As most people reading this blog have probably heard, the New York Times is looking to hire a travel writer. And based on the criteria listed, we may all have a shot. Now just as movie producers sometimes hold an open casting call to drum up press when they had Jennifer Lawrence in mind for the role all along, it may be the case that the New York Times is planning to hire one of their trusty reporters for the coveted position. But the thought of getting paid to travel to each destination on the New York Times list of 52 Places to Go is so tantalizing that we may as well apply, even if it’s just for the sake of having two weeks after we submit our application in which it’s theoretically possible that we get chosen. So without further ado, here is my advice for improving your chances of scoring the travel writer job.
1. Show them your unique spark.
I’ll never forget the advice I got from a broadway actor when I was prepping for a big musical theater audition: “There will always be someone who can do more pirouettes than you can. The only way to stand out is to show them your personality, because there will never be anyone who can be you better than you can.” Unless you’re Nicholas Kristof (in which case I would faint knowing that you’re reading my blog), there will always be someone with more journalism awards than you. If they pick you, it won’t be because you had the most impressive resume – it will be because you have a spark in your writing that they couldn’t find elsewhere. It will be because the places on their list are more interesting to hear about from someone who has your specific combination of life experiences and original outlook on the world. Now maybe you’re not a ginger who was homeschooled by her zoologist parents throughout their 12-year journey through Africa (I’m looking at you, Cady Heron), but often times what makes us unique is so ubiquitous that we almost forget. Do you have a laid back midwestern vibe like Marshall on How I Met Your Mother? Are you a pre-successful DJ from Florida like Jason on The Good Place? Play it up! The reason these tv characters are memorable are that they are both a tiny bit of a caricature, but also have enough dimensionality that they don’t seem like they belong in an SNL sketch.
2. Prove to them that you can parachute into a new culture and that you can relate your discoveries to readers in an entertaining manner.
According to the job description, the winning candidate will possess “the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence,” and I’m 82.3% sure that they meant parachute in a metaphorical sense. The catch here is that half of what makes the job so exciting is that most people would never have the money to “parachute” into a new exotic destination every week. But thanks to globalization, you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to prove to the New York Times that you can discover a new culture. What are the major immigrant populations in your closest city? Go beyond ordering from an ethnic restaurant and try to discover the more intricate aspects of their culture. Examine how they bridge the gap between their home culture and the culture of their new country. Don’t live anywhere near a city? Those of us who do actually find rural life fascinating! One of the most interesting cultural exposes I’ve ever read was Stephanie McCrummen’s “The Homecoming: A young woman at ‘peak enlightenment’ returns to her roots in Trump country.” Just be sure to unleash your inner anthropologist, and you will have a great piece to show!
3. Leverage your seemingly unrelated experiences!
As this is such a unique position, nobody will be able to talk about their previous experiences in an identical role. That said, the New York Times isn’t going to take a total gamble on you just because you have a unique voice and you’re a great writer. The winning candidate will need to meet strict deadlines, respond well to editors’ feedback, and grow an audience… all while constantly adjusting to the ins-and-outs of new countries. Do you write a new report twice a week on a stock in your company’s portfolio? That’s evidence that you can meet deadlines! Do you carefully review the stylistic advice your professor gave in class and earn straight “A”s as a result? That’s responding to feedback! Are you an Instagram addict with thousands of followers? That’s proof that you can generate an audience on social media! Convince the New York Times that you are a low-risk high-rewards candidate.
4. Encourage your friends and family to apply!
This one may seem counterintuitive, but your odds are low to begin with, and someone you care about scoring the position would be super cool. Life is better when you try to lift the people around you up.