Tag Archives: advice for recent grads

Stuff I Didn’t Know Was OK When I Started My First Job.

feeling reflective

It’s okay to say, “No.”

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.

It’s okay to ask for what you want.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.

It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.

It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)

It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.

It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)

It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)

It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)

It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to feel completely lost.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.

It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.

To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.

— — —

I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.

Before You Take A Leap, Find Your Anchor.

an actual anchor

It can be scary when you make a big life change, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. When you change something so central to your life, sometimes you struggle to find stable ground to stand on. The changes can feel overwhelming.

But I think there are ways to make a big life change without getting overwhelmed. The secret is having an anchor.

An anchor is any source of stability in your life — a constant that stays with you even as you undergo a big life event. It’s a bridge from one stage of your life to another. An anchor could be something like:

A stable relationship with a S.O.

A job you really like.

Strong personal friendships.

Strong relationships with your family.

It could even be a hobby or activity. If you’ve go to regular yoga classes or volunteer on a weekly basis, that could be a strong anchor for you.

The more anchors you have in your life, the less intimidating a big life change will be. The anchors are there to keep you grounded and make sure you feel connected to your true self, even as you make these life changes.

I’ll use myself as an example here.(1) I have a few anchors in my life:

I’m in a wonderful relationship with my S.O.

I have great friends here in New York.

I have several close family members in the city.

I have a really good job.

So let’s say I decided to make a huge life change and move tomorrow to work at BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles office.(2) I’d still have two strong anchors: The relationship with my S.O., and my job. A lot would be changing: I’d be leaving New York, and the relationships with family and friends I have here. But I’d still have two huge constants to help me throughout the move.

Making huge life changes without those anchors is so hard. I did it when I moved to San Antonio. I was single, I was starting a new job in a new field, and I didn’t have friends or family in the city. And looking back, I was so overwhelmed by the move. It was too much to take on all at once. There wasn’t anything that felt familiar to me, and it affected my day-to-day life.

The next time, a big life change will be easier for me. And it can be less stressful for you, too! If you can find an anchor to keep you grounded throughout the change, it makes a world of difference. It might be the difference between you surviving and thriving through the change, or not.

———

That photo of a boat dropping anchor comes via photographer Woodrow Walden and Unsplash.

  1. I’m not planning anything big! I’m just an example, I promise.
  2. Again, I’m not! It’s just a hypothetical!

What Do You Want In A First Job?

Barcelona — Alexandre Perotto

My youngest brother graduated in December (congrats, Sam!), and he’s out searching for his first real job. We had a nice talk about it last weekend. He wanted to know: What should I be looking for in a first job?

I think the list of things is pretty short:

1) A great boss
2) A great team to work with
3) The opportunity to take on real responsibility

That’s it.

Great bosses often turn into great mentors. Great teams provide you with the structure to learn how to do great work. And, of course, any opportunity to own a task/project is a wonderful thing for a new hire.

How do you know if you’re coming into a situation with a great boss or a great team? You can always look at their previous output of work. I also think it’s important to ask questions that can reveal how the boss/team will use you. Questions like:

-How does the team work together?
-What types of personalities do you work best with?
-What projects need help right now that I could work on?
-What kind of opportunities for growth do you see for me in this job?

Almost as important as the answers is this: Does your future boss seem invested in you? Do they make lots of time for you during the interview process? Do you get to meet 1-on-1 with the team? How do they describe the opportunities available there? You’re looking for interest, engagement, and positivity. An interview’s like a first date: If the chemistry isn’t there, or if something’s off, you’ll sense it.

It’s funny: Looking back, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I took my first job. Instead, I was thinking about whether or not the money was any good. (It wasn’t, but I didn’t care — unless I took a job as an investment banker, the money was always going to be lousy.) I was thinking about whether or not it had great benefits. (My first job offered two weeks of vacation. Media companies don’t offer much in the way of vacation because… well, they don’t have to. It’s part of the deal.) I was thinking about whether or not it was the “perfect” job for me. (At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of Google’s 20% time when I really should have been obsessed with working hard and proving that I was capable of taking on bigger projects.)

By accident, I stumbled into a few really good bosses who gave me lots of opportunity. I got lucky. My first job was pretty much exactly what I needed it to be. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

Sam (and others!): Be smarter than I was. Don’t worry about finding the perfect job. Just find the best bosses and the best team you can. It’s the best decision you can make at this stage in your career.

