It has been said that writers put a piece of their soul in everything they write. We were hoping to get a glimpse into the creative soul (and mind!) of Kit Warchol, Editorial Director of Career Contessa, and sure enough, we did! See how Kit single-handedly manages all the content for her company, what she looks for when approving contributing writers, and what she loves the most about her job.
Tell us a little about your background and how you ended up at Career Contessa.
Sorry, this is kind of a long story considering how (relatively) young I am.
My parents are journalists so I hung out in loud newsrooms after school. I guess it rubbed off because I’ve been writing for different publications for more than a decade. I got my first article published at 15. It was an 150-word article on a college basketball game, I think.
When I graduated college in 2009, the job market was…bleak. I actually spent the next year and change working in high-end coffee (you know, pour overs and single origin espresso and hip music). I’d apply to jobs and never hear back, and pick up writing and design freelance wherever I could. I was definitely broke. I walked everywhere and ate a lot of bean and cheese burritos and put CVS trips and dinners out on a credit card (a move that I only recently paid off) and had to borrow blazers from my friends for the handful of job interviews I did manage to get.
But honestly, working as a barista wasn’t bad—and not just because of the free Stumptown coffee and cute boys who turned up in line. I met artists, designers, writers, filmmakers. I even met my best friend over that counter. And I definitely learned how to talk to strangers. One of them was responsible for finding me my first “real” job, actually.
While all this was happening, I started to teach myself CSS and HTML. I’m not sure why I decided to do this, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ultimately, it worked in my favor. I had my first “boss who took a chance on me” moment and got hired at this music ticketing start-up as a web designer (thanks, Nick!). That was my first real experience working full-time at a startup.
So I spent a few years doing design work, but at every position, I’d end up writing and editing. Like somehow I was writing the blog for this music company by the end. Whenever people realized I could do it, they had something they needed me to write. Seriously, every company needs a good writer. Eventually, I found myself making bank at a web design firm working as a web editor, but I was totally miserable.
A friend asked me what I would do if I could do anything. I thought: how great would it be to do something in editorial full-time? I’d been reading Career Contessa’s articles on Refinery29 because I was passively job searching, and then suddenly there was this posting for a CC managing editor, and I was like “If that’s not a sign…” I had a phone interview with Lauren (our founder) the next day, and I put in my notice at my old job about a week after that.
How big is your editorial team? How many different kinds of writers do you have?
Well, the in-house editorial team right now is: me. I edit all the articles that come in from our freelance contributors (about 15, plus some of our mentors write regularly for us as well), write a couple pieces a week, and edit/write/run our weekly interview series. I also oversee pretty much all the copy associated with our brand from the website to our presentation materials for webinars—I actually just finished writing all the taglines and honing the voice that you’re going to see on our new site (we’re relaunching in January!).
It won’t be a party of one much longer, though. We just hired an Associate Editor, and I’m actually counting the days until she starts (11 to go as I write this). I think she might be smarter than me and definitely cooler.
Walk us through a typical day.
I should probably preface this with a key fact: I just used my recent breakup and the fact that we have a pet-friendly office to take the plunge and adopt a dog. So that’s pretty much changed my routine, but I’m okay with that.
I’m absolutely a morning person (even when I was a teenager), so I typically wake up naturally around 6:30. 7 if I’m lucky. 8 if it’s a Sunday, and I stayed out too late with friends drinking wine or negronis.
On week days, I get up and take Monk out for a long walk. That usually includes a stop at my neighborhood café (and lots of stops at trees for Monk). Then I head back to my house and probably throw on yesterday’s jeans—when your office is in a coworking space and you’re surrounded by a bunch of bed-headed entrepreneurs, there’s no such thing as ‘work wear’—and I try to get into the office by 8 or 8:30.
We all work flex schedules, meaning I’m usually the first one in. Early bird. I typically spend the morning doing head-down work before the rest of the team arrives. Usually that’s writing. I’ve also been trying the whole inbox zero thing lately, so I answer everything that’s waiting for me as soon as I’ve settled in. We try to schedule all our meetings before lunch—editorial, marketing, phone calls with potential sponsors, chats with our graphic designer, etc—so they’re out of the way before we all hit an afternoon slump. I either eat lunch while working or head out to to the neighborhood market to grab food. That includes an apple almost daily. I really love an apple break for some reason.
Afternoons are dedicated to editing and more editing and formatting articles so they’re ready to publish on the site. Sprinkle some Photoshop in there and a few chats with coworkers. Then, I usually leave around 4 or 4:30 unless the team decides to grab happy hour. That’s a fairly regular thing. We really do like each other at CC.
Home by 5. Out for another walk with Monk. Maybe a gym trip lands somewhere in here, but probably more like a glass of wine, hopefully some takeout pho, and a New Yorker followed by an episode (okay, two) of some BBC murder mystery. Crash around 10:30 if I’m lucky. Repeat.
What do you think the hardest thing about being an Editorial Director is?
For me, it’s being detail-oriented. I’m definitely more of a big picture person. I like creative brainstorms and thinking up projects or collaborations that would be a total reach to pull off—but so cool if we did. I definitely miss things all the time—emails that get stuck in drafts to contributors, typos in articles—and it’s so frustrating. I guess that makes me a work in progress.
