What is it Like to Get Hired at Student Life Network?

Getting a job won’t be about your education. It’ll be about your passion. It’ll be about how much you’re willing to learn and how much work you’re willing to put in. How bad you want it. How serious you are about achieving it.

I don’t think there was any other reason I got hired at Student Life Network. I planted the seeds to eventually landing this job six years ago. And I’ve been working towards getting good at what I wanted to do ever since.

Your story, I’m sure will be different. But I’m hoping you can steal some lessons from mine.

If you’ve ever felt hopelessly unprepared to grasp a potentially life changing event, then you know how I felt sitting in my interview for Student Life Network.

Worst. Interview. Ever.

I gave the worst interview of my life. Or maybe it was just as good as every interview I had given up until that point, because I never knew what I should have been doing.

If you’ve ever felt hopelessly unprepared to grasp a potentially life changing event, then you know how I felt sitting in my interview for Student Life Network.

The experience was doubly painful, because not only did I really want to work for Student Life Network, but if there were ever two people I ever gave a flying fuck about “impressing” it was Ryan Bolton and Stephen Sills… and they were both sitting across from me, grilling me.

Sitting in a brick-clad boardroom, with giant bay windows overlooking Toronto’s Queen St, Ryan and Sills were trying to get me to tell my story and figure out what my motivations were. They wanted to know if I was right for the job.

But I treated the whole thing like it was a test. I gave these shitty, poorly rehearsed, smiley answers. All false charisma and “please like me, I really want this job” written on my forehead.

What I wasn’t telling them was why I was interested in the job, or in the company. I wasn’t asking what challenges they were facing. Instead I just kept (annoyingly) trying to sell my skills.

Imagine you wanted to buy a car. You had done your research and you were seriously interested in buying that car. So you go down to the lot to see the car in person. But then the salesperson just keeps listing selling features until they’re blue in the face. I was the sales guy.

“This guy knows you’re totally bullshitting your way through this.”

I bumbled and stumbled and ranted, until I saw Sills grow visibly frustrated. He grabbed the bridge of his nose, slammed down his green, I-don’t-have-time-to-eat-lunch smoothie and stood up.

“Well, looks like you’re not getting this job,” My brain told me, deadpan. “This guy knows you’re totally bullshitting your way through this.”

Sills proceeded to furiously draw out the entire SLN communications model on a whiteboard in front of me and explain what their problems and challenges were.

I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something like, “Look man, we know who you are and this is not a job interview. Do not think of it like that. If you want to be onboard, then you’re onboard. But I need you to solve these problems, and I’m not going to lie, the expectations are through the fucking roof. So take a couple of days and think about it, and let me know if you’re serious.”

And then he just walked out of the room.

How did I even get that interview?

The short answer is that I had written for Student Life Network in the past, Sills liked my writing, Bolton liked me, and I had come highly recommended by friends I worked with at the Sheridan Student Union (SSU), who now worked for SLN.

Ryan Bolton gave me my first ever writing opportunity. He was the editor of the SSU’s magazine, TRAVIS. And the guy who was the Creative Director at the SSU when I jumped on? Stephen Sills. Although we wouldn’t meet in-person until my not-interview.

I became really involved with TRAVIS for my two remaining years at Sheridan, so much so that I took over as Editor-in-Chief of its replacement publication, TheCircuit for two years after I graduated. And by “graduated,” I mean that I dropped out of journalism school.

These years were crucial. I sincerely had no clue what I was doing at first, so I struggled and failed a lot. Probably for the whole first year. But I kept trying and kept learning.

If I have any advice for current students, it’s that you’ve got to get involved now. Start gaining experience, building your portfolio and making connections.

I became dedicated to becoming a better writer, a better editor and trying to help students do the same. If I have any advice for current students, it’s that you’ve got to get involved now. Start gaining experience, building your portfolio and making connections.

Don’t do it for the money (there won’t be any). Don’t even do it so you can get a job later.

Do it because you love it. Do it because you’ll worry about it like it’s the most important thing in the world. Take every opportunity and squeeze every single drop of experience out of it that you can.

I left the SSU to learn to write for film and TV in Vancouver. I graduated with a few awards, and even though I was beginning to network with people in the film industry, my bank account dictated that I take a full time job running a blog for a business improvement association (BIA) in a Vancouver neighbourhood famous for its gaslights.

I hated that job. There was a lack of leadership and creativity, but worst of all, there wasn’t an initiative to help anybody.

I was there about two months before I decided to hand in my resignation. I moved back to Ontario and began my new job search. But it didn’t last long.

Ryan replied back later that afternoon, asking me if I was interested in coming in to chat about a job.

