Tips For Young And Aspiring Media Professionals In Uncertain Times

Today’s Ypulse Youth Advisory Board post is from Liz Funk and gives us a sense of how Liz and her peers who are just getting started in the media industry are feeling about the turmoil happening right now. She also offers some helpful tips for younger Ypulse readers who might be rethinking their choice to go into the biz. Remember you can contact our board directly via email at youthadvisoryboard at ypulse.com.

Tips For Young And Aspiring Media Professionals In Uncertain Times

It’s a weird time for young and aspiring media professionals.  The publications that gave us stars in our eyes when we first started writing and interning—publications so grand they would flatter us if their interns responded to our pitches with a form rejection email—are now laying off staff, cutting back page counts and issues, or perhaps even folding.  For the college students who want to be writers, editors or other media industry professionals, it’s an unsure and especially anxiety-provoking time.

Although few students go into the media industry or pursue a writing career expecting to make it rich, I discovered many students who are surprised by the dismal job climate.  Danielle Alvarez, a junior at Syracuse University majoring in modern foreign languages and magazine journalism, told me, “When I chose these two majors I did not at all think I’d have trouble finding a job. Ideally, I dreamed of writing for a magazine, but I knew that my skills that I would gain could help me in other areas of the public relations field as well.”

Nicole Brinson, a May 2007 graduate of Pace University who majored in communications studies, added, “I never thought I might have trouble finding work as a writer, or applying what I’ve learned in classes or at internships.  I am definitely having trouble finding work. …I’ve applied for internships but I keep getting that since I’ve graduated I’m ineligible, [but] they’re looking to hire students who can accept college credit, and they’d have to pay me but the magazine doesn’t have it in their budget to pay an intern.”

Agatha Lutoborski, a senior at Syracuse University who wants to work in public relations is finding that the job shortage is making competition greater and potential employers’ expectations higher.  She said, “I am definitely worried about [finding a job] with the current economy, compounded by the fact that every job opportunity I look at wants a year or more of professional experience. I get really frustrated, because I’ve done all this interning and it feels like it’s not helping.”

But it’s not all gloom-and-doom.  Nicole Brinson points out that the media industry is doing much better than others: “Media is not the only industry that is or has been feeling the pain of the recession we’re in. At least they’re not asking to be bailed out, and a lot of magazines and papers are focusing more on the Internet, and retooling how to reach their audience, which is more than anyone can say for the auto industry and Wall Street.”

If you are a college student or recent grad, hang in there! And try these tips…

1. Hone some unusual skills that might make you stand out. Danielle Alvarez explained, “Currently I am spending the year studying abroad and trying to become fluent the two languages I have been studying (Spanish & French…. I’m hoping my unique experiences will allow me to bring something special to the industry when I am entering it.”

2. Similarly, if you’re still in school, add a second major or minor. DJ Hopson, who is studying English and forensic science at Pace University, knows that her quirky combination of skill sets will serve her in the long run.  “Not many magazine/newspaper applicants have a science degree and I feel that makes me different…. I am trying to tailor my science skills to health journalism, and jobs in the journalist community open up if you know where to look.”

3. When you’re job hunting, make sure EVERYONE you know is aware that you’re looking for a media job. Nicole Brinson says that others’ support makes her job hunt a lot easier: “I’m happy and extremely grateful for friends who still send me job listings or e-mails by people they know who are looking for assistants.”

4. Consider another wing of the media industry. Agatha Lutoborski has been looking into the public relations, branding, and the advertising sides of the media industry and has been finding that prospects are less dismal.  (Although these sectors are expecting layoffs in January, Agatha said).

5. If you get desperate, consider—just temporarily!—making the media a side job or pursuing the dreams you had on the back burner. A small break could open doors for you!  For me, the current state of the magazine industry is the push I finally needed to seriously look into starting my own tanning salon or my own online start-up, and writing the chick lit novel I’ve always wanted to write.

About Liz Funk

lizLiz Funk is a freelance writer and college student. She has written for USA Today, Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, Girls’ Life, and CosmoGIRL!, among other publications. Her first book, Supergirls Speak Out, about the pressure on girls to be perfect, will be published by Simon and Schuster in March of 2009. She writes a blog for the Albany, NY newspaper the Times Union and she edits the teen culture and politics blog GirlHeadQuarters.org. She is a senior at Pace University and lives in Manhattan. Her web-site is www.lizfunk.com.

11 Comments

  1. Chad Kennedy

    Great tips, Liz! This is certainly a tough time for everyone, especially our generation, to get a decent job, if one at all.

