Digital Editor Cait Emma Burke on creating your own opportunities

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“A rule that I’ve lived by throughout my twenties, especially in the early stages of building my career, is that action creates more action in your life, and inaction means things stay static.”

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Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While it might look like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a heck of a lot of hard work involved in getting there.

So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?

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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to people who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

At this year’s Paypal Melbourne Fashion Festival, we’re taking our much-loved How I Got Here series live, and interviewing three fashion industry insiders about how they scored their dream job. If you can’t get to Melbourne, don’t stress – we’ll be sharing career stories and advice from our interviewees here, too.

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This week, we’re talking to writer, editor, copywriter and Fashion Journal’s very own Digital Editor, Cait Emma Burke. As Cait is my boss, I compared my writing of this intro to an X Factor contestant belting a judge’s song back at them. It’s risky to challenge an expert at their own craft, but as Cait shares with us, “taking on opportunities that terrified me… got me where I am today”.

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Cait’s job here at Fashion Journal is extensive and endlessly varied (ranging from sex toy reviews to SEO optimisation) and her intrinsic understanding of the editorial world allows her to switch between many content-centric hats.

Like many roles in the fashion media industry, Cait’s career path was one involving internships, freelance gigs, moments of imposter syndrome and a healthy number of professional leaps of faith. It’s her ability to cultivate connections (and more often than not, turn them into friendships) and tell meaningful, authentic stories that have made her the multifaceted professional and inspiring mentor she is today.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

I’m a writer, editor and copywriter, and I’m the Digital Editor here at Fashion Journal. Alongside our Managing Editor Giulia, I head up FJ’s content strategy and manage the day-to-day running of the publication. Basically, this means I commission content, edit, write, help with the ideation and execution side of branded content, run our socials, and manage and train our interns and our lovely editorial assistant, Izzy. It also involves regularly reviewing analytics and SEO and being a bit of an ideas machine – content never sleeps etc.

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Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

Post-uni, I was feeling pretty lost. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in media studies and theatre, but deep down I’d always had this inkling that editorial was where I was really meant to be (something the stacks of magazines in my parents’ garage can attest to. I hate to throw magazines away). I was 22 at the time and wracked with worry that I’d fallen behind – many of the people I admired who were in the industry had studied journalism, done multiple internships with magazines while at university, and were already in entry-level jobs at big-name publications.

After going travelling for six months, I came back to live at my parents’ place and figure out some sort of career direction. I clearly remember having an epiphany of sorts one day, where I basically realised if I wanted to be a writer and editor, I had to start creating opportunities for myself. I reached out to a friend from high school who was running a great, now defunct, women’s collective and online publication, The Ladies Network. I told her I knew I could write and that I was keen to get my foot in the door, and I started an editorial internship with them.

I was fortunate enough to have savings and to be living at home at this time, so I used the spare time I had to write and apply for all the editorial internships I could find. I eventually landed one at Acclaim Magazine in Melbourne, a city I was already planning on moving to. Acclaim proved to be an important stepping stone for me. The connections I made and the experience I accrued really set me up well for a career in this industry. I went from being an intern to freelancing for them while working in fashion retail and doing freelance copywriting on the side.

Eventually, I started doing editorial assistant contract work for Acclaim and then pitched the idea of me being the publication’s Contributing Editor (if you don’t ask, you don’t receive). I spent a year in that role while studying for a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT University. I learnt so much from the people I worked with at Acclaim, many of whom went on to work for places like i-D Magazine and Depop, and have proven to be valuable mentors and industry connections.

Becoming the Digital Editor at Fashion Journal was a steep learning curve – it was my first full-time editorial role, and the first time I had as much pressure, responsibility and expectation on my shoulders. COVID really kicked into gear a few weeks into the job, and I was thrust into working at home while barely knowing how to do my role. To say that the first year was difficult would be an understatement, but I can see now just how much I grew from it. I’m lucky to have an incredible manager in Giulia, FJ’s Managing Editor – we make a great team and know how to play to each other’s strengths which makes the face-paced, at times stressful, nature of the job much easier to deal with.

