Here’s a hot tip I’ve been chewing on for a while, especially for younger editors:
If someone offers to speak with you about your career — a coffee meeting, an email, an informational interview, anything — follow up with them. If someone hands you their business card and says “stay in touch”, do it.
Because you know what? In my experience, almost nobody does it.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown a lot as an editor and I’ve gotten some good experience so far. But I’m still close enough to college graduates in age that I think my experience in today’s economy is relevant to them, so I try to give back as often as I can. I’ve done workshops, panels, small group mentoring in high schools, Twitter chats, and networking events. If I talk to someone at length trying to break into the industry and they express interest in continuing the conversation, I will always give them my card and an open invitation to contact me.
You know how many of them actually email me? Like two out of a hundred is being generous.
(That’s out of people that have asked me to continue the conversation. Whenever I make a presentation to a class or group of younger people, I always post my email address at the end with an open invitation to follow up — I’m not counting these, but if I were it would make the number more like two out of four hundred.)
Heres the thing: if you ask someone for help and they say “yes, here, contact me”, follow up with them. If you’re in college and a professor you like has office hours, go for a visit. If a company invites you to shadow an editor or do an informational interview, set up an appointment.
If someone says sure, bother me all you want? BOTHER THEM. You should be trying to make as many contacts as you can, an that includes “bothering” people who haven’t offered you their time outright. What chance do you have at making connections if you aren’t even taking the free space in the middle of the board?
This is important: there will be people who are blowing smoke and don’t actually have the time or interest in meeting with you. That’s okay. There are plenty of others that can make the time and have the interest, because different levels of mentorship are mutually beneficial. I often learn just as much about the industry when I talk to younger people as they might be learning from me.
I’ve been where young editors probably are: too much work, too little pay. Maybe trying to balance classes and internships and work and a shred of a social life. I’ve been handed a business card with an open offer to communicate. I’ve let it slip because I didn’t have time or I didn’t think they really had the interest. I’ve potentially left a lot of opportunities on the table because I couldn’t put aside a few minutes to throw an email at someone who already welcomed me to do so.
Keep track of your contacts and follow up. If someone is opening up their busy schedule to potentially share their knowledge and connections with you, for the love of everything, respond. If they get kind of wobbly in the response, keep bugging them. After all, they started it.
Everybody tells you to network and meet people. The part that comes after — where you actually start to make the real connection — is the part that will help make you successful.