From Petrol Station Assistant to Powerhouse Editor

Acting content director and features editor of Cosmopolitan UK, Rosie Mullender, shares some of her top tips and personal experiences on ‘making it’ in the tough world of magazine journalism

Chatting over the phone to a background noise of telephones ringing and the utters of a
busy editorial office, I asked Rosie for the one piece of advice she can give to a budding journalist who is etching for a high-powered career in magazines: “If you’re hard-working, willing to learn, can write, and will turn your hand to any job enthusiastically, then you’re halfway there. Being keen to write big stories is a plus, too – I’m afraid writing a blog about your shoe collection isn’t going to help you make it.”

After wrapping up the weekly features meeting, Rosie was ready to discuss her journey
through this competitive industry. As the acting content director for Cosmo UK, Rosie’s passion for a career with words contributed to her way to the top despite not acquiring a degree in journalism. Straight from graduating with a degree in English, Rosie’s initial dream was to become a novelist before making the transition to a post-grad qualification in publishing, and recalls a guest speaker as a big inspiration: “One day we had a lecture from someone who worked in magazines, talking about what qualities you needed to be a journalist, and it really struck a chord. I loved magazines, so I decided to try to get into the industry.”

This, however, did not prepare Rosie to landing her first paid reporter job that proved
more difficult than originally anticipated. As the awkward first stage of the interview passed and our conversation flowed, Rosie enlightened me on how she had to take a job at a chocolate factory before ending up at a petrol station for three years getting by, with little encouragement from friends from her small town upbringing in Essex telling her she would never make it as a journalist triggered self-motivation to prove them wrong. Alongside working at the petrol station, Rosie embarked on endless amounts of unpaid work experience to build-up her CV, with placements at Maxim, Loaded, Empire and Heat before landing her first position as a £9,000 a year features writer at South West News Service in Bristol.

From this period of her life, Rosie became aware of the competitiveness of the industry: “I never studied journalism and I don’t know anyone who took longer to get their foot in the door, so I was certainly aware of it then!” Describing the interning process as ‘a bit like learning to drive’, Rosie explained how productive the internships were in developing and teaching new skills before securing her first-paid job: “You learn a huge amount, but when you get a job you realise how little you really know. Anyone with genuine enthusiasm and talent can stand out and get themselves known if they meet the right people – everyone knows everyone else, and word gets round.”

Before her dream career at Cosmo, Rosie was the deputy features editor at Look Magazine, as well as the commissioning editor for Cosmo before being promoted. After
seeing to the few ‘ding’ sounds coming from her iPhone, Rosie defined the long-awaited process of working at small weekly magazines prior to getting her foot in the door at Cosmo: “I worked my way up through weekly true-life magazines until I applied for a commissioning editor role here. I didn’t get an interview, but was asked if I’d like to try for the writer’s role, which I then got.”

Rosie’s love of magazines as a teenager was her inspiration to work at a glossy title,
but getting the right amount of experience to add to her CV – whether it be blogging or working at the student newspaper – was crucial to getting noticed: “Work experience is your chance to shine, so don’t waste it.” Rosie says: “And if you manage to get a job interview, it’s crucial to give the right impression.”

Before landing a work experience placement or internship, dress code is key to making
a good first impression. As Cosmo is a glossy fashion and lifestyle publication, many would believe that following a high-fashion dress code is essential to fit in with the other members of staff, however Rosie expressed the true impression on what a potential intern wears to an interview and for the duration: “Of course you can’t dress inappropriately. That will be frowned upon. But journalism isn’t as strict as, say, banking. I personally wouldn’t judge an intern on what they wear. It might be weird if they wore a suit, I suppose – but it might be different at magazines where they solely focus on fashion.”

Getting your CV out there and noticed can become a struggle, but having the right
attitude that editors look for in new talent will prove fundamental in putting yourself in the lead from the competition. Rosie’s advice for students embarking on work experience placements: “Be keen. Try your hand at anything. Don’t be a snob when it comes to where you work. Be friendly. Don’t fear vox-pops. Don’t try to be Carrie Bradshaw, because there are a million wannabe Carries out there, but you need solid journalism skills, too. And don’t think anything is beneath you when you’re doing work experience. The people we call back are the ones who treat every job, large or small, equally.”

And after many years of perseverance, Rosie’s proudest achievement in her journalism career: “I always loved Cosmo, and dreamt of writing for a glossy magazine. There’s only one Cosmo features editor in the UK, and I’m it! That’s pretty amazing.”

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