What is the best thing about your job?
Writing. I will never stop loving it. I’ve tried. I guess it’s my version of a smoking habit. Second is probably the flexibility. At CC, I get to work the way I work best. We all do. I think that’s part of the reason things have gone so well for us in the last year or so—we all play to each other’s strengths.
How do you find new article topics to write about?
I read and watch and listen to things constantly, whether that’s skimming the Sunday New York Times or reading newsletters like The Broadsheet and Brainpickings or podcasts or just weird novels. I also encourage our writers to send me their own pitches since, obviously, it’s more fun for them to write cover topics they’re passionate about.
But by far and away, the best ideas I’ve had came from conversations with women I know.
I’m fortunate to have friends who lean on each other when they’re going through stuff. And we all like to talk. A lot. We come from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, and experiences so a glass of wine inevitably leads to discussions about our work and lives. I’ve found that if they’ve got a problem with their careers, chances are a lot of other women do, too.
I also shamelessly pick my mom’s brain. Often. Last week, I texted: “Did you always know you wanted to be a working mom?” The week before it was: “Did you encounter sexism in newsrooms when you were starting out? What did you do?” She always answers candidly. I guess that’s love.
What is your system for organizing your editorial calendar?
We have a giant spreadsheet that serves as our editorial calendar, but I often refer to it as the Editorial Bible. Not all that clever, I know, but I’d lose my mind without it. It includes columns for our editorial process (draft received, draft edited, draft formatted in CMS…), social media captions, SEO, etc. There are a million places where we add “x’s” as we complete various stages of the process.
We try to plan our calendar about three weeks out, and then we have a standing meeting where I go over next week’s posts with our social media coordinator and marketing manager. Somewhere in there, I send out a monthly topic email to our contributor list. We had a huge organizational day recently so all this sounds way more organized than we actually were up until a month ago.
What kind of experience do you look for in contributors?
I just look for strong writing skills and the right attitude, honestly. We’re a site dedicated to women growing their careers so I think it’s important to let women try get their first clips here. They don’t need to be “writers” to write for us—just great storytellers.
When people contact us about contributing, I pay more attention to their email than I do to anything else. Is it personalized to us? Are they witty? Do they have a similar tone to our own? Are their pitches specific and unique?
If the email hooks me, then I’ll look at or ask for their clips, but I can usually tell if someone will be a good fit long before I see those. If they have no clips at all, but I like their style, I’ll just work with them more closely on their first article. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
In the spirit of transparency: they also have to be willing to write for free. We’re just not quite there yet with our budget to pay freelancers. But I absolutely believe that writers deserve to be paid for their work so we’re trying to get there as soon as we can, hopefully in 2017.
Do you send contributors’ articles back for re-editing? What are 3 common mistakes writers usually make in their posts?
Typically, I only request revisions if the writer didn’t go deep enough. My goal with our content is to provide strong articles that encourage critical thought so I try to push our writers to research their topics thoroughly and make unique points. Since our writers are also readers of our site and most have been writing for us for at least a year, they tend to get it right without much feedback.
I’d actually like to have more of a back-and-forth between editor and contributor because I think it’s key to this whole process, but it’s hard to fit that in. That’s why we’ve hired an associate editor. My hope is that she’ll be able to focus on working directly with our writers and giving them feedback that’s useful to them.
And 3 Common Mistakes:
Jargon, clichés, and mixed metaphors. We always say that we are career advice that skips the creepy life coach vibes. A lot of articles from new writers tend to talk about “the daily grind” and “work-life balance” or things like “building a career with the bricks of confidence.” Or worse. I’ll take a Raymond Carver/Tess Gallagher sentence structure over that any day.
Lack of actionable advice. We all know that job searching sucks, and that it’s hard to freelance or start a side hustle. But how do you do all that? Articles should be useful whether that means they start a deeper conversation among friends or give someone a next step in whatever challenge they’re facing.
Not talking about mistakes. This applies more to our interviews than our advice articles, but since joining CC, I’ve realized women really, really don’t like to talk about their mistakes. If we ask a woman to talk about one she’s made, most of the time, the answer is something like “I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I’ve learned from all of them. Next question.” I know it’s uncomfortable. Actually, it’s anxiety inducing. But if you’ve made it to the top of your industry, and then you talk about your career as if you never had any trouble getting there, how does that help other women starting out navigate their own careers?
When it comes to a pitch email, what should an aspiring contributor include when pitching themselves to you?
Unique ideas are key, but I also want to know why they’re a unique voice that we’d want to promote on our site. The women behind the words are really important to us, obviously. Last week, I got a really great email from a 21-year-old undergrad who wanted to write about her experiences prepping and job searching during her senior year. It was her perspective that stood out. I was like: why wouldn’t we want you to share your story with our readers? So I asked her to write an ongoing column.
What is the number one lesson you’ve learned since becoming an Editorial Director?
That things fall through the cracks. You will mess up. And that those mess-ups feel much bigger when you’re running things. Getting things wrong has always given me a tremendous amount of anxiety, enough so that sometimes I can’t sleep at night. When your whole job revolves around empowering women, it really, really sucks for someone to think you’re doing the opposite. It’s cliché, but I’m finally learning that you can’t make everyone happy and that means that sometimes you have to move on without fixing it.