———

That photo of a courtyard in Barcelona has nothing to do with this post, but it is pretty! And it was taken by Alexandre Perotto for Unsplash.

One Thing You Should Know Before You Send In Your Résumé.

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Over the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to hire a handful of really talented candidates to join my teams, first at Stry.us, and now at BuzzFeed. In the process, I’ve looked at a lot of résumés.

And here’s what I can tell you: Everyone — and I mean, EVERYONE, from entry-level candidates to experienced hires — struggles to write a good résumé. It’s understandable! This is something they don’t teach you in school. It’s tough to figure out what you should be doing with your résumé.

So here’s a way to think about it:

A résumé isn’t a listing of everything you’ve ever done. It’s not a complete catalog of all your work.

A great résumé is more like the book on your career — and as the hiring manager, I’ve picked up the story on page 60, and I’m quickly glancing through the previous pages to find out if I should keep reading or not. A great résumé shows me your career path, and makes it clear to me why the job you’re applying for is the next step along that path. Every job listing, college degree, side project, and skill listed should serve as a milestone along that path.

If I was a hiring manager at a law firm, and I was hiring a new lawyer for my team, I’d expect to see certain milestones on your résumé: A law degree, internships or jobs in the field, and maybe even a side project or a background in relevant clubs at your school (the debate club, Model UN, etc).

You don’t need a background that’s quite as specific to work at BuzzFeed, but there are milestones that should stand out. I’m looking for a relevant degree (creative writing, journalism, communications, and English lit are popular ones), and job experience that involves a combination of writing and content production. And I want to know that you’ve worked on long-term projects that require collaboration and organization. (If you’ve been a part of launching a big project, that’s a huge bonus!)

Let me put it another way: Within 60 seconds of reading your résumé, it should be glaringly, ridiculously obvious that this is the job you’ve been working towards all along.

Before you write a résumé, ask yourself this: What do you envision yourself doing in the next decade? What do you want to accomplish in that time period? And how does this next job keep on you the path towards completing all of those goals?

With those answers in mind, you can tailor your résumé around your intended path.

If you’re applying slightly different types of jobs — maybe you’re applying to work on my email team at BuzzFeed, but also applying for a writing job over at Refinery 29 — that’s OK! But your résumé shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. Your résumé should be tailored to each specific job. It should be clear why your skill set has brought you to my door.

Because if you don’t, you may be out of luck — there’s a good chance I’ll be onto the next candidate after only 60 seconds.

———

That photo of a desk comes via Unsplash and photographer Dustin Lee.

10 Things That Will Save You So Much Trouble At The Office.

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1.) Don’t send emails if you don’t have to. If you can walk over to someone’s desk and explain something, do it. If you can make a phone call, do it. Unless it’s something simple, don’t send that email. It’ll save you time in the long run.

2.) Say “Congrats!” If someone kicks ass on a project, send them a quick note. It can be three sentences. It can just be a link to their project with the words “Nice job!” in the subject line. Even a small gesture makes an impression.

3.) Be direct. Don’t sugarcoat things. Don’t bury bad news. Just be straightforward with people, especially around bad news.

4.) Set limits for work. I don’t respond to emails between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. I set that expectation early on in my job. There are often nights I’m up working past then, but unless something’s on fire, I won’t respond until the morning. It’s all about setting your personal boundaries. Own your work — and don’t let your work own you.

5.) Be prompt. I try to respond to all texts and all emails within 24 hours. Think about how you feel when someone responds to one of your emails a week late. You don’t feel valued, right? Always try to respond promptly (not immediately, just promptly).

6.) Say “I’m sorry.” Take responsibility for your actions, and sometimes, take responsibility even when it’s not your fault. Nobody wins when you pick a fight.

7.) Be nice! Hellos and remembering names go a surprisingly long way.

8.) Don’t be a jerk! It is shockingly easy to be one — especially in an email or over Gchat. At any office, you don’t have to be liked to get stuff done — but you do have to be respected, and nobody respects the jerks in their office.

9.) Remember these rules for email: Don’t reply all to inter-office threads. Use Gmail’s Mute button liberally. And don’t be afraid to use smiley faces and exclamation points — they’re really good at communicating tone.

