Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Illustration by Maxine Crump.

A local magazine I read and love is taking student interns. This is so exciting! I’m thinking of submitting an application; however, I have zero experience working for/on a magazine, and I’m super nervous about what my app should say. Any tips or words of encouragement? <3 —Jellybean, 17, not USA

Hiya, sweet bean! This letter made me so happy—truly, is it not the greatest thing in the world when a dream position just seems to open wide before you, and you just KNOW you can go get swallowed up in it, so long as you figure out how to show out palatably? I applied to my first magazine internship when I was your age, and the mixture of sheer nerves and sheer bravado and sheer TAKE ME I WILL WORK SO HARD YOU’LL SEE I’LL DO IT ALL was one of my favorite heart-churning, anticipatory feelings I’ve ever experienced. It was like a crush, but on my own FUTURE instead of on a greasy hesher in my Intro to Algebra class!!! Actually getting that internship was even more rapturous, in part because I knew how hard I had worked on my application, and it, like, made me believe in meritocracies. I really think you can do this. I’m not just saying that to fulfill the “words of encouragement” portion of your inquest here, either, but hey! There’s your latter wish taken care of (although I doubt it will be the last time I say something to this effect today, jellybelle).

As for the first part of your question—the “tips” query—I’m going to float ya a general checklist when it comes to applying for any job or internship, plus double down on the magazine/writing focus you’ve selected here.

The absolutely fundamental first pointer I have for you: Please, please ensure that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are blemish-free. This is true of any application, but especially ones where WORDS AND HOW THEY WORK are the spine of the position. Have the lead brainiac in your life comb over your cover letter, résumé, and introductory email to catch any stray errors, even if you’re the most assiduous jellybean in town. Some people in my life who have trouble with editing use a program called Grammarly, which is like a souped-up spellcheck, to help them correct whatever slip-ups their professional work might unwittingly include, but…it doesn’t always catch what you need it to, and I’m kind of a head. I believe in researching and practicing the stuff that gives you trouble until it does that a lot less. I think you should invest a hot $3.22 (plus shipping)/your library membership, plus around three hours of your life, to pound The Elements of Style, a wispy little paperback that will pummel your sentences into lean, mean, internship-earning clarity-machines. Every single edition I have ever seen (there are lots, get whichever) looks exactly as squat, boring, and thrashed as mine does, cover-wise. Clock how overworked and dented-up my copy is for proof of how much I rely on it:


The reason it’s got that huge gash across the top: I have followed Strunk and White’s guidelines in every writing and editing job I’ve ever had; this past year, I basically wrote my first book with my non-dominant hand rested on this homely, invaluable resource like it was swearing me into office. Since you intend to go into magazines, you should read it all the more: It will teach you quixotic-seeming trade jargon, as in what makes a verb transitive versus intransitive, and what the heck a term like “split infinitive” is doing in a book about writing when it sounds like something a biologist might observe under a microscope. Do you know how impressive that’s going to be once you get this internship (which you will)? Obviously, I’m not always pious about following this scripture, since I often prefer to wild-style it in my writing, but it’s as hard-wired in me as my childhood phone number, and so I know when I’m choosing to make a prank call instead. If you want to be a writer for formal publications like magazines, I highly recommend that your personal style direction this year is very Strunk and White.

For all of youse who aren’t into word-nerdin’: Read this anyway! This book is written simply and accessibly, and writing is a crucial skill at most office-type jobs. Once you take the whole thing in cover-to-cover (not hard—look how teeny she is), then use bits of it for reference when you need them, you are going to be a guaranteed job-application bulldozer when it comes to grammatical polish. That’s WELL worth $3.22 (plus shipping)/a trip to the library.

OH-KAY. Now, let’s get to the anatomy of a great job application, then talk about what makes for an extra-solid one if you’re going into periodicals/media/writing. You’re basically grooming three components here: Your résumé, your cover letter, and the email that you’re attaching those things to and introducing your chipper-as-hell self with. When it comes to constructing a professional résumé, which is a list, in document form, of your work experience, don’t bug if you’re lacking in relevant-feeling after-school jobs or achievements. The magazine is doubtlessly expecting, and encouraging, industry first-timers! What you’re really looking to show off, on your ’zume (hot new business jargon I just invented; get into it), is that you’re dedicated, hardworking, and have mad “dynamic” interests and skill sets. Here’s a basic template for what to list, as demonstrated by the actual résumé I used to finagle my first internship, which I fished out of my email and present to you here—click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 4.33.09 PM

