. Breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I’ll at least be able to now afford my Upper East Side rent. Score a waitressing job at a cafe uptown making cappuccinos, which occupies my weekday nights and weekends. Drink copious amounts of caffeine. Cry to my parents on the phone, who, without an ounce of sympathy, advise me to leave New York. My friends from back home, at this point, assume I am clinically insane. Think they may be right.

Rinse and repeat for about several months. Quit the GAP, am “let go” from the cafe, likely due to palpable stress affecting my table performance. Watch my friends with similar journalism degrees get jobs at prestigious magazines and publishing houses. Stew in jealousy.

Fast forward seven months into my internship. By then, I’d had countless meetings with my supervisors regarding my progress, who were well-aware that I was dedicated to the company and in it to win it. To my discouragement, my requests were met with sturdy adherence to budget limitations. For the first time, I consider leaving New York.

At that point, it was time to let go of the big city dream. I was starting over. I applied to entry-level jobs everywhere: Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, small towns in the Carolinas. Location is a perk, but it’s not everything, and New York — as much as it had my weary heart in its hands — had bled me dry.

As fate would have it, sometime during this shift in perspective emerged a sudden entry-level opening at my company. I, of course, jumped on the opportunity immediately, and in the next few weeks, was hired full-time as an editor, with a salary and benefits to boot. Phew.

It’s been a rough but ultimately rewarding year. My biggest takeaway is that if you really want something, you can have it, so long as you have patience and persistence. But in the words of Maya Angelou, every woman should know when to try harder and when to walk away. It’s a delicate balance, which in my case was filled with V-neck tees, expresso machines and cover letters.

Jennifer Paxton

Jennifer, 23, graduated from The University of Georgia in 2009 with a degree in newspaper journalism. She is nearing her 1-year anniversary of living in New York City.

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One Response to “GGG Firsthand: How I Turned an Internship into a Job”

  1. Your story really struck a cord with me! I graduated in 2009 and I’m still looking. Facebook really backfires when you see all your classmates write about their jobs in the industry. I’m so happy something worked out for you. I’m about to start my first post-grad internship, so hopefully I can make something work as well!