The following was written by Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism alumna Jasmin Suknanan ’18, Associate Finance Editor at BuzzFeed.
If you knew me from 2015 to 2018 when I was a journalism student, you probably remember my non-stop chatter about food, travel, and social media. Or perhaps you recall a few glimpses of me sitting in the Melville Library Starbucks — caramel macchiato by my side — working on a new advice post for my blog. I was working toward a career as a lifestyle writer, and my past internship experiences at beauty, fashion, food, and pop culture websites solidified me as a strong candidate for the job after graduation. That was 2018. But in 2020, the pandemic changed the trajectory of my career in ways I never saw coming.
Two weeks after graduating from Stony Brook University, I began a fellowship as a food video producer at INSIDER, one of my dream companies. I starred in videos highlighting New York City restaurants, interviewed chefs from all over the world, produced more content than anyone else on the video side, and I took on ambitious field shoots that challenged the status quo of my team’s content (and it all paid off tenfold). So it came as a total shock when I didn’t get promoted to Associate Producer after my fellowship ended.
I was distraught, unemployed, and facing off against student loan payments. Over 90 job applications later, I landed another fellowship on the editorial team at BuzzFeed, another dream company. I had applied to BuzzFeed every year since my sophomore year of college and now, finally, the hiring manager was on the other line offering me the role. I began working there in March 2019 covering, well, just about everything you see on the BuzzFeed website — recipes, Twitter and Reddit threads, celebrity trends, travel, millennial culture, and (of course) quizzes.
While I enjoyed the role, I learned from the hiring manager that once our fellowship program ended in March 2020, there would be no guarantee that we would be converted into staff writers; internships in the media industry were no longer a pipeline to hire. Having already experienced this first hand at INSIDER, I took it to heart. I was determined to stay employed at BuzzFeed, which meant I needed to be ready to pounce at the first sight of an opportunity to move up. So when I saw that the market team was hiring a Jr. Writer to cover lifestyle products, I threw my hat into the ring for the role.
At that point, I had only gone through about four months of my year-long fellowship. I knew I had all the skills for the market job, but it felt a little too early to just abandon the fellowship role. At the same time, I knew that hesitating could cost me the opportunity — besides, trying and not succeeding was better than not trying at all. The hiring manager for my fellowship helped me secure an internal interview with the market team’s deputy editor. And my editor at the time put in a good word since I had a knack for writing about lifestyle in an impactful way. I ended up getting the job. Our team faced massive growth since 2019 as we surpassed our goals with flying colors. And when the pandemic hit in 2020, we proved to be a huge asset to the company.
The pandemic was a learning experience for everyone. As its financial toll on everyday people became more apparent, I felt lucky to still have an income and to have saved a little over the years. But I quickly realized that I had been doing the bare minimum when it came to my finances. And as the first in my family to attend college and become a corporate employee, I felt like the bare minimum wasn’t enough. I thought about the other people in my position whose financial literacy also stopped at simply paying down debt and stashing away cash here and there. We only took the steps we were familiar with, which is what our families knew enough about to teach us.
I explored other ways to improve my finances and build a more solid nest egg with long-term goals in mind. I listened to financial podcasts while I worked, read personal finance-focused books, and spent my evenings researching even more about the financial topics I still had questions on. I spent almost every waking hour consuming content around finance and the more I learned, the more I loved it.
I came to understand the importance of building generational wealth, especially for a first generation American in the workforce like myself. And it seemed as if others were also interested in learning about the steps they needed to take to improve their financial lives. I started to feel like teaching others everything I was learning about money could be bigger than anything I was doing on the largest editorial team at BuzzFeed. Unfortunately, BuzzFeed didn’t have a personal finance team at the time.
And then — as if the universe had read my heart and knew what I wanted — our site director announced that they were looking for someone to write personal finance articles and build out a vertical for BuzzFeed. I couldn’t have emailed her faster to share my interest. Again, I jumped on the opportunity and gave myself to the process, and it wound up paying off.
Without a doubt, my work as BuzzFeed’s first Associate Personal Finance Editor has given me the unique opportunity to pioneer content at a very early stage of my career while I dive even deeper into a topic that has become very important to me. Since creating personal finance content, I have gotten insight from billionaire wealth managers, women of color making waves in investing, and everyday millennials working to fund their futures.
I am grateful for all of my experiences — blogging, paid and unpaid internships, the fellowship that ended in heartbreak, the fellowship that ended with a job offer, and my current role. If I could give advice to current students and recent graduates, it’d go something like this:
- Be flexible with the verticals you’re willing to cover. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it — you might uncover an affinity for reporting on something you never thought you could enjoy. And, that coverage could be a huge asset when it comes to finding your next opportunity.
- It’s easy to think that you no longer have to (virtually) attend networking events or pay attention to job listings once you have a role. But you should dig your well before you’re thirsty. Never stop learning and never stop improving.
- Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re interested in. When an opportunity opens up, you’ll be at the top of their mind because they know where your passions lie. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.