As I made my way through Times Square dodging commuters, tourists and corner vendors, the honk of yellow cabs in heavy traffic roared. But after an 18-hour bus ride, I was finally where I wanted to be. All I had was a small bag — but a big dream: to leave the Midwest behind and to live and work in New York City.
I was nervous. After all, in a matter of minutes, I would be going through the famed doors at music mogul Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment to check in for my interview at Blue Flame Agency.
Just 19 hours earlier, I hopped on a bus from Ohio to New York City. No one at the agency had any idea that I didn’t live in the area.
While I lived and studied in Oxford, Ohio, I took a gamble when I applied for an unpaid internship and added a New York City address to my resume. I thought it would help my chances of hearing back from companies. After all, I would be graduating college in a few months and was desperate to get my foot in the door.
After an initial phone interview with Blue Flame Agency, I was invited to come meet with my potential new boss. I didn’t have a network of professional contacts available, so I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. So I jumped on the bus (hoping I wouldn’t get snarled in traffic) and changed into interview-appropriate clothing inside the bus station’s bathroom once I arrived in New York. I made it to the agency in time, with a couple of hours to spare.
I made the long trek home again after the interview. It was exhausting, but I hoped it would be worth it.
It was. A few weeks later, I was back on the bus to New York City, this time to stay for the summer as part of my internship with both Bad Boy Entertainment and Viacom’s MTV Networks. Because both internships were unpaid, I took on a slew of side jobs to support myself. Nothing was beneath me, including babysitting, dog walking, club promoting and working at bars where I got a quarter for every person I signed up for a free happy hour. Yes, I was that girl.
The summer of 2012 was grueling and demanding, but also thrilling. It taught me what I was made of and really kick-started my career.
The internships gave me the confidence that I needed to apply for the NBC Page Program at NBCUniversal. I was accepted a few weeks before graduating college. Through the program I worked both on the show and business side before landing at “Morning Joe,” where I’m currently a booking producer on the news program that I love.
It’s ironic. When I first came to New York City, I had no personal network. I now have a job where my Rolodex is the currency of my success.
I’ve learned that getting your foot in the door in the industry where you want to work is rarely a straight shot. You’ve also got to get that first foot in any way you can and then build a bridge to get where you eventually want to go. And most importantly, it’s up to you to make something happen for yourself.
Here are some additional tips for new job seekers looking to get their foot in the door:
1. Limit how you pre-judge your first work experience.
Think of your first job or internship as an opportunity to absorb and soak in your surroundings. Worrying too much about it being a “perfect fit” limits your ability to actually get any valuable experience. If you have a limited network to begin with, cast your net wide to improve your chances.
2. Think outside of the box.
Don’t limit yourself to big name companies during your internship or job search. If you can apply and get noticed by your dream companies, great! But if you are struggling to get your foot in the door, think outside of the box. Are there smaller agencies or boutique-style companies that would expose you to build your skills in the same way you might at a bigger company? Those lesser-known companies are often easier to tap into and will often allow you to take on more opportunities than bigger companies.
3. Be wary of your inner critic.
There were many challenges that could have discouraged me from making the effort to apply for unpaid internships in New York City while still living in Ohio. For example, I didn’t know my way around Manhattan and I didn’t know anyone in media, marketing or publicity. But what helped me follow through was being aware that I was my own worst critic. I made an effort to visualize my efforts paying off. You are the gatekeeper of your own potential.
4. You don’t have to have it figured all out.
Don’t expect immediate results. During my last year of college, I still didn’t have valuable internship experiences. I also wasn’t in the financial position to take unpaid roles, and to make matters worse, I was undocumented. For all I knew, even if I did sacrifice time and money to move and take unpaid roles, it could have proven to be useless. Instead of trying to figure out how each step would play out, I focused on being prepared. At the end of the day, you can only control what you can control. Figure out one step at a time and eventually your career will start connecting the dots.
5. Reach out and resonate.
Expand or grow your network by taking advantage of social media and other technology tools that will connect you with professionals in fields you want to be in – like LinkedIn and Bumble Bizz. If you are reaching out to someone you know, a referral, or an individual you’ve decided to cold contact, pay attention to your tone. Make sure it’s courteous, purposeful and specific.
Are you reaching out to make a new connection in a field? Think about how this new relationship can be a two-way street. What can you bring to the table to offer value? Are you looking for a job? Be specific on what you’re looking for and how the person you’re talking to can help. If it’s just learning about their role and industry, be conscious of their time and be willing to be flexible with their schedule. You want to stand out from others who are doing the same thing, so think about what you are uniquely positioned for and make your outreach resonate.
Daniela Pierre-Bravo is Know Your Value's millennial contributor.