Last year, I sat in the third row of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan surrounded by a bustling audience humming with anticipation. There was a palpable energy unlike anything I’ve ever felt in a Broadway theater. The lights dimmed and the show began with a question that is just as much a declaration:
“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
What followed was the most intricate, masterful, entertaining piece of musical theater I’ve ever seen. “Hamilton,” written and conceived by the inimitable, Tony Award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a cultural tour de force. It follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the United States. The musical documents his highs and lows with a consistent thread: Hamilton was a relentless genius with a stalwart passion for the written word.
I left the theater that night dumbstruck not only because I’d just witnessed an impeccable piece of art, but also because the lingering question in my mind was undeniable. After two hours of a musical elaborating on the incredible achievements of a remarkable, flawed, intelligent human, I couldn’t help but wonder: “What the hell am I doing with my life?”
This question never really goes away, but it manifests in a very direct way as you’re preparing to leave college (what’s good, Class of 2016?). And hey, I do not have all the answers. If I did, I’d probably be on tour with Oprah spreading the word while wearing sweatpants from Beyoncé’s new Ivy Park line. I work at BuzzFeed and people love making references to our lists (we don’t say “listicles”), so here are three fundamental truths I’ve learned that might help.
Number One. Hiring managers want you to win — at least the good ones do. The editor who hired me at BuzzFeed once told me this, and I didn’t fully believe her until I interviewed people for a role on our team myself. People with the power to put you into that position really, truly, desperately want the next person who walks in the door to be the person they hire. It’s up to you to meet them halfway and prove that you’re that person. Come prepared. Never duplicate cover letters for different roles. Do research on the team, and come with ideas.
Number Two. Your tangible experience is more valuable than the names of places you’ve worked. I’ve interviewed job candidates who have very flashy internships or fellowships (which are essential, by the way, and if you’re graduating with none, well, good luck — you were warned). But the majority of these candidates have a hard time articulating their accomplishments and work. For every experience point you list, have at least three anecdotes that clearly show how you handled a situation under pressure or how you make decisions and tackle challenges. I don’t care about your summer at Vogue if all you did was take calls and wait for an Anne Hathaway moment.
Number Three. The job you get doesn’t dictate the career you will have. I started off at Ithaca College doing internships in hard news and entertainment, but graduated and took a job that was closer to the intersection of tech and journalism. Then I delved deeper into the world of mobile and carved a niche for myself in editorial products. Will I stay in this area forever? Probably not. But reporting and writing skills are the foundation of everything I do. When I walk into a room to work on a project, I’m a journalist first. The product experience and mobile news focus supports and complements that. And, frankly, it’s an area I never thought I’d end up in.
You’re about to have a college degree. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, that’s a really valuable thing that so many people in the world will never see. Don’t throw away your shot.
Aaron Edwards ’12 is an editor at Buzzfeed News and former editor in chief of The Ithacan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.