10.) Be someone who delivers on promises. I always seek out the people I know will deliver their work on time. There aren’t enough hours in the week to wait for other people to get their crap together. Work with people who get shit done — and be one of those people yourself.

———

That photo of a workspace comes via via Unsplash and photographer Jeff Sheldon.

One Little Piece Of Advice For The Class Of 2015.

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Hi, there! Congrats on graduation — and welcome to the world of unemployment!

You’re probably already applying to a million jobs online, and not hearing anything back from employers. And worse: You’re living at home with your parents, and they’re going to keep asking you the big question:

Why haven’t you gotten a job yet?

At first, this won’t bother you, because none of your friends will have jobs either! But then one friend will get a real job, and then another, and then you’ll wake up one day and your parents will have slipped an LSAT prep book under your door.

This is the point at which you’ll start to think that your parents might murder you soon.

But it’s OK! You will get a job eventually. And in the meantime, here’s what I suggest:

Make a list of 50 people in your city or in your field that you admire. Don’t stop at 15 or 20. Make it all the way to 50.

Then find their email address or mailing address, and write them a note. Make it short — 5 sentences or less. Tell them that you’ve just graduated, and you admire their work, and then tell them that you want to bring coffee to them and ask 3-4 questions about how they got to where they are.

This is very important: You have to offer to bring coffee to them. People HATE leaving their office in the middle of the day if they don’t have to. But anyone can make 10 minutes if you promise to bring them free coffee and not waste their time.

So here’s what’s amazing: A lot of the people you email/write to will actually write back and take you up on your offer! You’re a recent grad, and everyone’s been in your shoes before. There are a lot of really smart, really talented, really powerful people out there who’d be happy to help you… just as long as you come to them and don’t waste their time.

Now all you have to do is show up with coffee and make your 3-4 questions count. And then afterwards, write the person a thank you note. Don’t write an email — write a letter and mail it to them. This part is important, too.

Will this land you a job? Well… maybe not. But if you do this — if you send 50 notes, if you bring them coffee, if you don’t waste their time, if you follow up with a note — I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll meet at least a handful of people who you can build a relationship with. They’re people you can send links to or drop a note to say hi every once in a while. And they’re the kinds of people who also control a lot of the hiring at companies. Maybe they won’t be able to offer you a job today. But they’re going to be the people who — when they hear of a job in the future — might email you and give you a heads up, or even make an introduction. In the long run, that network can be a hugely valuable thing.

Good luck, Class of 2015.

———

That photo of graduation comes via Flickr’s Andrew Schwegler.

Are You All In?

All in

“Only those with the courage to take a penalty kick miss them.” — Roberto Baggio

 
I was sitting on a park bench last week, waiting for a friend down by the Brooklyn Bridge. There was a man and a woman on the bench next to me. The man was hunting for a job. The woman was trying to offer advice.

And her advice was perfect:

I want to help, she told him. But I won’t be all in if you aren’t all in. I won’t be in more then you are.

I love that.

I’m in a funny place in my career: I’m 26, and I’ve had a few victories, and I’ve seen some stuff. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve figured out a few things.

And one of those things is that I really do want to help people. That’s why I’ve got the Tools newsletter. That’s why I try to take time to meet and talk with recent grads looking for advice.

So many people helped me when I was right out of college, and I want to pass that help along to the next wave of reporters.

But I can’t help everyone, and there’s a reason: Not everyone is all in. Some people aren’t willing to bust their asses to do something, and I’m reluctant to spend my time on and throw my weight around for someone who isn’t really going after it.

Prove to me that you’re in, though, and I’m much more likely to go in, too.

That photo of someone going all in at a poker tournament comes via.

While You’re On Stage.

“Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. By all means, you should follow that.” — Ellen DeGeneres

 
I don’t remember what was said at my graduation. I can probably guess the themes, but I don’t really remember what our speaker told us that day.

But I do remember this one thing that had gotten stuck in my head earlier that day. I can’t remember who told me, but I remember it well: When you’re up on that stage, take an extra second and look back at the crowd. Don’t be in a rush to get across that stage.

It’s not easy staying in the moment during your work. But I think about that advice a lot. Stay in that moment, and don’t be in a rush to let it pass. You worked to get here; might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

How to Survive Living With Your Parents.

