Working at Southern Weddings is my first job. Ever. I graduated in May of 2009. Let’s all take a minute to think about that. Okay, moment over. Crazy, isn’t it? I alternate between pinching myself and forgetting to pinch myself, because, in fact, my daily life seems pretty normal.
I am a wedding junkie. I was involved in the wedding blog world long before I was in the job market. On the one hand, it seems completely normal that I would land a job in this industry I’ve immersed myself in for so long. But – and here’s the clincher – it could just as easily not have happened. I could still be looking for a job six months after graduation. Most of my classmates are, after all.
We’ve been reading Crush It! in our morning huddle the past couple weeks. I don’t agree with everything Gary says, but his general ethos of building a personal brand does resonate with me. Why? It’s the reason I got my job.
So here’s the story.
The summer after my junior year of college, I had an internship at The Knot, which was a great experience. My last week in New York, my editor took me out for lunch, and we got to talking about what we would do if we could do anything we wanted. Eventually, I answered that I would want to have Abby of Style Me Pretty’s job. Not only does she write a lovely little wedding blog, she founded and then sold a line of custom stationery. It was the combo that got me. Christa’s next question was “Well, why don’t you start a wedding blog?” The thought had occurred to me, but it was her support that gave me the push I needed.
So I did. I launched my own wedding, style, and design blog in September 2008, at the beginning of my senior year. I certainly had no delusions of grandeur, but I tried to post consistently innovative and inspiring content Monday through Friday. Most of the time I felt as though I was writing for myself, but that was okay – if nothing else, it was a great platform for me to share the ideas that were constantly circling in my head. It kept me busy.
But then. Then! In November of that same year, Lara Casey commented on one of my posts, a random post about how much I loved Carrot & Stick journals. I was flabbergasted (and mostly confused as to how she had found my teensy little two-month-old blog!). In gratitude, I sent her one of the journals and a handwritten note letting her know how much her comment meant to me. I didn’t expect to hear anything from her, and didn’t for about two weeks.
Then one day I hopped on my Google Reader dum-di-dum let’s see what the ladies of Southern Weddings are up to — whahh?! What did I spy but a post about ME and MY NOTE and MY BLOG and how much my note meant to LARA. That day was enough to sustain me through several more months of blogging obscurity. And it was enough to get my foot in the SW door.
Lara loved the Carrot and Stick journals so much that she put them in the premiere issue of Southern Weddings right before they went to press. I was elated.
In February of 2009, I decided that I would apply to work with Southern Weddings. Had they posted an open position? No. Had I graduated yet? No. But I did it anyway. And I didn’t just send in a resume.
I used the knowledge I had stored up as a long-time reader to make my application as appealing as possible. I sent a fairly standard resume. I sent a cover letter, but not a stiff and overly-formal one – I used the same conversational tone found on the SW blog, but built an effective case for my skills and attributes. The form letter found in career advice books? That wouldn’t have worked for this company or for this opportunity. At all.
I also filled out the “get to know me” questionnaire that each of the current SW employees had filled out and posted to the site – I wanted to show Lara that in addition to having superior experience and skills, I was an interesting and exciting person. This also gave me a chance to show her more of my writing ability.
And to top it off, I hand wrote an introductory note reminding her of our previous encounter. And I sent this all through the mail, because I knew how easily an application could be lost in the sea of emails Lara received every day.
And you know what? It worked. It wasn’t quite as simple as I’m making it out to be, and there was a fair amount of luck involved. But it worked. I have a job. I’m doing what I love straight out of college. And I’m earning money doing it. That is, unfortunately, a lot more than most of my fellow 2009 graduates can say. And I believe the success of my plan rested largely on the success of my personal brand.
From Lara: I remember the day I got Emily’s note. I remember thinking “this girl really knows who she is.” She wrote and acted from such an authentic, genuine place, that I was honestly a little intimidated. At the time, business was crazy. I had just launched the magazine, was about to dive into an intense wedding season and was traveling more than ever. On the surface, everything was hunky dory, but underneath I was unhappy with work and felt drained every day. In the back of my mind, I knew that bringing someone like Emily on could change everything. After her note and resume sat on my desk for four months and wedding season died down, I finally pulled the trigger and called her for an interview. Around this same time, I got a glowing email from Katharine who had just graduated from Harvard. Harvard!? I was terrified. Two brilliant-on-paper women who I knew had the potential to change my life. I was so busy, that I wasn’t even able to meet them in person before hiring them. I had long phone conversations with each of them and just had to trust my gut. In July of this year, Katharine and Emily made Chapel Hill –and my office– their new home. Not gonna lie, I’m tearing up typing this. They have blessed my life far more than I ever could have expected and each day is better than the last. Whitney, Kath and Em made me believe in myself again.
Lara was able to see me as a person – a multifaceted, talented potential employee, but also a person. She saw me in many different mediums, over a period of a few months, not just in one cover letter on a sheet of copier paper. And that, I believe, made all the difference.
From Lara: Knowing your personal brand and acting authentically on it creates real opportunity and genuine success. In today’s era of transparency, people want real connection and will see right through you if your heart isn’t in it. There will always be someone doing it better than you. But, no one can do better what only you can do. So, what is that thing? What is your unique brand? Do you feel like you are just getting by in your work and in your relationships? Stop now. Just stop.
I made a seemingly simple, but bold, move and it paid off. Many of my classmates are suffering because they are doing things someone else expected of them instead of living authentically and putting their heart into every move they make. The more we exert, the more reward we are able to feel as its equal and opposite reaction. Risk is just opportunity dressed up in scary clothes.
Lara tells the story of her move to California several years ago when she opened the back of Grace Ormonde and circled all the people she really wanted to work for. She went straight for the top first, and ended up working for all of them just by taking that simple step – she studied them and knew what they wanted, emailed them, sent a glowing resume, then flew to meet them and show them what she was made of, despite shaking with fear. “Why waste my time on a stepping stone when I wanted to go so much farther than that? I knew I wouldn’t be happy settling for anything less.”
In my job now, one of the things that energizes me most is interacting with other people in the industry. I don’t discriminate. I love talking with vendors – hearing their stories, how they got in the business, why they love their jobs, what they want to do next. I love talking with brides – what they love about planning their weddings, what they hate about it, what they would do in a perfect world and how I could help make that happen. images above :: nancy ray
Every day I make a point to make at least one connection. It doesn’t take much time out of my day. It makes me feel good. It’s good for business. It’s led to new vendor relationships, deeper vendor relationships, products being sent to us for photo shoots that we never thought we’d have the chance to feature, unexpected opportunities for collaboration, and true friendships.
But you know why I really do it? I know how important that connection can be firsthand. It can make someone’s day, it can fire someone up, it can change someone’s life. I know it can. It changed mine.
Who can you connect with right now? Leave a comment, send that email, make that call. As Lara always says to us… “stop wasting time and just pull the trigger.”