Finding your passion is not easy. What is even harder is wholeheartedly pursuing it. But that is exactly what Alexis Reliford did. As a college student at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Alexis dove into a slew of activities on and off campus, even winning an ASME Editorial Internship–the pinnacle of opportunities for aspiring journalists. And upon graduation, she packed up her bags and moved from Louisiana to New York City to take on a career in the world of magazines. Read on to score top tips from Alexis on how to turn a passion into a killer career.
All About Alexis
Name: Alexis Reliford
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Education: B.A. Mass Communication from Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Current job: Assistant Editor for Social Media at Essence Magazine
What is your passion?
Quite simply, writing. I dream about storytelling and weaving words together to inform and inspire. Writing is therapeutic for me and I find myself getting lost in an alternate universe staring at the computer with my fingers pecking away to craft creative content. And writing gives me a free excuse to use alliteration as much as possible. See previous sentence.
How did you start pursuing your career in journalism?
I’ve known I wanted to work in magazines since I was younger. Before I was even a teenager, I was reading Seventeen, Word Up!, Teen People and CosmoGirl. I had always excelled in English/language arts classes, so being a journalist was a natural choice for me. When I went to college I heard about the American Society of Magazine Editor’s Internship program—though I wasn’t old enough to apply—and I was determined to get in the summer before my senior year. So I spent the next three years writing for my campus newspaper and yearbook, and also for a few online publications to make my application stand out. I scored my dream (and first!) internship from ASME at Essence and from there things took off. After graduation I became the first-ever College Grad Correspondent for Levo.com, which led to a freelance assistant position at SELF.com. I had applied for an editorial assistant position at Health Magazine on a whim in May and never really gave it much thought, discouraged by the fact that I had graduated with no job offer. Imagine my surprise when an editor held on to my resume and forwarded it to the fitness editor months later that called me about an open position. From there things just fell into place and I found myself moving to New York in October 2015.
You are from Louisiana, which is pretty far from New York, where you now live. Was it hard to leave your home state to follow your ambitions?
Hard? No. A big change? Yes. I was a commuter for college—meaning I lived at home with my parents all four years—and had never lived with roommates. I had no idea what to expect. But I was so determined to be a magazine editor at a national magazine and so confident that this was the life I wanted that moving here really was my only option.
You took advantage of a lot of different opportunities at Northwestern State University, both in and out of journalism. What is your advice for someone who is trying to follow your example?
Start working on your organizational and goal-setting skills early! Also think hard about personal branding…. i.e. what makes you the perfect candidate and how are you going to stand out among thousands and thousands of other people who want the same job? Thinking like this is what motivated me to do more than just write for the paper. I wanted to be a multi-talented as possible so employers would be like, “we need her.”
At the same time, when there’s so many different opportunities present, it’s hard to determine which ones are best for you. How did you figure out which opportunities were worth dedicating time to?
I’ve always known that something was for me when I can’t stop thinking about it. No matter how much people told me that I should consider interning at smaller regional magazines because national ones were “super-competitive,” I couldn’t stop dreaming about working at Essence. Something told me I wasn’t wasting my time working towards this goal. And look what happened. There’s a little voice inside of everyone that always knows what’s best, it’s just up to you to listen to it.
You were accepted as a American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) Editorial Intern in 2014, a huge honor for anyone who wants to pursue a career in magazines. What did you learn from that experience that help you now with your role at Essence magazine?
I learned more about myself that summer than learned about the industry. I learned to stop downplaying my experiences and comparing my talents to others just because I didn’t go to a major university or intern at a million other magazines beforehand. I had an amazing supervisor that summer who stressed the importance of realizing that it didn’t matter HOW I got there, but that it was up to me to show why I deserved to stay. In simple terms what am I going to do next? I’ve channeled that philosophy into my current position and try to give 100% everyday.
While in college, you had a fantastic internship, led an on-campus publication, contributed to a number of websites, and were in a sorority. Quite simply, how did you make it all happen?
Carried a planner everywhere I went, became best friends with my Keurig and got absolutely no sleep.
Now you are the Assistant Editor for Social Media at Essence Magazine. What made you decide Essence was the right place for you? What are your main responsibilities?
When I first heard of the position I wasn’t sure that it was for me; my strong suit has always been strictly editorial. But when my editor talked with me about the job it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of and an opportunity to master a whole new set of skills. I have a history of taking risks and accepting jobs that were initially out of the norm for me. Now I help manage all of our social media pages, strategize on how to increase our traffic and even help contribute to Essence.com.
Does your college education help you with your role at Essence magazine? If so, what classes or other college experiences have been the most beneficial?
Definitely. Going to a smaller university allowed for more one-on-one teaching from professors and more hands on opportunities on school publications. This led to multiple responsibilities and the fostering of skills I use at work beyond writing like fact-checking, editing, social media, html, photography, etc.
What have you learned about yourself through your career so far?
That I’m never comfortable just doing the bare minimum. I always need to be doing something extra or helping someone out. Whether that’s writing an extra post I didn’t pitch or by volunteering to set up for a meeting. I can’t be the girl who just sits in the corner.
What is the most common misconception about working in magazine? What is the most surprising thing?
That every assistant is created equal. Some assistants might fetch coffee and run errands, but most of us really do get to write and go to fun events. Sure every day might not be glamorous but most editors are self-sufficient and want the best for you, meaning they want you to learn more while working with them than how to make a good latte.
What advice would you give to other girls who want to pursue a career in magazines?
My general career advice to any girl—especially those who want to work in magazines—is to not accept anyone else’s path as a roadmap for your own. In college I used to hear all the time that the only way to make it in this industry was to do a million unpaid internships and then move to New York right after graduation (and without a job). Needless to say I never did an unpaid internship and I didn’t move to the city until AFTER I had received a job offer. Your path to success won’t look like anyone else’s so focus on crafting your own.
What advice would you give to your college freshman self?
Dear Alexis, be firm about your goals and flexible about your methods. You will make it to New York despite people who try to convince you otherwise. It may not happen as soon as you thought and you may end up working for a magazine you least expected, but your time is coming.
Behind the Scenes
What does your typical day at the office look like?
I get in at around 9:00, check my emails, and prepare for the day sending out the morning “What’s Trending?” report. From there I go downstairs and grab breakfast—normally a chocolate croissant—then the rest of my day is spent scheduling Twitter and Facebook posts, and pinning content. On the funniest day of the week—Thursday—I even get to live tweet during our web show ESSENCE Live. It’s always super fun because the host is hilarious!
What have been your favorite places to explore in New York City?
I love bookstores and specialty craft stores. Aside from writing, I’m a bookworm and DIY freak. So I spend my weekends on the hunt for more paint, confetti and reads. Oh and I’m constantly searching for good tacos.
What are your favorite websites, blogs, or magazines to read?
I’m a complete magazine junkie! You can always catch me reading the latest issues of Essence, Cosmopolitan and Glamour. Each always features the best in pop culture/entertainment plus my favorite—inspirational spotlights on bad*** women.
Who do you think is the ultimate #girlboss?
Shonda Rhimes. The purpose of being a writer is to have your words inspire and entertain, and no one does that better than Shonda. I love her creativity just as much as I admire her candidness and down to earth personality in her interviews. She’s like my best friend/mentor in my head.
Who is on your power playlist?
Natasha Bedingfield, India Arie, Joss Stone and Alicia Keys. Also true confession: in Legally Blonde, the song that plays when Elle decides to prove Warner and everyone else wrong right after the party-bunny scene (“Watch Me Shine” by Joanna Pacitti) is my go-to song right before an interview, big day, etc. It makes me feel like I can take on anything.