Me, Mr. O and Mrs. O

“Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.” — P.J. O’Rourke

 
Right now, I am writing this blog post from a house that is very near and dear to me. It’s the house I grew up in.

It’s the house where my parents still live, in fact.

And for the last five weeks or so, it’s where I’ve been living, too.

That’s right: I’m living with my parents.

And I’m not alone in this. A study released this summer found that one in four young people — defined as those ages 20-34 — have lived with their parents at some point.

This is the second time I’ve moved back in with my parents. The first was two years ago, after I left Biloxi, MS, and tried to figure out the next step for Stry.us. This fall, I’m using this time at home to step back from Stry.us and figure out what’s next.

But this recent stint at home has been infinitely better than the first one. I’ve learned a lot about how to survive living at home with your parents, and I know there are others out there who are going through similar situations. So I’ve got four big lessons to share with you:

1. Be Around People — As in, people who aren’t your parents. When you’re living at home, you have to get out. Go to networking events. Get drinks with friends. Just spend time working outside of the house — Loosecubes can help you find space to work out of, and the local library or coffee shop are also excellent choices.

As an added bonus, if you’re out of the house, you’ll have to get dressed. I know this from my 2010 stint at home: When you’re living at home and you’re unemployed AND you’re walking around the house on a Tuesday in sweatpants, it starts to feel like you’re never going to get a job ever again.

Get out of the house. Wear pants. You’ll feel better about yourself — trust me.

2. Go To The Gym — I’ve been lucky enough to live in some really amazing places. There’s nothing quite like coming home to your awesome apartment in your awesome new neighborhood.

But when you move back in with your parents, it’s a little depressing.

So that’s where the gym comes in. Join one. It’ll cost you a few bucks a month, but you can go, break a sweat and have a reason to feel good about yourself. You’re going to need places where you can feel confident, and the gym is one of them.

3. Do Something — Having a side project is essential. When I got back to D.C. last month, I launched Tools for Reporters, a newsletter that pairs great tools with awesome reporters. It’s given me a reason to network — at each event, I’m meeting people who actually built the tools that I’m featuring in the newsletter — and it’s given me opportunities to meet the people who sign up for the newsletter.

And certainly, when I open up my MailChimp statistics and see how many people are opening the emails, I’m reminded that, yes, people actually find value in what I do.

4. Have a Plan to Leave Home — This is most important of all. When a short-term stint at home unexpectedly turns into a long-term housing solution, it can feel like a kick to the groin.

You need to have a plan to get out. It doesn’t matter if it’s in six weeks or six months or longer. There just has to be a plan, and your parents have to know what it is. That way, they can support you and you can all work toward what you really want: Getting back out there on your feet.

There’s no shame in living at home. Heck, I’ll admit that I kinda like it. (For instance: My parents do the shopping around here. And sometimes, they’ll even do my laundry. Which is AWESOME.)

But I don’t want to be here for much longer. I’ve made my plan. I’m getting out often. I’m at the gym. I’ve got my side projects. This stint at home has been really productive for me.

Follow that four-step plan, and you too can survive life at home.

At top, that’s me and my lovely parents. They’re very nice people, if you can’t tell from the photo.

How Can I Help You?

“You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile.” — Brian Tracy

 
I am at a very unusual point in my life. I have put in a lot of tiny efforts. I’m closing in on 10 years since my very first published clip, back in 2003 in the Boston Globe. I have had internships and jobs. I’ve covered the Olympics. I’ve built stuff that worked, and I’ve built stuff that didn’t. I have a whole bunch of projects in the works now.

The big breakthrough has not yet come. But I’m also starting to realize: It’s not a big breakthrough that I’ve been working toward all these years.

What I’ve been working toward is a place where I can do what I really love: Helping other people tell great stories and do great work.

The next stage of my life will be defined by a very simple question: How can I help?

That’s why I launched the toolsforreporters.com newsletter this week. I want to help other reporters do their job even better.

And it’s why over the coming months, I want to do more to help others — especially young people who are about to go through the post-college phase that I’ve just gone through.

How can I help you? Let’s get in touch. If I can help — even if it’s just offering up a link or a tool or a few words of advice — I want to.