Graduates / Journalism Jobs / Journalism skills

INTERVIEW: Surena Chande, new writer at Good Taste Magazine

Like many of us currently, Surena has experienced the stressful parts of the job hunt, being an intern, trying to find work experience and ultimately, it has all paid off. Surena has only recently found out she will now be a full time paid writer at Good Taste magazine. With an amazing opportunity, I got in contact with Surena to talk about her journey up until today in the world of journalism.

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Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for Jump4Journalism! When did you first realise you wanted to pursue a career in journalism?

I had just turned 15 and had started school in Dubai, so I was in year 10. We were asked to arrange a two week work placement, I had no idea what to do, so I thought it would be easy just to help in a retail store or something. However, my dad spoke to a friend he knew who suggested I work at a magazine in Dubai. I emailed them asking if I could, and they placed me on Ahlan! Magazine (the Dubai equivalent of Hello or OK magazine). On my first day they asked me to write an article, it was about a feud between Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and I had just been given a few quotes. Anyway, I wrote it up and the deputy editor made one or two changes, said it was great and it was published the next week. 
I also assisted the fashion and beauty editor with shopping and styling for shoots and helping with the beauty cupboard. The team were lovely and upon my departure, I was required to get a reference note. The deputy editor, Gemma White, said that I “would make an excellent journalist in the future!”
 
Though the experience had been enough to persuade me to pursue Journalism, that reference was what really pushed me to follow the journalism path. I haven’t looked back ever since.


Were you ever put off by the career by people telling you how competitive it was?

To be honest, I’ve always been a very determined (or stubborn) and ambitious person. When I left university and in the build up to graduation, I always said to my parents that I wasn’t too worried about finding a job. I’m not sure why, I just felt confident that I could do it. 
 
However, a year on (I finished university on 21 May 2012 and graduated on 31 October 2012), I was starting to lose hope. To be honest, though, university was a pretty overwhelming experience for me and I wanted time to recover. Two weeks after I finished university in May, I was contacted by Haymarket Publishing to be a freelance sub-editor for them for just over a month. I couldn’t believe my luck and thought I was going to be OK. However, once the job was coming to an end I started losing hope and didn’t want to stop working. When it did end I went on holiday with my family, then decided to go back to Dubai for two months (the summer). Upon returning to the UK I sent about 30-40 applications out, but didn’t have much luck. 
 
In January 2013 I thought it was time for me to move back to Dubai because a lot of people were telling me that there were plenty of opportunities here and that the media industry was booming. I moved back and called some contacts I had here, but it was to no avail. 
 
I then decided I should go down the internship path and contacted Ahlan! Magazine again and thought I would try my luck with Cosmopolitan magazine. To my surprise, both magazines wanted me to carry out an internship with them. I worked on Ahlan! for a month and I’m now coming to the end of my third month at Cosmopolitan magazine. I thought it would lead to a job, but the publishing company usually looks for more experienced, older journalists, so I began losing hope again in month two of the internship. 
 
However, two weeks ago a lady contacted me about a role within the magazine she was working on. I asked how they had found me (and of course, I expressed my interest in the role!), she told me her colleague who worked on the magazine had been for lunch with the deputy editor of Cosmo (Brooke) and had mentioned they were looking for a writer, Brooke put me forward for the role and recommended me to them. I went for the interview and thought it went well, I was also asked to write two pieces that they chose the topics for. Yesterday, I was offered the role! So all I can say is don’t give up whatever you do! There are jobs out there, try everything from interning to freelancing, and keep a blog!

What educational background do you have which has helped you towards gaining your job?

Fortunately, I carried out the Ahlan! internship at 15, so I was still very young, but I just knew I had to be a journalist. So every choice I made from then on was focussed around pursuing my career in journalism. I chose English Literature and Media Studies (along with Economics) for my A-Levels, and knew it had to be a degree in Journalism once I finished high school. 
Going to Kingston University and studying Journalism was the best thing I could have done. They taught me so much in those three years such as; magazine journalism, how to write a story for a newspaper, arts and entertainment journalism and we even had a practical module where we had the opportunity to work on our university’s award-winning newspaper, The River. Although many people now say that you don’t need a degree to do journalism, I strongly disagree. It was vital for me and taught me skills that have helped me find a career in the industry.


