The Job Process After Receiving an MFA

Megan Turner

Author: Megan Turner

What was your job search like after you finished your MFA?

Difficult. It took time to discover what I wanted to do (besides write). Also, I graduated in 2009, and the unemployment rate was high. I didn’t know where to start in terms of my job search, and for the first few months I frantically applied to every job listed on Craigslist, Tweetmyjobs, and Mediabistro. I didn’t pay much attention to what I wanted to do or what made the most sense in terms of my writing career.

What sort of jobs can you get once you have an MFA? What jobs did you apply for that you never imagined you would?

An MFA does not prepare students for a career. I think going into the program I knew this, but somehow when I graduated I expected the transition from my degree to a career to be a smooth one. Not all potential employers were impressed with my master’s degree. I had to remind myself that my MFA was for my writing career, and my professional career could take another path that wasn’t dependent on my degree.

Once I realized this, I started thinking about where I wanted to work and which jobs would best suit my interests. Sometimes this involved relying on past experiences, hobbies, and courses I had taken in college. In the beginning of my search, I applied for teaching, administrative and editorial jobs. I was also involved in multiple freelance and part-time jobs (afterschool counseling, tutoring, freelance writing, audio and copy editing, substitute and online teaching). By the end of my search, I determined I wanted to work in publishing and moved to New York in order to pursue this career.

What recommendations can you make about the interview process? What was the best piece of advice you’ve received about interviewing?

The interview process was difficult for me. I met many potential employers. Most of the interviews seemed to go well, but I still didn’t get the job.

I suggest that students consider what makes them stand out. Especially in publishing, almost every applicant has a bachelor’s degree in English, a high GPA, and is interested in writing and publishing. I had to convince the interviewer that I added a special quality that distinguished me from the other candidates.

Several friends and colleagues suggested that I treat the actual interview like a conversation. This was challenging for me at first, but I realized many employers only wanted to get a sense of my personality and how I would fit into the department. After this point, I tried to add personal anecdotes that related to the job. I smiled, asked questions, and was friendly during the interview process.

When and how should you follow up with a potential employer?

I don’t know that there is a strict rule for this. Many career sites and books recommend waiting for at least a week or two. During my interview, I often asked the potential employer about their process and when they hoped to hire. If I hadn’t heard back by this point, I usually followed up with an email. By the first or second interview, most HR representatives will update candidates on the interview process. It is a good idea to follow up with them, but I wouldn’t recommend calling more than 1-2 times while waiting for a response.

How do you stay cool while waiting to hear about a job?

Applying for a job is a nerve-wrecking process. Sometimes it felt impossible to stay cool. I motivated myself by moving forward. Even if I was still waiting for a response from a potential employer, I applied to other jobs and went on more interviews. At the same time, I tried to give myself a break. It’s hard to apply for jobs 24/7, and I don’t think doing so is a healthy approach. I gave myself time to go the gym, hang out with friends, watch movies, and do yoga. Sometimes I felt like panicking, but I ultimately knew this would not help with my job search.

What is the most important you’d tell someone searching for a job in the publishing industry?

I would tell them that publishing is not limited to editorial. There are all sorts of departments in publishing, including: marketing, sales, publicity, managing editorial, subsidiary rights, contracts, legal, design and production. I would suggest interested candidates spend time thinking about their skills and where they might best fit. Editorial assistant jobs are often the most competitive, so it could be a good idea to start in another department and learn more about the business. In a broader sense, it is also a good idea to consider the sort of publishing company you want to work for: small or large, independent or corporate, academic or trade.

Also, it can be helpful to do an internship or go on an informational interview. Although potential employers will consider past jobs and degrees, they are most impressed by direct publishing experience. Editing for a school newspaper, for example, will not necessarily correlate to an understanding of the publishing industry.