She’s helped me finesse my workflow and become more process-oriented, as well as generally building up my confidence. It’s hard to condense my journey into a few neat paragraphs, but looking back, I can see that it’s following my gut, doing my best in every role I had, taking on opportunities that terrified me (and that I didn’t think I was qualified for) and nurturing industry connections that have got me where I am today.

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

Learning to manage my anxiety and self-doubt has been a huge challenge for me. Throughout most of my twenties, I put on a brave face for my employers and many people around me, but inside I was drowning in debilitating anxiety. I was chronically bad at comparing myself to others, whether career-wise, looks-wise, personality-wise – I was just constantly comparing and viewing myself as less than.

It’s taken almost eight years to figure out how to best manage it, and I’ll never be entirely free of anxiety, but I do credit putting myself into the situations my anxiety makes me want to avoid as being a huge help (aka exposure therapy). This could be interviewing a celebrity I admire, hosting a live panel at fashion week or taking on a role I don’t think I’m talented or experienced enough to do. I’ve found that my confidence increases and my anxiety decreases each time I put myself out of my comfort zone.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

It’s been said before, but the day-to-day of working in editorial is not particularly glamourous. It’s a lot of emailing, fixing up finicky mistakes, going back and forth with your team on Slack to finesse a title or figuring out how to make the images on the homepage work well together. It’s balancing many different priorities at once and jumping between diverse tasks.

One minute you’ll be planning out and commissioning content for the month ahead, and the next you’ll be fixing up some dry copy for a branded content piece, writing a long-form feature on a TikTok trend or explaining an element of our style guide to an intern. You really have to think on your feet and learn to be very ‘on’ and engaged when you’re at work. You also have to work bloody hard, and the hours can be long. But if you love words and content about fashion, beauty, sex and pop culture (all the good stuff in life in my opinion), then you’ll find the job immensely satisfying.

What’s the best part about your role?

I still pinch myself that I get to write about the aforementioned topics for a living. Sitting with my (very brilliant) team bouncing around ideas for our next articles or brainstorming a new content series is incredibly fun, and yes, the perks of the job are pretty excellent. Fashion shows, media events, free beauty products – the films about magazines did correctly depict this element of editorial.

But it’s my close-knit team, and our collective love for our local creatives and the creative industry at large, that makes my work so enjoyable. I’ve always loved supporting people around me and finding them opportunities where possible, so seeking out new designers and creatives to feature in our articles/to profile and support is definitely one of the best parts of my role. The community we’ve cultivated, particularly in the last few years, has been so incredible to be a part of.

What would surprise people about your role?

The sheer volume of emails I get (and no, I’m not good at managing them. It’s my Achilles heel.).

What skills have served you well in your industry?

I’m a people person, and that’s definitely served me well. I’m skilled at making and nurturing connections, and this has helped me in a variety of ways, whether it’s former employees or managers putting me forward for freelance work or cultivating friendships in creative industries and featuring these friends in content or campaigns we’ve worked on.

I have a beady eye for detail, something that is very necessary if you want to work as an editor, and I have good instincts. It’s taken some time, but I can identify pretty quickly whether there’s a story in something, how to package it up and what elements readers will find interesting. I have a strong understanding of how FJ should look and sound and what type of content we should and shouldn’t be covering, and I try not to second guess myself much when it comes to this.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

A rule that I’ve lived by throughout my twenties, especially in the early stages of building my career, is that action creates more action in your life, and inaction means things stay static. If you want to work in editorial/be a writer or editor, start doing something small today that can push you towards that end goal.

What about a practical tip?

Continuing on the action point from the previous question, that ‘action’ can be as simple as reading about people who are in roles that you want to be in (may I suggest this very series, How I Got Here?). It could be emailing or DMing people in the industry and asking to buy them a coffee and get their advice, putting together a slick-looking CV and cover letter, or starting a journal where you jot down article ideas or simply write for pleasure. These actions may seem quite small, but they will keep you moving forward, even if it’s at a slower pace than you’d like – action is action, at the end of the day, and we all have our own timelines. Try to focus on that and take it one day at a time.

@caitemmaburke

You can catch Cait at PayPal Melbourne Fashion Week for our How I Got Here live series. Find out more here.

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

Looking to step up to a career in media? Each week we send a wrap of industry jobs straight to your inbox. Enter your details below and we’ll keep you in the loop, or browse current openings here.





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