Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Advice from the Top

Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, offers some excellent advice on getting into magazines and moving up the ladder in her new book, Basic Black, published by Crown Business. The book offers Black’s professional insights plus vignettes from other successful media types, including Gloria Steinem. Francis Ford Coppola, and Oprah Winfrey. As the highest-ranking woman in the magazine industry, Black provides rare—and wise—insight into a competitive field. She started as an advertising saleswoman for Holiday magazine in 1966 and became the first woman publisher of a weekly consumer magazine when she was named publisher of New York magazine in 1979. She’s now called the “First Lady of American Magazines.”

Oprah interviewed Black in October. (Hearst publishes Oprah’s magazine.) Among other things, Black shared her Seven Rules for Becoming a Star at Work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Don't fish if you don't know the pond.

More on my discussion with Joe, Shawn, Mike and Shana….

PEP: I encourage students to write to their favorite magazines/sites, throwing their hat in the job ring, even if there was no job advertised. Is this still decent advice? When you get those letters, what do you do with them?

JOE: It can't hurt. I seldom get any, but when they show a true interest in the publication and don’t seem like blanket form letters, they make an impression. I throw 'em in a file for future consideration when there's a position.

SHAWN: Networking worked for me. Friends knew I was looking and recommended me for the job. So the first time the editor heard about me was from another editor who said, “Shawn would be a great fit.” Networking sounds like a cliché, and some people handle it as such, but for me it’s all about maintaining connections that are very natural and two-way, so I guess you could say it’s an ongoing effort.

MIKE: Yes they should, no matter what. You never know. We can usually recognize legitimate passion versus form-letter enthusiasm. Many letters DO go in the circular file, so you REALLY need to stand out. You need to know your magazine inside out and convey genuine insight about what we do. As my magazine, Sound & Vision, is very enthusiast/subject-specific, general-interest writers and dabblers need not apply. We are the leading experts in our field, and we have to reflect that standard across the board. Don't fish if you don't know the pond.

SHANA: Submitting resumes to those employers they are interested in is always a good idea. When I need somebody, I need them right then, so it would be good to already have their materials on hand.

PEP: In today’s overworked climate, do you have time to meet with grads-to-be for an informational interview? If so, what do they have to do to appeal to you and get on your calendar?

JOE: I think grads would be willing to do so with students, though I don’t know if any busy Drake grad would take the time for non-Drake people – or vice versa. This is probably another can’t-hurt situation, though. Showing interest without being a pest about it often impresses. If it started with e-mail, I think the editor could determine if there was enough potential or simple kismet to make a meeting or continued contact worthwhile.

SHAWN: I loved working with students at Meredith and I would be more than willing to continue that at Minneapolis-St. Paul. To get on my calendar, though, students need to research my magazine and my job and show serious interest and aptitude.

MIKE: Not really, but if someone can cut through the usual cookie-cutter veneer, I may make the time. How do you do that? Be original. Be yourself. It's up to you to figure out the specifics of what those things may be.

PEP: Do you go through your HR department only, or is there a future in
applicants writing to you directly?

JOE: Our HR department is the first target. They separate wheat from chaff. That said, my colleagues always complain that HR doesn’t know what it’s doing. Not sure I always agree. I don’t think it a bad idea for students to write directly, but I’d go through HR, too – especially if there’s a posted position. Accounts for the possibility that the editor is too busy and doesn’t look at or act on it, or that HR mistakes wheat for chaff.

SHAWN: I called the department editor of Minneapolis-St. Paul directly, but only because I knew I had already been recommended for the job. And I simply called her to tell her my resume and clips were on the way and that I was serious about the position. Sometimes, editors look at applicants who already have good jobs and wonder if they’re just looking for an ego boost or to get a raise at their current job. I wanted to make sure the editor knew I was looking for a change. The application then went to HR.

MIKE: People CAN come to me directly, but I do have to refer people to HR because of company policy. Still, if you impress me, I can put in a good word when I pass your info along.

SHANA: I think the inside contact is always great. I would advise them to reach out to HR as well as to the inside contact. If you contact an editor, copy the HR department. Those hiring managers—the editors—are my customers, so when I know what is happening, I can be of more help to them. A good HR department helps people push things through more quickly and effectively.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get a Job, Get a Job

You’ve all heard the spiel--many of you heard it from me. Drake magazine students get good jobs. OK, so we know that. The question on your mind, though, as you start looking seriously at the future, is “How?” How did these folks get their feet in the door to the magazine world?

I talked with four alums for their perspective. Joe Weisenfelder (’89) is senior editor of, where he recently celebrated his 10th anniversary. His job: driving cars—from Audis to Jaguars to Volvos—and reviewing them. What does the cynical Joe say about his glamorous-sounding job? “In the end, all work is work.” Still, if your end is sitting in a Jaguar….