Could you tell us about some of the work experience placements/internships you did?

I’ve mentioned it above but I started with an internship at Ahlan! Magazine, that was a brief two week stint, but it was enough to show me what is involved when preparing a magazine. At 15, that was vital because you really are clueless about how much work and effort goes into that magazine you flick through when you’re on the bus or relaxing at home. 
 
I was then chosen to be one of the 120 students on my course for a placement at Haymarket Publications for the Haymarket Project, where we worked alongside Jaguar UK to plan ways to target a younger audience for their products. I learnt a lot from this experience, predominantly; how to work well with a team. We were split into two teams for this project and were surprisingly competitive. We used our initiative and did market research, and got extremely creative with advertisements and app ideas. It was great fun and I made some great contacts within Haymarket. 
 
In my third year at Kingston University, I was selected to be the Chief Sub-Editor for the award-winning university newspaper, The River. This was completely new to me and it entailed proof-reading copy, coming up with headlines (I really enjoyed that part!), writing stories for the paper itself and uploading copy to the website while promoting it and writing stories for the site as well. This was vital as I’d never worked with online journalism before and I realised I had a passion for it. I also had a chance to utilise social media in order to drive traffic to the website and managed to have the most read story on The River’s website that semester! it was also brilliant for experiencing what a ‘real’ newsroom was like. We stayed there until about 11pm or midnight on deadline day and had to make plenty of different decisions. I think that experience was invaluable. 
 
I had avoided internships after leaving university because our tutor’s did advise us that we were now journalists, and not ‘aspiring’ journalists. We had the skills needed and were ready for a job. However, as we all know, the job market (especially for us graduates) is a bit of a mess. There are often plenty of people going for one role and to even bag an interview is challenging. I thought the situation would be different in Dubai, and in a way it was. I had the opportunity to intern with two very successful publications here, and I’m sure if I’d tried for an internship at Heat, Cosmopolitan or Glamour magazine in the UK, I’d have had to wait a few months. 
 
Though I have been interning for four months now, I can’t say I regret it at all. I’ve learnt a lot, got plenty of bylines in Ahlan! online, the magazine and in Cosmopolitan magazine, which are all extremely valuable. I’ve done all sorts while I have been at these two magazines. 
During my last week at Ahlan! magazine, I was walking past a colleagues desk and asked what she was doing, she casually said she was writing interview questions for the world-famous DJ Tiesto. I was immediately shocked and told her how jealous I was, she told me she was just going to do it over the phone as she didn’t have time to go to the event he was at and asked if I fancied going. I jumped at the chance, prepared 10 questions for him, hopped in a taxi and was able to go and interview him (while shaking like a leaf). The article was published in the magazine and I met one of my favourite DJ’s. 
At Cosmo, I’ve done a few vox-pops, which involved me going to various locations in Dubai and asking 20 guys a different question every month, and asking 15 girls ‘What’s On Your Mind’. Both have been placed in the magazine and I’ve also got bylines in some of the fashion sections and shoots because I’ve helped to collate pictures for them or assisted on a shoot.
 
The experience has been well worth it and without the internship, I’d never have got the job I was offered yesterday. It’s all about networking and being in the right place at the right time! 
 

How did you land an internship at Cosmopolitan and what sorts of tasks did you do there?

I got the internship at Cosmopolitan by plucking up the courage (it took me about half an hour to make myself do it) to call the editor of the magazine and ask her if we could meet to discuss any potential job roles or an internship at the magazine. She said that was absolutely fine (she was SO friendly – not the Devil Wear’s Prada type I had expected) and we met the next week. I was shaking like a leaf and panicking, but as soon as we said hello to each other and got talking I immediately felt at ease. We discussed my love for Cosmopolitan magazine (it’s always been a lifelong dream to work there) and hers! She said she could tell I was hungry for experience and the chance to work for them and asked me if I could start the following week. I couldn’t believe my luck and realised that you do just need to call people, emails are so easily ignored – especially by journalists who get hundreds every day – and the worst thing people can say is NO. Once you’ve realised that, you notice that it isn’t half as scary as you’d made it out to be in your head. 
I told the editor, after week two, that I wanted to keep interning as I didn’t fancy going back to being at home and waiting for employers to get back to me after sending out umpteen applications. She said it was only if I wanted to as there was a fine line between experience and exploitation. I told her I was enjoying myself and my time at the magazine so much, that I didn’t want to leave. So, she extended my internship indefinitely, until I decide I want to leave.


