By Chandra Turner
I frequently get questions from college students and recent grads who are foreign-born and living in NYC on a student visa but want to stay here and work in media. I’ve never really known what advice to give them since my entire career has been based here in the states. I am married to a Brit however, and have a soft spot for anyone dedicated enough to media and journalism to leave their home country to do it. Today I talk with British-born Jenny Hollander, the deputy editor of MarieClaire.com about how she became a successful editor in New York.
Chandra Turner: You were born in England. Tell me about your background there and what made you want to go into magazines/media.
Jenny Hollander: I wish I could say that I went into journalism for the love of a free press or to become a voice for reproductive freedom — things I’ve become passionate about in the past few years — but the truth is, I was no good at anything else! I was shockingly bad at math, science, language, sport. But I was obsessive about reading and writing.
In the British school system, you can give up all but a couple of core subjects when you enter the A-level system at 16, and I was fine academically after that. But I knew by that time that I’d have to be constantly reading and writing to be great at, well, anything. And I liked talking to people. It sort of picked me, journalism. Nothing else would have worked out!
Why did you originally come to the states? To go to journalism school? Don’t they have J School in England 🙂 ?
I came to the States for journalism school eight years ago, and I just never left. There are marvelous journalism schools in the U.K., but I’d just done my bachelor’s and master’s in literature in England and was itching to try something new. It was only going to be a year at first, but I interned at a start-up — now Bustle Digital Group — and they offered me a great job and a visa. I thought, okay, I’ll do another year.
And then Bustle blew up, and I was just having the best time there. I ended up staying five years, by which point I was dating an American, had an American dog, had a whole life and career in New York. And then I got a job offer from Marie Claire, a brand I’d always loved. It’s funny — my mom’s actually from Canada, and she moved to London for a year in her twenties and never left, so emigrating by accident is just a thing my family does, I guess.
I often get questions from people who live abroad about how to break into media jobs in the U.S. How did you get your first job in the U.S.? Can you share how that worked? Were on you a student or work visa?
A cool thing about the U.S. is that when you come here to do a degree, you typically get a year after you graduate to try and find work or get work experience. It’s called OPT, or Optional Practical Training. So I got that, and I applied for, oh, 50 different internships. I never even heard back from most of them. (Fun fact: I got wine-drunk with a New Yorker editor when I first joined Bustle, and the story of those many, many rejections became the lede of her feature, which I’m still recovering from.)
Then I spotted this job posting. “Unnamed women’s website seeks writers.” And unlike everything else I was applying for at the time, it paid. So I applied, and Bustle offered me an internship — this was months before the site launched — and I just showed up and started writing. Eight, nine articles a day, about anything I wanted. I loved it. And I loved those women. After three months, Bustle offered me a full-time job as an associate editor, which I jumped at. I think I was employee number nine.
What do you wish you knew when you first came to the U.S. about working here full time?
I never learned American history in school, and I knew very little about the political infrastructure of this country before I got here. But I ended up writing for a local paper, the Queens Chronicle, during the 2012 election year, and I headed up the news and politics team at Bustle during the 2016 election, so I had to learn everything I could about American political and social history very quickly. For years, during my downtime, I was reading books like D.C. for Dummies and Game Change and listening to nonstop Hamilton and watching documentaries like ESPN’s O.J. Simpson: Made In America — the buzz over that trial never crossed the pond — and frantically Googling the difference between superdelegates and delegates. It took me a long time to feel fluent in American social and political history.
How did you end up in your role at Marie Claire? What is your role there?
I started out writing at Bustle, and then editing. I then managed the news and politics section, which grew from one editor (me!) and one part-time writer to five editors and more than a dozen part-time writers. So I learned about management, budgeting, training, hiring, and, most of all, content strategy, on top of the writing and editing I was still doing. I was 25. It was completely overwhelming and completely amazing.
Five years into Bustle, I was beginning to feel like I’d hit a ceiling, and I spotted the Marie Claire role on LinkedIn. It was a step up from my current job — I was a senior editor at Bustle, and now I’m the deputy digital editor — but it involved more content strategy and the overseeing of day-to-day entertainment, fashion, and beauty content, as well as news and politics content. I thought it was perfect.
In your capacity at MC, do you hire recent grads or interns? Do you have a sweet spot for international applicants?
We have a great digital fellowship program, and often we hire recent graduates. Funnily enough, I’ve found our last three fellows and two morning editors through posting the job to Twitter — we’ve reached thousands of potential applicants that way, and gotten hundreds of applications from all over the world. Some of the people I’ve found through Twitter are among the best I’ve ever worked with.
If an international applicant isn’t a good fit for a role, fellowship or otherwise, I always tell them I’d still be happy to answer any visa questions they have. It’s such a labyrinth of a system, and most of what you learn is from word of mouth, so I want to be able to help personally if it’s not the right professional fit.
There seems to be so many editors from England who come to the states, but not the other way around? Why do you think that is?
It’s much more difficult to emigrate to England from America as a young person than it is the other way around. The U.S. has its OPT program, which England doesn’t have. The U.S. effectively gifts you a year to work after you graduate, and you can do a lot with that time. After you finish up a media degree in the U.K., it’s hard to stay for any length of time.
If you’re an American who wants to move, you do have options — if your company has international offices, then you can apply to work in its U.K. office — but those roles often go to seasoned employees, not young people. In the U.S., by comparison, it’s recent graduates who get that sought-after work permit.
You have been vocal about what it’s like to live and work with a disability. How does it affect your job as an editor? Or in your job search process?
I’ve been very lucky. I was diagnosed with developmental coordination disability (DCD, or dyspraxia) when I was ten — it’s a neurological disorder that affects processing and movement — and my parents got me into occupational therapy (and normal therapy!) early, which was enormously helpful.
I don’t immediately present as a differently abled person, which is a good and a bad thing. I don’t face the snap judgments that many disabled people have to deal with, but people are constantly bewildered by my inability to perform basic tasks. Work-wise, there’s a good ten percent of my job that I struggle with — scheduling, admin, basic organizational tasks. But I’ve always been lucky enough to work with at least one or two detail-oriented coworkers who can fill in those gaps in my abilities. Who’ll say, I’ll put that on your calendar so you don’t wake up that day and panic, or I’ll remind you about this tomorrow because I know you’re not able to focus on it now; I’ll take you to this meeting so nobody finds you anxiously wandering the halls. Like I said, very lucky.
What advice would you give to other young journalists who have disabilities that you wish you’d known when you were starting your career?
Don’t be afraid to be candid about where you’ll need help, if you feel comfortable (and safe) doing so. I need to get better at taking my own advice, frankly, but my work has always been at its best when the people who find certain things easier (organization! planning!) can help me with them, and let me help them with other tasks in exchange.
And my biggest non-disability-related piece of advice is cheesy as hell, so forgive me: Someone told me early in my career that you have to be cutthroat and ruthless to succeed in competitive industries like media, and that just hasn’t been my experience. I went into media because I like getting to know people and I like working my arse off on projects that interest me, and I was lucky enough to land in jobs that allowed for both — and, for the most part, it was that simple. There’s this perception that you have to push people aside, particularly other women, to succeed in competitive fields, but all of my most profound professional connections have been with people that I genuinely care about, on top of working well with.
Thanks so much Jenny! I love this interview and I think it will resonate with a lot of whippersnappers!
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.