I met Anna Maltby in 2007 when we were both interns at Time for Kids Magazine. After spending several months checking facts, laughing over lunches, and running around the city to collect stories with her, I just knew Anna was destined for journalism greatness. Anna is currently the Associate Health Editor at SELF Magazine. She has also worked at Marie Claire and Men’s Health. You can feel Anna’s passion for writing and media the moment she starts talking about what she does for a living. That’s how I know she will continue to be a big success throughout her career–because she’s living her passion every single day. Below, Anna answers my questions about journalism, creating authentic connections, and never settling for less than what you really love.
MK: How did you get to this point in your career?
AM: I realized very early on what I wanted to do with my life, when I was sixteen. I joined the staff of my newspaper and went to “Editor-in-Chief” camp the summer before my senior year. I redesigned my newspaper into a magazine, basically, because I loved magazines so much. I was able, from the moment I entered college, to work my butt off, which translated into me getting one of the more competitive internships through my school, at Men’s Health magazine. It ended up being an incredible experience and I got to know really passionate, smart editors who valued solid research and great resources. It was a great training ground for writing and editing, and through the connections I made during my internship I was able to get a job after graduation as the assistant to the Editor in Chief there, and wound up having a ton of opportunities to work on brand extensions.
I was eventually promoted to focus on writing with the popular brand extension, “Eat This, Not That.” I helped write blogs and ran the Facebook and Twitter pages. It was definitely a crash course on how to create and manage a very successful, powerhouse brand. But I realized that I really wanted to work on an actual magazine, and I had stopped doing that day to day. I wanted to learn in a magazine environment again. Then, an editorial position came open at Marie Claire. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to being an EA again, but I thought, “I need to just take a chance.” I went with my gut, which was to work at a magazine that I really, truly loved. It was hard, but a great decision. Sometimes you have to put your pride aside, along with the need to feel really successful and ahead. Because ultimately, what really matters is that you are doing something you are passionate about. And if you aren’t, it’s not worth it.
After about a year at Marie Claire, an amazing position came open at SELF, which was a magazine I really respected but honestly wasn’t a regular reader of. But I was so impressed by everyone I met here, and as dorky as it sounds, so excited by the work I got to do in my edit test, that I had to make the move. SELF has turned out to be totally incredible. I’m learning so much every day not only about being the best editor I can be, but also about science and health and all kinds of fascinating stuff. I can pick up the phone and talk to the top cancer researchers in the world, any old time. It’s a great place to be, and you can pretty well bet that I’ll be sticking around here for quite a while.
MK: How do you define success?
AM: Success is figuring out what your gifts are and what makes you happy, and going about your life in a way that cultivates those things. It’s less about striving to be at the top of everything. What’s really important is what you spend those eight hours a day doing and feeling, not what someone else might think about it.
MK: What is your take on the importance of internships and how to go about finding one in college?
AM: I think they are crucial. I did five internships as an undergrad, and I don’t think there is a better way to learn. In the journalism industry, you can learn a lot in the classroom, but you don’t get the most crucial skills until you are actually in the field working. I started off at a small local newspaper in my hometown, which was absolutely invaluable. I was writing stories about farmer’s markets and county fairs—and being forced to write six stories a week and meeting deadlines was an intense but incredible experience. I did want to stay in Chicago the next summer, so I took an internship at a small local women’s magazine two days a week that was unpaid. At the same time, I worked at a boutique PR firm the other three days a week. Interestingly, I gravitated to the PR firm internship more, which really surprised me. So I realized that I just needed to stay open minded, which really led me to a great experience at Men’s Health—not a magazine I necessarily would have gone for otherwise, since I obviously wasn’t a MH reader—and then as an intern at Time for Kids. At both places, I worked with great people who really cared about the work they did and about me as an intern. Even if you don’t think the internship you’ve scored lines up perfectly with what you want to do eventually, extra real world experience in whatever industry you are interested in never hurts. It can only inform your thinking about what you want to do.
As for actually finding an internship, while it’s great to go through people you know if possible, remember that internship opportunities don’t necessarily just present themselves to you. You have to be proactive and look for them. I think a lot of students would be surprised how easy that can actually be—for my PR internship, I literally just googled as many PR firms in Chicago as I could find and reached out to them using information I found on their websites. Easy! But even if there’s a company, publication, or person you want to work for and there’s no obvious way to apply online, find a contact somehow and just send them an email, connect with them however you can. You’d be surprised at how few requests those people actually get. Don’t be afraid to reach out. People generally love helping other people and giving advice. It’s a great way to begin networking. Don’t shy away from putting yourself out there a little bit.
MK: Thinking back on your jobs and internships, what has been one of the most profound lessons you’ve learned thus far? If you could go back to your 18-year-old self and give that young woman advice about the next 5 years of your life, what would you have told her?
