Throngs of city college students are too often mislead to think that positions in the higher reaches of the creative sector get plucked by their counterparts from elite universities. The time is now to debunk the myth — once and for all — that a piece of paper from a private or Ivy League university worth upwards of $100k is more valuable than an equivalent diploma earned at a fraction of the price at a public college. If it isn’t public college education that takes the blame, students turn the spotlight to a notoriously widespread saying that is especially popular among college cohorts: “It’s all about who you know.” If this is where your line of thought takes you, too, read on.
It should come as no surprise that creative industries are hyper-saturated. For many, dreams remain pipe dreams as the job market is prototypical survival of the fittest. Stephanie Maida of Guest of a Guest, a New York University graduate, and South Brooklyn native, opines that yielding success in a creative position is predicated chiefly on the contributions one makes in one’s efforts to cut their teeth rather than the level of prestige that might be associated with one’s alma mater. Although it’s not uncommon to stumble upon job listings that blatantly include “degree from a top university” as the No. 1 requirement. To those listings, we say to hell with.
“I was a managing editor for eight months before my boss asked what college I graduated from,” Maida told me, sucking on the green straw erecting from her plastic Think Coffee cup, halfway filled with black iced coffee, with one pale hand to the cup and the other engaged in twirling the ends of her retro bob that knowingly channels Mia from Quentin Tarantino’s hit classic, Pulp Fiction. “I just made sure to make myself indispensable to my higher-ups as an intern while still in college. And they offered me a job, and I was hired.”
You know that you have made it as a writer and editor when you have successfully worked and solidified your voice (and are Googleable) and can freely drop the f-bomb when needed in the articles you pen. Maida has reached such heights and is not afraid of tooting her own horn. A queen of satire and a Cruella de Vil wannabe, Maida, 24, has written about serial killers whom she would fornicate with over at Vice Media, Inc. as an intern (which she claims prompted subsequent death threats), ralphed on an editor of Glamour in a limo en route to Atlantic City (and is convinced that she is banned from the city as a whole), spent a semester abroad studying in London where she surrendered to cupid’s chokehold and told the tales of her tumultuous romance in a balladic write-up which merited publication in Thought Catalog, and having started out as a fangirl of Gossip Girls and NYC Prep — stalking socialites and crashing parties at Guest of a Guest — segued her sheer fandom into wiggling her way up to a managing editor position that she holds there today.
It is safe to say that Maida is living the dream — her very own dream, that is. And the truth of the matter is, students abound have the tools necessary to morph their dreams into reality by simply lending credence to what they are passionate about, and garnering experience in their field of choice regardless of external factors (i.e. which institution their academic background is woven in).
According to Maida, her journey has been anything but all wines and roses as she reiterates that the achievability of her goals weigh heavily on great a many variables like maintaining a persistent vision, the leaps she took in staying proactive outside of the classroom throughout the span of her academic passage, an unwavering passion for her craft (spurring at the age of 10 in the wake of Xanga culture), keeping her shoulders to the wheel and her nose to the grindstone [for little to no pay] for extensive periods of time (in short: slave labor for the sake of le dream), and — of course — an unending surplus of unadulterated black coffee (black like her soul), and cigarette breaks totaling 10 per day.
“I think you always want to get an internship during the last semester of college,” said Maida, tugging at the cleavage region of her faux velvet floral print dress from Urban Outfitters. “So that you can seamlessly go into it and hopefully turn it into a job,” she added.
Although Maida fastens a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and journalism from NYU, she is adamant that integral parts of her creative success are her internships and freelance gigs that paid stipends as low as $100 a month.
To the topic of landing highly coveted internships such as her previous position at Vice, Maida said: “I saw that they were hiring interns so I applied. I think, really, it was right on the cusp before they became ‘Vice News’ — a really good news source. So I think I was lucky to get in there right before it got big.”
To this end: making sacrifices and parlaying into an organization at the right time with a dash of drive stirred in the mix is what the protocol to obtaining success might often constitute in today’s job market. With this in mind — dreamers: do away with jettisoning the misconception that meriting a prestigious internship, or the like requires having a direct lead from someone at the firm or publication of one’s interest. Case in point being: if you want it, go and get it and be prepared to work your tail off.
At Guest of a Guest, Maida started out as an intern, moving up to a “social media manager” position, then meriting the title of “assistant editor” by displaying strong knowledge of trends and digital direction, and eventually filling the role of managing editor after a previous managing editor left GofG.
GofG is a photography-centric online publication covering the grounds of the latest high society events chronicling “people, places, and parties.” From a-lister celebrities to lesser known upper echelon dwellers can be found sipping on fancy cocktails in one or more of many photo albums on their site. GofG was still in its infantile stage when Maida got on board, which she claims paved way for her to evolve with the online publication and continue to leave an indelible mark.
“My daily ritual at the office involves coffee,” Maida said between chuckles, taking the last sips of her iced coffee. With her garish red lipstick smudged to a lighter shade, her gorging brown eyes glinted with poise: “Lots and lots of coffee!”
The key also is versatility. Maida asserts that one must also fully immerse oneself into their vocational field of interest in order to reap fruits. Caring for editorial should not mean being tethered to print journalism, especially in a digital age. It is absolutely crucial to know the ins and outs of the field and be prepared to wear many hats. And if one does not fasten a certain skill that is required of them – it must be learned. With that said, beget the learning process right then and there.
“Obviously do your best in school,” Maida said. “But if you have to spend extra time doing something for your internship, do that instead and get the B in the class rather than getting the A.” Fiddling with her stack of black wristbands she continues: “I had straight A’s all through college except my last semester when I was at Guest of a Guest and I was doing so much for them that my papers probably weren’t as good. And I practically failed French, but it’s like, whatever. I have a tattoo in French — I don’t need to speak it.”
If there is one privilege that elite universities can unwittingly be accredited for, that is instilling in its pupils the courage and confidence to go after their dreams. And for that, no degree is required. One can be purely autodidactic and get their leg in at dream corporations by the display of being well versed in their targeted field. What it truly boils down to is one’s savviness, adeptness, a can-do attitude, having a strong knowledge of the field, and an insatiable appetite for the pursuit of said dream. It is also to be kept in mind that the fabric of “making it” in large parts is about adhering to the mantra: Fake it till you make it.
“My fur coat? Why, it’s my favorite,” Maida exclaimed with staggering pride, proceeding to light her American Spirit cigarette with her black Baron Von Fancy lighter. “I tell everyone it’s vintage, but it’s actually from Forever 21.”