Sacramento transplant Amanda Nachman has quite a resume. While still an undergrad at the University of Maryland, she successfully started and ran a print magazine staffed primarily by students like herself. Working with her staff and interns, she found that her most promising and motivated employees lacked confidence in their skills. She began mentoring her staff, encouraging them to make “Courageous Connections”—essentially, networking in the digital age. She’s included that and other advice for those seeking mentorships, internships or jobs in her new book, #Qualified: You are More Impressive Than You Realize. Her book, scheduled for release on Aug. 18, includes tips for landing virtual jobs and internships that are especially useful now, as the future of in-person interviews and office jobs are in question as the pandemic continues.
You’ve written a book about finding virtual internships and job hunting, specifically during the pandemic, is that right?
Exactly. The book is called #Qualified: You are More Impressive Than You Realize. The goal is to help emerging professionals see all the ways in which they are qualified, and how they can build their qualifications to go after a career that they love.
So are you focusing on what would have once been called soft skills?
I wouldn’t call it soft skills. To me…#Qualified is building those hard skills, in addition to soft skills, of course. It’s really just taking intentional steps towards doing what you want to do. Because when you do work that you love, and that you enjoy, or even just like, you are going to get in the zone. I’m sure as a writer you can relate to this. You are going to have that work flow, that feeling, and you’re going to make a greater impact in your work and in the world. I do believe that we make a greater impact and that there’s a ripple effect when we do work that we enjoy.
Has guiding people through this process been your full-time career?
I fell into creating this process. I’m the founder, CEO, and publisher of CollegeMagazine.com, which started out as a print publication on the East coast when I was a senior in college. It was a hobby business. And I grew that magazine into a 40,000 print circulation that was profitable on the East coast. I brought on an angel investor, I brought on advertisers, eventually built relationships with Princeton Review, Vitamin Water, TGI Fridays.
But meanwhile, building this magazine—which then moved online and is now reaching an online, national audience—through that process I worked with student writers who would talk to me about their career journey. And they would tell me that they felt unqualified, that they weren’t good enough, that they didn’t choose the right major.
And I would hear this from the most talented writers and editors, who were leading teams of other writers and acting as a mentor to them, who were holding interviews, and doing competitive analysis of other articles, right? And this is just a small sample of the students out there that are doing great work and don’t see all the ways in which their stories are meaningful and their skills are transferable.
So what does that mean in terms of students looking for internships?
I think it’s important that students—especially now in the pandemic, because this time is more available and urgent than ever—to hit the pause button, and really take the time to identify what it is they’re passionate about. What are their interests, strengths, and values, and from there, start looking for “who’s out there who’s doing what I want to do, who is out there that I admire, who is already in my dream career,” and making a Courageous Connection. And that’s something that is not often taught.
You hear things like, “Oh, you should be networking, and oh, you should have a mentor,” but how do you actually do that? And so I would coach my students on making a virtual Courageous Connection every day. I would say, send a DM every day. And I call them Courageous Connections because it’s so frightening to hit that send button.
But step-by-step, I break it down in my book, how to go onto LinkedIn and find someone in your city, or someone that graduated from your college, that’s in a career, or in a role that you admire, how to craft that message and reach out, letting them know, “Wow, I’m so impressed that you write for a magazine on K-Pop. I’m so passionate about K-pop and I would love 15 minutes of your time to learn about your career journey.”
And what students and young professionals are often very surprised to find is that there are people out there who want to help you on your career journey. I think that once you start seeing that, you have that momentum of people out there that want to help you, and you start building your network through that.
You find that those people see a little bit of themselves in you, because you share the same passion, and before you know it you have mentors. You have people hyping you up, wanting to introduce you to the next person. And this is how you network and this is how you open doors to career opportunities you didn’t even know existed.
These ideas all existed [before the pandemic], but we are becoming more virtual because of it. So what would the follow-up be for these Courageous Connections you’re talking about? Would it be Zoom…would it be—
Yeah! Definitely, totally. Make a Zoom coffee date. People are getting creative. We’ve seen all those Zoom happy hours happen—not encouraging that you drink, but—
That would be an interesting job interview.
Have that first one. Have that first 15 minutes, and show up prepared, and think about what your screen looks like behind you. What’s showing up in your Zoom frame. So you can show that you’re very intentional about this interview, that you really care, you want to learn, and you want to convey your passion on the screen. Really set yourself up for success in that Zoom interview.
That’s an interesting strategy: intentionality with your Zoom background. Does that mean going beyond one of the stock office Zoom backgrounds—
—I have to say, I’m not a fan of those stock photos. If it’s a must, if you really don’t even have a white wall in your apartment, then go for it, but I do think you can get crafty, right? Take a chair, stack books, put your laptop on top, then set yourself up in a corner of the room where there’s a clean background.
As long as you’re showing up polished—I mean your face should take up the majority of the screen anyway. Because it’s about you, and making that connection. You can make it as authentic as it possibly can be, if you eliminate all of the chatter that can happen when there’s a messy background and there’s poor audio and poor lighting. So you want to just set yourself up for a really intentional experience.
You’ve talked about how to make those connections. Would you suggest that this is a pathway to a traditional internship, or is the virtual internship the way we’re going—and what exactly is a virtual internship?
I think that it may be more of a trend, especially because of COVID right now. I think that virtual internships have always existed, and I see a lot of value in them because they do hold their interns to a higher standard. When you’re trying to be successful in a virtual internship you are responsible for your time, much more so than when you’re showing up to an office and you have nowhere else you could possibly be.
It’s really a test of time management and being reliable and meeting deadlines, so you are putting these skills into practice with a virtual internship. I think that the more virtual internships are common, especially given COVID, it’s giving students an opportunity to show off all their tech knowledge and skills. Now we’re being asked to show our work in different ways. So you can show the project that you’re working on in your Prezi, or your PowerPoint, or maybe you’ve designed something in Canva and you can do a screen share. You can—I would say, have the opportunity to be bold and say, “I’d like to show my work,” or “I’d like to show an idea that I have.”
And I think that it really does put students in a position where they can learn to be more creative. I see it as an exciting opportunity to overcome the challenge of not being in person and see that as an opportunity for growth as an individual. To really flex your communication skills and learn how to communicate and tell a story visually.