Now about the Job Hunt. Where did you look for journalism jobs and where do you think was the most helpful?

I started by looking on job websites and sending out plenty of applications, it was a long, tough and demotivating process as it would either result in a rejection or no response at all. So I thought it was time to just get myself out there, I contacted everyone I knew within the media industry and met lots of people for coffee! Though many of them couldn’t help me, they got me in touch with other people and it was all brilliant for motivating me and encouraging me. However, the best thing I did was contacting editors and journalists themselves for advice or potential job roles. You have to make your presence known, don’t just send an impersonal email that looks like something you’ve copied and pasted to 20 other magazines. Call them up and meet them, bring examples of your past work with you and if you really want the job, show it! Obviously, don’t be over enthusiastic, but don’t sit there and expect them to know how eager you are. 


What do you think made you stand out from others in the application process?

With the role I’ve just been offered (and accepted within about two seconds of receiving the email!), it was because Cosmopolitan, Middle East’s deputy editor Brooke, was out with her friend from Good Taste magazine. Her friend mentioned they were looking for a writer and Brooke put me forward and apparently said lovely things about me. I had no idea, and one morning an email popped up in my inbox from another lady who worked in Good Taste magazine, and it said that she had heard I was interning at Cosmo and they had a role going, and would I be interested in finding out more about it/applying. I said I definitely was and asked how she had found me. I was desperate for the role, not just because I wanted a job, but because it sounded amazing! 
They then asked me to write to pieces in the style I had seen in the magazine, which I did before a long weekend we had here. The following week she told me she would get back to me asap regarding the job and hopefully by the end of that week (last week). I was starting to lose hope by Thursday (our equivalent to Friday – our weekend here is Friday and Saturday) and me being me, thought I hadn’t got it. On Sunday morning, I emailed asking if there had been any developments and was told that I would be told asap and to hang in there! Then yesterday morning, I received an email saying I’d been offered the job and would be starting on Sunday 4 August, after I’m back from London (I’m going to London from 1st to 31st July.)
For me, I think it was all about proving myself at Cosmo, I tried to give it my all and got on really well with the team. That’s important because when you’re working with someone and you’re the new person, it is daunting not knowing whether they’re going to like you or not. But for Brooke to have put me forward for this role, clearly meant I had shown some pleasing results within the magazine! 


Could you tell us a bit about your new job, what you will be doing and what the publication is about?

The magazine is called Good Taste, I’ll be a writer and have been told I’ll mainly be in charge of the Style section, but will also be helping with other pages such as; events, restaurant reviews, reader homes and gardens and whatever else I can chip in with. The publication covers several areas including; beauty, fashion, lifestyle, food, events and travel. You can check out the website at www.goodtaste.ae , but it hasn’t been updated for quite a while! 


Where do you hope to see yourself career-wise in 5 years time?

This is tough! Well, I feel like I’ve exhausted myself going from school, to university, to placements, internships and moving between London and Dubai. Therefore, I’d quite like to be settled at Good Taste magazine. Though, I am an adventurous person, I’d like to really grow in this role and become a permanent member of the team. It’ll be great experience and I’m sure there will be a variety of challenges along the way.
Alternatively, I’d love the opportunity to work in television as a presenter or news anchor. That’d also be a dream come true, but there are no plans for that in the near future. I’m also not too sure how to go about it, and for now, writing is my passion! 


And finally, can you tell us something random about yourself? 🙂

Ooh! I’m awful at this question. OK, got it. I’m quite good at doing various accents, it’s my little talent. I can do the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, a few from Made In Chelsea, I’m brilliant at the Geordie accent (so I’ve been told), someone once believed I was actually from there and when I told them I was actually from London, they didn’t believe me! I hope that’s random enough :p

Thank you!

Follow Surena on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SurenaSays

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