Nadine Mendoza says she’s been lucky. Maybe, but more likely, Mendoza’s thriving gig career proves one of the first principles of successful gigging – the more people you know, the better your chances of working. It’s all about connections.
“Most of my gigs came through friends and former colleagues,” says Mendoza, who hasn’t had a full-time job in six years. Though she doesn’t wait for a call, “I reach out to people who might have ideas or connections and I scour the Internet.” According to the job search experts, letting everyone know you’re on the hunt for work is essential. You never know where you’re next gig will come from.
With a BA and Masters from USC in journalism and film, Mendoza worked the first few years out of college in film, eventually becoming a story editor. Disillusioned she got a full-time job at the Los Angeles Times, though she continued to freelance, connecting with editors and then keeping in touch.
“I was lucky at the LA Times. The editor of the entertainment section went to USC too. He felt a kinship I think.” During her LAT stint she made friends that she has still sees today.
She wanted to freelance. (It wasn’t called gigging in those days.) “Journalism was different then. Magazines, newspapers, everyone was looking for good writers. Now, so many outlets just want to get some cheap content slapped up. The market is diluted and pay has plummeted.”
Mendoza was enjoying a flexible, work-at-home situation when a former colleague recruited her to an Internet startup. She heeded the siren call of the new. “That was challenging and fun,” says the Los Angeles native, “but then I got recruited by a friend of my former boss’ wife, who’d heard that I was looking for something new. She got me a spot at People Magazine.”
It’s true you never know where your next job will come from, but don’t expect people to do everything for you,” advises Mendoza. I’m constantly “out there” on the phone, going to meetings and mixers. You have to be tenacious without being a pest. And that’s a fine art.”
Connections are paramount and you have to keep making them. Mendoza takes notes on her phone after every meeting or mixer. If she asks for someone’s card, and they don’t have any, she makes a note of their name and looks them up, so that she can contact them directly.
You’re feeling too shy to attend networking events, plan lunch with former colleagues or make a call to someone you don’t know well? You’re going to be a lot more uncomfortable if you have to live in your parents’ basement forever. If you don’t have connections get out there and drum them up. People like to help but you have to let them know.
Mendoza’s career is built on connections, but those individuals have to know and respect your work. She’s gotten both gigs and full-time work from her former editors and colleagues, many of whom are familiar with her work. They’ve enabled her to work at the premier entertainment magazines either full time or in gigs. Her gig story may sound easy but there is a solid foundation of hard work that made it possible.
Not everyone is made for the particular hardships of gigs — longer-term relationships with employers—or freelance, one-off pieces. Despite her own success, Mendoza doesn’t recommend this for everyone. “You do work harder. You are always dealing with situations you don’t understand and you probably never will. ‘Why didn’t they hire me? Why did my idea get turned down?’” It took me a while to accept that, but on the other hand, you don’t have to contend with office politics.”
While she was working full time at TV Guide, a friend called to tell her that she had been offered a job teaching journalism, but couldn’t take it. Was she interested? Definitely. Mendoza began teaching entertainment journalism at Columbia College of Chicago, which offered students a semester in Hollywood.
“I didn’t think I’d like it,” says Mendoza. “I loved it.” She continued to freelance and teach at Columbia, but after a few years, their Hollywood program was put on hiatus. She immediately rustled up a teaching job at a for-profit online school and after a year she accepted a full-time position. With that came the headache of meetings, pleasing a dean and endless paperwork.” She loved the teaching so she stuck it out.
Online schools have had problems and Mendoza’s employer was no exception. She left her position but is still looking for online education work, through word of mouth and an adjunct professor job board. Right now she has a couple of gigs, including with an online media company where she has mostly written about entertainment but is transitioning into more technical writing. You guessed it. She talked to a woman she had mentored years before, who had some work for her. Six years later she’s still at it.