    I’m just going to put it out there that Teen Scene is looking for writers at the moment. All the spots are unpaid (sorry!), but if you’re looking to build on your resume it can give you some invaluable experience! If anyone is interested they can fill out an application on the site at http://www.teenscenemag.com/jobs.html

  2. Piers Fawkes

    I don’t really know why you’re advising all these ‘young folks’ to go out and get a job when there’s no need to work in a huge company anymore. You should be advising students to just go out and set up their own companies, collaborate and make products and services. Really, if you go get a job, all you end up doing for the first 5 to 8 years of your working life is learn all the bad habits from your boss which will make you career a misery…

  3. anastasia

    Hi Piers. I can’t speak for Liz, who is the youth advisory board member who wrote this post, but I don’t think that being an entrepreneur is for everyone either, though it’s worth raising as an option:) For many young people saddled with student loans, they may need to earn a regular paycheck. Never mind the issue of finding affordable health insurance as an entrepreneur or small business. And…many great ideas/products/services are launched as side projects while working at a larger company, too.

  4. Erin Lamberty

    As a college senior, I am getting ready to face reality as I begin my job search.  As much as I’d love to take the advice of Piers and start my own company or make a new product, I will need to begin paying off my loans, provide my own health insurance, and take on new expenses that I currently don’t have.  Even those of us who are considering starting our own shops, it’s not often feasible for us to do so right out of the gate. Working at a larger company can also give you great experience on what to do/not do when forming your own ideas/collaborative projects.

  5. Libby Issendorf

    Piers, I agree with Erin and Anastasia.  I would love to freelance or start my own small business, but like most recent college grads, I was barely able to make ends meet with my part-time job during school and now my debt outweighs my savings.  I need a regular paycheck, whether that comes from a huge agency or a waitressing gig. 

    Credibility is another issue.  Companies are laying off longtime workers left and right, and many of those newly jobless professionals are becoming freelancers.  It will be tough for recent graduates with minimal experience to compete against their resumes.

    You should also take into account that Liz is the one writing this article—and she has already done what you’ve suggested.  Her first book will be published in March and she has done freelancing work for a number of media outlets.  But she still understands the importance of financial security from a “real job” for those of us just starting out.

  6. ben

    I agree with Pier. Liz, do something outrageous and fun as soon as you get of college. This is your time to meet different people and seek out different persepectives. Trust me, it will help your career out in the long run if you can say, “yeah when I was 22 I moved to [enter Asian or Middle Eastern City here] and started a [enter exciting project]. For gods’ sake, take a risk. Forget worrying about internships. That’s so sad. You’ll be worrying about more focused career issues when you are 30. Trust me.

  7. windo

    i think you can still take that fresh out of school spirit and inject that into the sometimes rigid processes of a big, cushy agency/corporate gig.  you’ll probably get some push back from, but go for it.  i’m all for friction. those processes at big shops are their for efficiencies.  learn ‘em and adapt to other gigs that you go to and/or create.

    @piers: yes, there’s gonna be some bad managers that you may end up working for, but you’ll also see really strong leaders.  learn from both and develop you’re own brand w/n the company.  and when you’re confident of brand you, go out and take on the world.

  8. Peter E

    @Piers

    I am 24 and I for the most part disagree with your advice. I completely agree you can learn an incredible amount by working for yourself and by collaborating with others. You learn a lot about yourself and the valuable skill that is being a self-starter. Also, given the low barriers to entry, this in now as easy as ever.

    Where I disagree with you, is your statement regarding “not entering big business because you will spend the first 5-8 years taking on the bad habits of your managers.” Now, this assumes your manager is terrible, and not inspirational. While there are tons of worthless, go-with-the-flow managers in the work force, there are tons of managers who want to teach and inspire the people that work for them.

    At the same time, I think it is very important for young employees to think and be aware of their environments. DO NOT BE A DRONE. How can they even know what a good manager is without understanding what a bad manager is? This translates to starting your own company, how can someone know how they want to run their company without having something to base it on. I have worked at a major advertising agency and currently work at a major media company and at the same time I want to be an entrepreneur. I know that my experiences will be valuable in shaping the company I want to run and how I want to run it.

    I think the solution is both; starting your career at a huge company and having the fortitude to think outside the hours of 9-5. It does not need to be one or the other. Employees should have a Google Reader account with dozens of industry feeds to understand what is taking place in their industry outside of the company walls. They should be constantly be brainstorming ideas and working with peers with similar interests. Finally, when they have a substantial idea or a business with the groundwork laid (during their free time), they can make an educated decision to leave the company to become a full time entrepreneur. Don’t burn bridges, and if it doesn’t pan out, you have a place (MAYBE! And if that place doesn’t exist given everything happening right now, you have made some good contacts) to come back to.

    Unless you are an entrepreneurial wunderkind, I think experience is the most important thing. Sorry for the long response but this kinda struck a cord with me.

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  11. KC

    Ben - For a lot of new graduates, the need to pay off large student loans and attend to other responsibilities (yes, they can/do exist for some) make it impossible to do something spontaneous and adventurous without a steady income.

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