Welcome back! Guest Post: Johna Picco on tips to getting internships and careers in publishing and marketing

Welcome back, BSU! We hope you’ve had a great break, and are keeping warm and safe in the present tundra that is Indiana. This semester we will be keeping you updated on all English Department events, as well as continuing to feature posts from alumni, students, and faculty. We are excited to start the new year and hope you all share the sentiment. To kick off the new year, we have our first guest post of 2011 from alumnus Johna Picco. Johna tells us about her experiences interning at various presses, leading to her job as marketing coordinator for books and products at the American Medical Association, and also takes times to share some tips on how to get great internships like hers.

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Johna Picco

Growing up, it was drilled into my head that through hard work and determination, I could do anything. Yet, when graduation and the real world, with its failing economy, came a-callin’, it was my Dad’s polite inquiry about what I planned to do with an English degree that got me thinking. It was undoubtedly an inquiry mingled with concern and skepticism, and I was a bit worried myself.

The first thing I needed to do was to think about what I wanted to do. My initial plan of going to graduate school to obtain a Masters in Library and Information Science (LIS) was nixed when I realized that the lack of funding for public libraries was too frustrating to fight all my life. Then, I heard about a web site called Book Jobs.com, which features literary jobs and internships in everything from publishing to IT. This was my light-bulb moment—or light bulb website.

I applied to numerous publishing internships and was hired as a marketing/publicity intern at The MIT Press and Candlewick Press. So, I left college a semester early, packed my bags, and moved 900 miles across the country to Boston, Massachusetts. My employment at The MIT Press progressed from intern to temp, and finally to full-time employee. And in the meantime, I had also acquired an internship at Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

As an acquisitions assistant at The MIT Press for a little over a one year, I realized that I missed my family and the Midwest, and so, I quit my job. Everyone thought I was nuts, what in this awful economy and all. Luckily, after only five weeks of searching and applying, I found myself hired as the marketing coordinator for the books and products department at the American Medical Association in Chicago.

A lot of people wonder how I’ve done it, and to that I have this to say: with a lot of help, a lot of work, and openness to change (and travel!). Along with the aforementioned, I have a list of ten things that have helped me along the way.

1. Take advantage of professional development and writing classes.

I cannot tell you how many people I’ve met post-college who don’t know how to write a cover letter or résumé. There are plenty of opportunities both on and off campus available to help you sell yourself to a future employer—take advantage of them! I learned this early on: what you take from college is what you put in. No one is going to hold your hand, but they will be there to help you—if you ask.

2. Get involved.

Knowing how to create a cover letter and resume is all well and good, but if you have nothing to put on it, well, that might be a problem. I speak from intern-hiring experience when I say that you need to be involved in college.

3. Listen to your intuition.

Inside everyone is that little voice telling us when something isn’t right. Mine happened to escape in the form of a panic attack during a journalism lecture. Something about what I was studying (journalism) and what I was interested in (literature) just wasn’t lining up. So, instead of staying unhappy and safe, I took the scarier route and switched majors halfway through my college career.

4. Internships, internships, internships!

How do I gain experience when every job I apply for requires experience?!

Most people, myself included, have at one point or another faced this frustrating reality. Solution? Internships! Partake in as many as possible. They don’t have to be exotic or located in some far away location. They don’t even have to be related to your end goal. But they will give you invaluable insight into the workforce, corporate culture, and what to expect when someday you land your first ‘real’or, what I like to call, big-girl job.

5. Get your resume into the ‘maybe’ pile.

I was taught that before you make it to the ‘yes’ pile, you need to find yourself in the ‘maybe’ pile. How? You make your résumé pop. No, I am not talking about the use of color or scented paper—that’s just weird, trust me. I am talking about a well-designed and well-thought résumé. I’m fortunate to possess some basic design talents and the Adobe Creative Suite, but if you don’t have one, or either of those, fear not! Why? Because you go to Ball State, and Ball State is teeming with loads of uber-talented designers who are more than happy to swap their design skills for your keen editorial skills.

6. Network.

In my opinion (for what it’s worth), this is the hardest thing on my rambling list. I consider myself a very social person, but even I have a pretty hard time ‘networking.’ That was until I changed my way of looking at it. Networking doesn’t have to be cheesy and awkward. It can be as simple as talking to someone and telling them about yourself and what you’re looking to do. For instance: I recently attended a wedding and by way of normal chit-chat, found myself being introduced to my date’s cousin, Bob, who worked at Candy Co. as a marketing director. Before I knew it, I was walking away with several business cards and an interview. Moral of the story: networking = talking.

7. It’s a small world—and everything (and everyone) is connected.

My internship at The MITP was a result of my work experiences and activities in college. My temp position was a result of my internships. My full-time job came about because I was a temp and on and on it goes. This same rule applies for people. The workforce is a very small world—do not burn bridges, it will come back to haunt you. On the flipside, if you make good impressions, those too will follow.

8. Identify your weaknesses.

Everyone has things they don’t excel in. The key is to identify what those weaknesses are and devote time to work on them. Your weaknesses tend to be an interview topic, so being knowledgeable about them serves useful on several levels.

9. Learn to ask for and accept help.

In my experience, people are much more willing to lend a helping hand than one would imagine—you simply have to ask. People like to help, simple as that. Just don’t take it for granted or forget to return the favor. And even more important: thank you notes (particularly the handwritten, sent with postage sort)— they go a long way.

10. Get scared.

Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve encountered have also been some of the most terrifying. Moving nearly 1,000 miles from home and knowing just three people in Boston was scary, but I certainly learned a lot about myself. Quitting my job in one of the worst economies since the Depression and moving back in with my folks was extremely terrifying, but they were also two of the best, and most needed, months of my life. With risk comes reward.

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