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Intern Memo: Q&A with Tanner Stransky

By Gradspot Dot Com

The Intern Memo is a free email newsletter with a mix of event listings, intern stories and career advice specifically for interns—basically all you need to land the perfect internship and then to get you through it. Each week this summer, we'll feature advice from the Memo Man to help you interns get it cracking in your temporary employment.

Q&A with Tanner Stransky

As an editorial assistant for Entertainment Weekly, Tanner Stransky knows his pop culture—and he knows how to land what is pretty much a dream job. Which may be why he relates to our favorite office heroine, Ugly Betty.

Tanner’s new book, Find Your Inner Ugly Betty: 25 Career Lessons for Young Professionals Inspired by TV Shows, is filled with practical tips, real-life anecdotes and expert advice on getting ahead. So we sat down with him to ask a few questions.

Intern Memo: What inspired this book?

Tanner: Obviously, Ugly Betty! Actually, after seeing my weekly recaps about Ugly Betty that are posted to EW.com, Kaplan came to me with the kernel of the idea and thought maybe I could flesh it out. They saw Ugly Betty as an example of an exemplary young professional, and I couldn't have agreed more! As I developed the idea, I decided to add in examples of other young popular young professionals from television—most notably, the gangs from The Office, Mary Tyler Moore and Grey's Anatomy. But then, there are examples from Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Sex and the City, and Damages, too.

I remember when I started my career, it felt the good tips and tricks for being successful in the workplace were passed on through word of mouth rather than in some sort of guide. What's the best way to approach your boss? How do you deal with catty coworkers? What's the best way to develop a "signature you" calling card at work? These are some of the simple things I cover in the book. And, what do you know? The young professionals in pop culture—those that this demographic so identify with—are dealing with exactly the same things. It just seemed like the perfect way to bring together pop culture and solid career advice.

Intern Memo: Did anything surprise you while you were writing this book?

Tanner: I was surprised at what bad examples a lot of TVs young professionals are! I mean, Ugly Betty is obviously a great example of tackling your career, but so many—Meredith on Grey's Anatomy and Dwight from The Office, for example—are doing things all wrong! So what I did was turn their deadly workplace romances and office annoyances into examples of what not to do. Also, the anecdote from "Real Betty" Elizabeth in Chapter 18, titled Keep Up Your Guard, was totally unexpected! She told me all about this young gal who got totally trashed at a work party and ended up losing her job about it. The thing was, though, she worked in television, so it was a very high-profile business, and the New York Post's Page Six got ahold of the girl and dubbed her "The Party Pooper" because she literally, well, couldn't control herself at the party. I never expected to hear something so disgusting, but it was shocking and certainly something we can all learn from!

Intern Memo: Can you mention a TV moment—on Ugly Betty or another show—that you used as an instructional point in the book?

Tanner: I really like the moment I used for Chapter 21, titled “Ask for What You Want.” Anyone who watched The Office will be familiar with Darryl Philbin, who works in the warehouse at Dunder-Mifflin. Anyway, the example is simple: He's doing the job of two people and wants a raise. So what does he do? He just straight-up asks for it. I think a lot of young people these days don't think they can just ask for what you want. Granted, you may not want to go with the stark, played-up-for-comedic-purposes way that Darryl did it, but the tip is good at its core. It's easy these days to get stomped all over if you don't stand up for yourself. I think that's so important. I didn't write about this example specifically in the book, but I wouldn't have the specific position at Entertainment Weekly I have now if I hadn't just asked whether I could be moved. My bosses didn't even know that I was interested in moving! And the fact of the matter is that now I'm in a much better position overall with the possibility of promotion.

Intern Memo: Do you think the job market this year is particularly challenging for recent grads because of the economy? If so, is there any silver lining to that?

Tanner: I haven’t heard that much about it being particularly difficult for grads this year. The folks I know have gotten jobs in their sectors, but it's always a challenge. From what I can tell, tons of job cuts happen further up the chains because there are so, so many baby boomers out there in needless jobs that have huge salaries. Companies are more than happy to hire bring, young, energetic grads who won't cost them so much—at least at first. So maybe that's the silver lining?

Intern Memo: What is the most important bit of advice for people searching for their first jobs/internships?

Tanner: I really do believe in the advice of Chapter 1: “Kill 'Em with Confidence.” Much of my book is concerned with how to be successful once you're in the workplace, whether that be in the capacity of an internship or an entry-level position. But this chapter really applies to anyone—and especially if you're applying and interviewing for a position. Basically, the advice is to "fake it til you make it." Everyone has probably heard that before, but it's just really so true and at its core, it's so Betty. She walked into Mode on her first day without a clue about fashion. She was wearing a heinous Guadalajara poncho for goodness sakes! But the thing that made her successful from day one was her confidence. Even if she didn't know exactly what was going on, she didn't let it show. She asked questions where appropriate and really tackled anything. That's how young folks should approach applying for jobs, too. Play up your skills the best you can! Give good examples! Show your competence! I don't care how corny it sounds—and believe me, I know it sounds corny, but the person interviewing you—or alternatively, your boss—will believe in you only if you first believe in yourself.

Melissa Walker is an author and contributor to the Intern Memo. Her next book, Violet in Private, is out in August.

The Intern Memo

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