Sitting in my inbox was a message to the SLN blog writers, talking about a possible editorial board to generate story ideas. I wanted to be on that board.

I actually hesitated sending Ryan Bolton, my first editor and writing mentor, and now Communications Director at Student Life Network, an email. I figured he certainly didn’t need or want my help and would reply back with a “thanks, but no thanks” or some other polite way to tell me to go fuck myself.

But I wanted to help student writers again. I wanted to help students again. So I put my self-doubt and social anxiety aside, and asked Ryan if there was anyway I could come in and volunteer my time. Ryan replied back later that afternoon, asking me if I was interested in coming in to chat about a job.

Hell yeah I wanted to come in and chat about a job.

Turns out Ryan really needed somebody to help manage the flood of content at SLN. He had been searching for the right person. Someone he could work with and who gelled with the culture.

What I did after my interview.

I knew I had done a horrible job in that boardroom. But… I actually felt really good.

I decided I only wanted to work there. For those guys. I knew that job meant constantly being pushed to be smarter and more creative every day I went into that office. Which was really intimidating, but really appealing.

I wrote down things I wanted to do in my previous jobs but couldn’t because I was limited by resources or short-sighted leaders or my own enthusiasm.

I stopped being anxious to get a job at Student Life Network, and began to be excited. I was so pumped up, I started writing down a communications plan in the Google Docs app on my phone while I was walking down a busy Toronto street. I probably almost died six times.

I wrote down things I wanted to do in my previous jobs but couldn’t because I was limited by resources or short-sighted leaders or my own enthusiasm.

I sent Ryan an email letting him know just how much the conversation with him and Sills had lit a fire under my ass, and I spent that weekend working on my communications plan.

My interview had been on Friday, so I made sure Ryan had my plan sitting in his inbox Monday morning. About a week after that, Ryan called me back in for another chat, this time with the company COO, Michael.

Michael didn’t really say much. It was mostly just a meet and greet. But Ryan and I chatted about my plan and how we saw content rolling out over the course of a year. What the tone would be, what strategies I might use across SLN’s various platforms outside of the blog and so on. I felt much more comfortable in that interview.

Maybe three weeks went by after that chat when I sent Ryan another email asking about the status of the position. “Still interviewing other potential candidates. Hold tight.” Was Ryan’s response.

Finally, after another month of constantly refreshing my email inbox, I got a phone call from Ryan, offering me the job.

So, I work at SLN now.

Every day is a new problem to solve. I spend my days writing. Social media messages, blogs and emails—trying to be creative and interesting enough to get students’ attention, while managing deliverables to account managers and trying to find time for my passion projects.

All while continually asking myself, “how does this help students?”

You’re challenging each other and there’s a general sense of comradery. I imagine it’s a lot like being on a really good sports team.

Working at Student Life Network is work. But it can also feel a lot like hanging out with your friends and collaborating on something cool together. You’re challenging each other and there’s a general sense of comradery. I imagine it’s a lot like being on a really good sports team.

The hours are flexible, you can work from home if you want, but I haven’t since moving downtown, because coming into the office means free coffee, free snacks, good tunes and working next to some of the most creative people I know.

There have been a few perks, like interviewing Hollywood directors, checking out the offices of super cool companies in Toronto, and traveling across Canada to surprise some of our contest winners.

Best of all is that I’m once again coaching writers. I get to work with students who were in the same position I was the first time I emailed Ryan asking if I could write for TRAVIS. That’s the most rewarding thing.

Then there’s the mentors here. I learn something new from these guys every day, and there’s never been a time I couldn’t turn to them for help, guidance or the sincerest of feedback.

Sills shifted from being this super intimidating figure, to the guy I make morning coffee runs and just chat with. Sometimes about marketing. Sometimes just about movies. He refuses to tell anyone outside the office that he’s my boss.

And Ryan, my first ever writing coach? The dude who twice changed my life? The dude who I always wished I could be as good a writer as? Our desks are beside each other. We bounce ideas around and double over in laughter at least once a day. He tells people he’s my boss, but as far as bosses go, you could certainly do worse.

If you’re serious about helping people, willing to constantly challenge yourself to improve your craft and learn new things, then you’d probably be a great candidate here.

If you think you’ve got something you can contribute to the team, let me know; chrisd@studentlifenetwork.com.

But even if your path is taking you somewhere different, just sweat every part of the journey. Focus on what you want and be goddamn serious about getting good at what you want to be.

Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro is the Communications Manager at Student Life Network. He puts words together in fancy ways and has more cover-up tattoos than he'd care to admit.