Shawn Gilliam (’94) is the new home editor of Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine. Shawn left Meredith after 14 years, his last job being editor of Better Homes and Gardens Beautiful Homes, where he surrounded himself with stunning national and international architecture. Shawn says Generation Y has an enviable role in today’s magazine marketplace because they are valued for their multimedia acumen.

Mike Mettler (’89) is editor-in-chief of Sound and Vision magazine. He’s combined his avocation--music--with his vocation--editing--and has seen the industry change significantly in his 18 years in the field. Because his magazines deal with the high-tech side of the music world, he has had to be resilient and open to change as technology and tastes evolve.

Shana Sternstein (’93) is in human resources as director of recruiting for Classified Ventures, a consortium of five media partners: Belo Corporation, Gannett Company, The McClatchy Company, Tribune Company and The Washington Post Company. Shana’s Drake degree is in psychology and biology; she says she would have majored in human resources had she known about it at the time.

I talked with Joe and Mike about what they look for as editors when hiring new folks, with Shawn about how he succeeded in his new job search, and with Shana about how to successfully work with HR departments.

This is the first of two installments. Next, we will talk about networking directly with editors and working with the HR department.

PEP: Is an online portfolio helpful? Essential?

JOE: I’d say essential. The more a hiring manager knows, the better he/she’s able to determine if an interview is warranted. Something might raise interest where a resume and cover letter alone wouldn’t. On the flip side, it allows a manager to pass you up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wasting a manager’s time can reflect poorly on your alma mater. Also, this is publishing: Candidates are supposed to be able to express themselves on paper/screen. It’s hard to imagine a candidate who has to be met in person to be appreciated for a print (or should I say text?) job. (Sure, you must be met at some point, but your main quality is the aforementioned.)

To that end, an online portfolio is an opportunity to impress or turn off a hiring manager. A clear, attractive, understandable collection of past projects speaks volumes. A thrown-together one does too. It’s an extension of my long-standing advice about resumes. A manager who has a stack of them is actually looking for reasons to weed you out. If I find a single mistake in a resume, it goes right in the trash. We’re not hiring engineers here. If you can’t get it together to get the job, how will I expect you to perform on the job?

SHAWN: I have a profile on, a professional networking site. And because I was editor of a magazine, I had that printed example to show.

MIKE: I look to see if I can find them elsewhere on the Web—Facebook, MySpace, and Linked In are all good places to look for editor profiles, common ground, and possible entry points. Many editors are on all three of the above, and if they've shared the right information, I can get a better sense of who they are and what they're looking for.

SHANA: It is a great thing to have, but it has to be appropriate work. If they have a YouTube or My Space account out there, they should clean up their act. Anyone can go out there and see that stuff. Get rid of the party pictures. If your parents can’t look at it, it is not appropriate.

Linked In is a great tool and I would love to see more students get on it. All my recruiters are using it. I am on it as well.

PEP: When should a student start job hunting?

JOE: Yesterday.

SHAWN: I applied for the job at Minneapolis-St Paul in July. I interviewed August 30 and got the job October 9. More than three months passed from the time I heard about the job until I got the offer. So I suggest graduates give themselves four to six months lead time.

MIKE: NOW! It's never too early to look since today's market is so volatile and decisions are made faster than ever.

SHANA: Good students look before they graduate. Even a semester before graduation. We may only hire one or two new grads a year, and when we need people we need them right then usually, so we can’t plan that well. That might mean we lose out on the top students. The cream of the crop of students are proactive.

PEP: If a student does not have a media internship, is that a liability? How
can she or he overcome it?

JOE: By media, does that mean multimedia or journalism/publishing? SJMC’s, and particularly your program’s, emphasis on internships was exactly the right approach. I’ve passed on candidates with undergrad and masters degrees in journalism who hadn’t really done anything, in favor of undergrads who had. Initiative goes a long way in our business. long ago got to the point where we’re in a position to demand the most from applicants. We want the former campus editors-in-chief, not the random student, and the more the person seems to have done, the better.

SHAWN: Publishing today has a strong multimedia bent. Most editors at Meredith, for example, are expected to have an online presence; video experience, or at least aptitude, is highly valued. Editors who can be comfortable behind a camera move ahead much more quickly than those who are camera shy. I had a double major at Drake in magazines and public relations, and I have always regarded that public relations background as a key asset because it made me comfortable in front of people.

MIKE: It can be. Real-world experience, especially at this level, is super-important because the ramp-up window is a short one.

SHANA: If they don’t get an internship, they need to do some volunteer work. I love to see that they played sports, volunteered, worked at the paper even if they didn’t get paid. If they have a job that has nothing to do with their major, list that on their resume. I don’t care if it’s a video store. I like to see that they helped pay for their education. I like to see that on a resume: “Paid 30 percent of my college education.” Students need to show that they didn’t just go to classes.