6 Career Lessons This Publishing Industry Professional Wishes She Knew In Her 20s

career advice diane dragan

Burst/Matthew Henry

When you graduate from college, your top priority is often landing a full-time job. Between finding the right jobs, sending in applications galore and navigating the negotiation stage, it can get confusing. Then, you’ve got student loans to pay back, a savings account you’re looking to grow and your first apartment to figure out. To help calm your nerves, we spoke with some amazing professionals who have been in your shoes for our series, “What I Wish I Knew At 22.” Here’s some advice they wish they had at your age so you can start adulting with confidence.

Diane Dragan didn’t get a job right out of college. Instead, she had a series of what she calls “false starts.” Coming from the current director of editorial operations for Architectural Digest with more than 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, this could sound surprising. However, her many attempts at starting her career helped her learn valuable skills and key lessons that she still swears by today.

1. It’s not a ladder — it’s a matrix.

“I just thought you get an internship at a magazine, and then they hire you as an editorial assistant if you bust your tail and work hard and show off your smarts and creativity,” Dragan told Swirled. “It didn’t work that way, and I was totally surprised.”

Dragan worked as an intern at Seventeen magazine, a proofreader, a freelancer in the legal department of a publishing house and more — all before she landed her first full-time job. Everything helped her learn new skills and processes that she would eventually apply to her career. What Dragan realized was that her career was no longer going to be a straight climb to the top. Instead of a corporate ladder, she found it was more of a corporate matrix.

“You’ll gain different perspectives and different views into what you’re trying to do,” Dragan said. “And it’s all great experience that will come back and be really helpful for you even if it’s not apparent at the start. You’re going to become multi-dimensional.”

2. Always ask for 24 hours to review the job offer.

job offer advice

Unsplash/Ehimetalor Unuabona

Dragan eventually landed her first full-time job as an editorial assistant for an imprint at Penguin Random House. Complete with a salary and benefits, she was excited to jump in get started. However, she’s learned that with any job offer, it’s important to ask for a little bit of time.

“I always advise taking 24 hours,” Dragan said. “There was one job that I did accept on the spot, but every other job, I’ve said, ‘Thank you so much. I’d love to think it over and get back to you tomorrow morning.’ No one will think otherwise.”

When you ask to review the job offer, the hiring manager will understand. Dragan told us that you can even say that you want to review it with a trusted family member. If you’ve been interviewing for weeks and know all of the details of the role and company, consider giving a conditional acceptance instead.

“Say something like, ‘This sounds amazing. I’d love to say yes, but I just want to look things over. Can I get back to you tomorrow morning?'” Dragan said. “You’re showing you’re really interested, that you’re committed, that you really want the job. Just be polite about it. I think it’s expected, and you’re not going to lose any ground by doing that.”

3. When negotiating, do it in a curious manner.

Let’s be real: Negotiating a salary or other benefits is nerve-wracking. When you’re first starting out, you may not negotiate your first salary, and that’s completely okay. However, it’s important to understand how to do it so you can in the future.

“Always be polite and ask in a curious manner, rather than a direct manner,” Dragan said. “You can say, ‘This is what I was earning previously, and this is what I’m looking to gain,’ or, ‘This is where I was before and with all of the experience I’m bringing, I’m really looking for the salary to be this. Is it possible to meet that expectation?'”

Often times, the hiring manager will then go back to the company and see what they can do to offer the candidate a higher salary. However, it really does depend on what matters the most to you when negotiating.

“For some people, title is important,” Dragan said. “To some people, money is really important. For some, company fit, culture, responsibilities and the work or the relationships are more important. Sometimes it’s the company that you’re going to work for. There’s a currency attached when working for certain companies that translates to future earnings that may not be something you could adjust in your current salary yourself. There are a lot of ways to feel really good about starting a job.”

4. Ask your boss for a review.

ask your boss for a review

Burst/Matthew Henry

Once you’re in your role, Dragan said it’s important to ask your boss for a review so that you can figure out what you need to do in order to continue to move up the ladder and grow.

“My mentor suggested that I go in after six months and ask for a review,” Dragan said. She did this at her first job at Penguin Random House and it ultimately led to a promotion. “I asked my boss what I needed to do in the next six months in order to help ensure that I could get a raise or help me get to the next level. My boss was super open and receptive. I’ve tried to do some sort of variation of that ever since.”

Before scheduling that meeting, though, be prepared. Dragan told us that you need to go in with a ton of stats and a lot of backup around how you’ve contributed to the team and company’s goals. Display what you did to move projects forward and how that made a positive impact. Whatever you do, don’t go into that meeting empty-handed — you want to show your boss that you deserve a promotion.

5. Grow your network the right way.

You may not have a network of people in your industry right now, but there are steps you can take to start one. The easiest way? Attend events and set up meetings.

“I spent a lot of time with different trade groups that help meet-and-greets,” Dragan said. “You may find you meet one person at one cocktail hour, but the next time you don’t meet anyone. I tried to align myself with people who I thought were doing great work and people who were doing interesting things, that way I could maximize my time.”

Another way you can grow your network and get career advice is setting up meetings or phone calls with other alumni from your university. Dragan told us she wish she had done that when she was in her early 20s.

“I know that I will take an informational call from anyone who reaches out and says that we went to school together, not just those people who are graduating now,” Dragan said. “If you know the right way to ask and you know what you’re really focusing on asking for, you can find out more about those companies you want to work at, and jobs, skills and gaps you need to fill with experience. Then, when jobs open up, there’s a chance that you’re top of mind as a strong candidate.”

Just be respectful of people’s time. According to Dragan, you shouldn’t reach out and ask someone to give you a job on the spot, but you can and should ask questions around that. Try asking about the skills you need in order to grow, and what roles that person held in order to get the job they have now.

6. Keep calm — confidence is key.

It might sound cliché, but everything really does work out the way it’s supposed to. Recent graduates and 20-somethings navigating their careers should keep calm and stay confident.

“Have confidence in yourself and your abilities,” Dragan said. “Trust that it will all work out okay. It really will all be fine and you’ll be great.”

Keep working on building your skills, nailing that elevator pitch, knocking those interviews out of the park and believing in yourself. You’ll be killing it at work before you know it.


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