AM: At times in college, I was so career-driven and focused on journalism. So I had a tendency to discount some of the more offbeat opportunities that were offered to me in college. I wish I focused a little bit more on some of the classes and events that didn’t necessarily relate to journalism. Even if something isn’t directly related to what you think you want to do, you never know what you might be able to learn from it. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are surrounded by great opportunities in college—and take advantage of them as much as possible. Go see the great speakers student organizations are able to bring in, study abroad if you can (I didn’t, and I wish I had!), join a club just for fun, not because you think it’ll look good on your resume. I hate to say it, but some of these things are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
MK: What advice would you give to students about to graduate from college who are starting their careers?
AM: You are probably going to embark on that scary journey of doing everything you can to network your way into a job that you really want. It’s a tricky game to play, and you need to figure out how to play it in a way that is genuine, honest and open. It’s really important to keep close relationships to people. They can tell if you sent an email to them that you also sent to 100 other people. Yes, contact every single person that could be helpful to you—but do so in a really meaningful way.
MK: What would you suggest doing to create those authentic connections?
AM: Take the extra time to contact people individually. Don’t just email someone; tell them you are graduating and ask what opportunities are available. That’s the easiest choice, but it makes your contacts feel like you are using them a little bit, and it makes it much easier for them to just delete your email. A “do” would be to get in touch with people in your network and ask them to meet with you and share any advice for you as you embark on starting a career after college. Don’t just think about “What’s in it for me?” Ask people for their advice, and how they got to where they are today. Show that you admire them. Ask good questions. When you really approach people genuinely that way, they will be flattered and impressed, and when a job opportunity comes up, they will think of you for it.
MK: What are a few traits that you think distinguish people who are exceptional versus good at their jobs?
AM: Be detail-oriented. It sounds obvious, but especially when you’re an intern or in entry-level positions, it’s what will set you apart from the pack. The best interns and assistants are the ones who truly pay attention and remember all the small details—they do a stellar job and don’t cut corners. You’d be shocked how many people overlook that, and you’d also be shocked at how much extra work and headaches that causes the folks in charge. You also need to read the office dynamics. Observe how people dress and interact, and learn about what they do and how they work. Then, figure out how you can do whatever you can to help other people do their jobs better. Really step back and figure out what your role is in the office, and then do your job accordingly. This doesn’t mean checking in 20 times a day to see if you can help—that gets annoying—it just means trying to anticipate needs and noticing when people need help, and when it’s better to back off.
MK: What’s the biggest mistake you think college students make in preparation for life after graduation?
AM: There are always things that you think you “should” do. But honestly, don’t really worry about that. Tune the annoying voice out of your mind, and just focus on what you really want to be doing. Be open to crazier possibilities, even if they seem less prestigious.
MK: What do you think has allowed you to be successful in your career so early on?
AM: In a lot of ways, I think it was that I knew so early on what I wanted. I didn’t want to settle for anything else—at least not until after I really tried for it. It’s hard to be picky, especially if you want to be part of a small, competitive industry, but I really think it’s key to not just go for any job. Even if you’re in a position you can’t stand, always be running toward something great, not away from something bad.
MK: Do you believe that people should be picky, even in a bad economy or a competitive job environment?
AM: If you are unemployed and looking for a new job, of course it’s really hard to stick to your guns. If you’ve gotta get something so you’re not resorting to food stamps and the free clinic, then just find something. But if you have any leeway at all to stick it out and hold out for what you want, please wait. If you aren’t doing something you love, you aren’t going to be happy, and you certainly aren’t going to be doing as amazing a job as you would be if you were doing something you love. Wait for your moment. Hold out for the right opportunity. Never settle.
MK: For people who have not found what it is they love, how do they get there?
AM: Try as many things as possible. If you don’t try new things, you are never really going to figure out what you love, and you also won’t meet all the people who will be so crucial to helping you get to the next point. Explore as much as possible. If you aren’t quite sure what you want to do, realize that it’s going to take a little extra effort from you to figure that out. Be willing to work from the bottom up. Figure out what you are passionate about—the earlier the better. And be willing to work really hard to do that very thing.
MK: What are the three things all college students should do before they graduate?
AM: It’s important in college to figure out what kind of friend you want to be, and what kind of friends you want to have. It sounds cheesy, but the friends you make in college will be some of the closest friendships you ever make. Also, take the chance to get yourself into healthy patterns. The way you are living now is the way you are probably going to live when you graduate. If you want to read the paper every day, start doing it now. If you want to exercise consistently and eat well, start that now. Figure out who you want to be, and don’t wait to become that person. And lastly, find mentors. Find people you respect and whose opinions you value and who know you well enough to know that you are a valuable person to help: professors, friends, former managers—connect with people who know about your field and can help you get to where you want to be. Have people that you trust to consult when you make all those big decisions you are bound to make in the future.
Melissa is the Marketing Director at Baking for Good, an online bakery that donates 15% of the proceeds from every sale to a charity of the customer’s choice. Previously, she was an Associate Brand Manager at Time, Inc. working on brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, MLB, NFL and National Geographic. Melissa has a passion for magazines, writing, traveling and of course, the NY Jets. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.