Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Q+A: Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?

In a competitive industry, paired with a crappy economy, how is anyone supposed to nab a job around here?! Columbia Publishing Course’s resident job hunting expert (she’s also Senior Editor at and a career advisor for Ellen Gordon Reeves has an idea.

Now, she’s sharing her expertise in her new book Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? A Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job—and giving Ed the inside scoop!

Q: So why are you the job-hunt expert?

A: For the last 15 years, I’ve been helping students present themselves on and off paper at the Columbia Publishing Course in NYC. I was Executive Editor/Education Editor at The News Press (a non-profit publisher) and wrote for Time magazine’s education program. I’ve taught K-12, college and graduate school levels in public and private schools in France and America. I’ve always been the resume, cover letter and job-hunting resource wherever I’ve worked.

Q: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen people make while job hunting?

A: Recent college grads need to know which job-hunting conventions to lose and which to choose. Here are things I’d do differently:

1. Stop sending resumes hurtling into the black void of cyberspace and find someone inside the company to talk with. A personal referral from someone is the best thing you can have.

2. Tailor each resume to the job at hand, and don’t waist valuable resume real estate on objectives (your only objective is to get that job or another job there) or “References Available Upon Request.”

3. Make your own categories: “Editorial Experience.” “Web Experience.” Whatever the job at hand requires.

4. Follow up after an interview with a thank you note and expression of interest.

Q: What should happen on the interview?

A: Make an outstanding first impression with a big smile, good eye contact, and a firm handshake. Radiate this message: “I know who I am, I know who you are, and I’ve researched your magazine and the job enough to know that my skills and experience match your needs.” If you’re sick, try to reschedule. Don’t show up wheezing, bleeding, or oozing. Do the best you can with concealer. If, during an interview, you feel sick or need to sneeze, just excuse yourself to the restroom.

Q: Editors are never ready right when the interview is supposed to start! What should you do while you’re waiting to go into your interview?

A: Do some “sleuthing” into company culture; check out displays and bulletin boards. You might gather interview-worthy questions and material. Observe the people around you. Can you picture yourself fitting in there? Remember, you are under a microscope. Do not eat, chew gum, play video games or wear headphones, and don’t groom in public.

Q: With the economy in the state it is, some Edsters are becoming discouraged in their job search as a whole. How does your book address the recession and how to overcome hard economic times?

A: The book talks about changing your timeline–getting a job will take longer in this economy–and understanding that you may need to strategically take a position that may not be your first choice, but could serve you well in the long run. It also talks about the opportunities created by the economic downturn. Recent grads should feel valuable, not vulnerable. If you can convince an employer that you’re smart and articulate, ready to take initiative, but also to defer to authority, and that you can not only be a great assistant, but also do some of the thinking and work left in the void created by more senior people who’ve been laid off, you’re golden.

Q: So can someone wear a nose ring to the interview?

A: Sure, wear your nose ring. Just understand that at least 50% of employers or more may not hire you. [Ed note: Know your magazine! A good rule of thumb: If the people in their pages habitually wear nose rings, they won’t hold it against you if you show up with one.] Know the culture of the workplace and the magazine to which you’re applying. If you’re a nose ring wearer, you need a nose ring-friendly environment.

Q: What’s the single most important piece of advice from your book?

A: If you’re not working yet, stop looking for a job and start looking for a person! The right person will lead you to the right job. [If you’re an assistant], make the most of the generally underutilized resources available at your workplace–the people! You should be reaching out to connect to people at all levels and departments at your magazine, getting the experience you need to move ahead with your personal plan, whatever it is.

Buy Ellen’s new book!

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