So what are these headings, and what do you put there? Lesseeeeeee…

  • Directive. This is a statement of vocational purpose and intention. (That definition sounds like literally meaningless nothing, I know.) To clarify: You are saying what it is you want out of your professional life, in a way that dovetails with the position to which you are applying. Mine is laughably formal—you don’t have to be this PRIM and “JOURNALISTIC FASHION”-ish in your own version.
  • Education. Here, you say what schools you’ve gone to and/or are going to, and the numerical years you’ve attended/are projected to graduate, e.g. “2013-2017.” You can also list any academic awards or accolades, including “honor roll”–type accomplishments, here! Don’t worry if you don’t have any—please note that my own educational prizes above number zero, because I passed high school by the skin of my teeth, and I still managed to land the position.
  • Professional Experience. You list the jobs you’ve had, the dates throughout which you’ve had them (no need to be precise to the exact day; just specify the month and year, ya sugar legume). Short of making things up, you can stretch/embellish this shit as you see fit, as I always did as a broke teenager who needed capital badly (and the successful execution of my aspirations even MORE). Like, “Private Childcare,” as I wrote above? That totally and obviously means “babysitting before I was legally old enough to work elsewhere.”
  • Skills. You’ll want an “Interpersonal” section and a “Technological” section. For the former, you can basically just reconfigure what I listed on my ’zume above, and then add anything else you’re particularly good at. For the latter, this is not the case! DO NOT WORK FROM MY OUTDATED-ASS ANCIENT-ASS CHRONICLE OF WEB FOSSILS! Instead, list every popular ’n’ current program, word processor, browser, website/blogging platform (e.g. WordPress, Tumblr, etc.), social media site, and web storage–based service (e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) that you know how to work. The more, the better: These print-magazine types are probably going to thrill at the prospect of having a young buck with a high degree of internet literacy explain what’s what to them. But don’t lie about your fluency in a program if you know for a fact that you aren’t a Photoshop expert, or else you might find yourself in hot water if (WHEN) you get this internship and are expected to plunk down in front of complex software on the very first day and know exactly what to do. A caveat: If you are certain you can learn how to navigate a simpler kind of tech deal-o, like a social media site, that you are as yet unfamiliar with, you can pad the truth of your past with it under the condition that you then go and actually sit down and figure out how to use that thing.

Put all of that information in a Word or TextEdit document with your name and contact info listed at the top—here’s another solid résumé model to follow—and go forth! Next up is your cover letter. This is a rundown of why you’re interested in the internship, what qualifies you for it, and how you can be of service to the (in this case) magazine. You have a clear advantage here in that you say you “read and love” this publication. That’s great, because the more specific you can be about why it is that you adore this particular magazine, the better—publications are most inclined to hire people that are well-versed in what mission, tone, and content they’re aiming for, so you should demonstrate that you’re an avid reader of theirs. Mention stories you were taken with, and what about them was so compelling. A very basic example: “Sucrose Magazine’s recent investigative report into the business of jellybean-flavor trends featured the in-depth level of reportage I’d like to achieve in my own journalistic pursuits someday, so I’m eager to be of service to your editorial staff however I can in order to learn from their expertise.” Make this whole missive no longer than a double-spaced page long, and end by thanking your recipient for their time.

Attach your ’zume and cover letter to an email which VERY BRIEFLY restates the wonders to be found within them. Introduce yourself, then say where you go to school and what you’re interested in, career-wise. Keep your message to one or two paragraphs. In this email, you should also point to your lexical know-how: Do you have a blog, website, and/or writing samples (these are sometimes called “clips,” and can be other published pieces, like in your school paper, or things you’ve worked on independently that you’re proud of, like blog posts or personal writing)? Link to them, or attach them! Most of the time, academic papers aren’t the very best fit for this, since they follow a specific format that’s usually unlike the ones of magazine articles, but if your work for class reflects your true curiosities and the tone/voice that you write in, go ahead and send ’em. If you don’t have any pieces exemplifying your ability and taste, WRITE ONE! Have it answer this question: What is the dream piece you’d put together and publish in this magazine, specifically? Get down about 500 words of it, and send that along, too (after making sure it’s up to Strunk-and-White snuff, of course). This will show the magazine that you’re ambitious, eager, and productive, and that you have a clear idea of how you’d fit in there.

WOW. WAS THIS THE MOST BORING ADVICE ANSWER OF ALL TIME? Our sources say, “Maybe, given that it litero opened with the strident plea that you purchase a reference book, but it’s going to help you out at least a little, I hope!” I know you’re going to straight-up dazzle them, Jellybean. ♦