As assistant web editor at America’s Test Kitchen, Charlotte Wilder, 25, is lucky enough to consider tasting treats just another day on the job. Yet, aside from the amazing food, Charlotte’s main focus is crafting thoughtful copy for all of ATK’s creative outlets, including articles and creating video content for the brand’s YouTube channel.
Like most successful people, Charlotte didn’t get where she is by sitting back and avoiding the grunt work. Before landing her job at ATK, she had already completed two internships, freelanced for a variety of publications and developed a significant following on her blog, The Wilder Things. After a brief stint at a job she didn’t love (literally lasting just one day!), Charlotte realized she didn’t want to settle, and kept chasing her dreams.
But, of course, the journey didn’t stop there! Charlotte remains challenged by her job every day, and says that as long as she’s learning, she knows she’s in the right place. Read the full story below
Her Starting Point
Many people find the transition between college and “real life” a bit daunting. Can you tell us about your journey between the two? What was your first job post-college?
I had always known that I wanted to work as a writer and editor, but those full-time positions were hard to come by in 2011 (and still are). I knew I’d have to prove myself before someone was going to take a chance on me. So I took two internships the fall after I graduated—one at a publishing company and one at a literary agency—and moved back in with my parents outside of Boston.
I also started posting on The Wilder Things regularly after college in 2009, the summer after my sophomore year. I began to develop a real following, so when the internships ended I turned down a job offer to focus on my blog full-time. I ended up freelancing for a few magazines and national publications, went to New York Fashion week as a member of the press, and also did some social media work for several small companies. But I still wanted a full-time job that involved working with other people, and one day I saw the job listing for Web Editor at America’s Test Kitchen and applied. They hired me (I still thank my lucky stars), and one and a half years later, here I am.
But my story is one of privilege; I was lucky enough to have parents who let me move back home while I got on my feet, a move that allowed me to follow my passions without worrying about paying rent or buying groceries. And they were totally supportive of my dreams. My mom is a writer and my dad is an entrepreneur, so they understood what I was aiming for. They both started out that way.
Can you tell us about the most beneficial class you ever took? Are there any you wish you had taken? Any you wish you hadn’t?
There were so many. I loved going to the library, claiming a cubicle and holing up there for hours with a stack of books while working on a paper (although the peanut M&Ms from the basement vending machine also were a real draw). I majored in history and loved my thesis class. I wrote about Vietnam War soldiers’ experiences by analyzing their memoirs. I also minored in creative writing, and the poetry classes that I took introduced me to my favorite poets, writers whose work I go back to again and again. Poetry helps me realize, “Oh, someone has felt this way before.”
What do you love most about working at America’s Test Kitchen? What is the company culture like?
If you’d asked me in college what I wanted to do after graduation, I would have said that I wanted to work for a national magazine or brand where I managed the blog, produced videos and got to travel the country interviewing people who make amazing things. So every day I have to pinch myself; that the dream came true.
Aside from the actual work, the best part about working at ATK is the people. My boss, Christine Liu, is incredible; she can write perfect copy, build the website on which to host it and then track the analytics, all while having completed thirteen other projects and started five more in the meantime.
But everyone here is at the top of his or her field—the cooks, writers, editors, project managers, web developers. I’m always inspired by the ideas that get tossed around and by the constant drive to make a better product, whether it’s a recipe or a website. There’s no one I work with who isn’t pulling his or her weight. And the best part is that I’m friends with my colleagues and spend time with them outside of work.
In the past, you’ve held several internships within various fields. What did your experience as an intern offer you that your education did not?
My dad often quotes Thomas Edison, who said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” He also says, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” What I learned from my internships is that you’ve got to be willing to do the less glamorous tasks, because there’s going to be some aspect of every job that you’re not crazy about. But you only get to the good stuff by proving that you have the drive and care enough to do the grunt work, too. Being smart and talented only gets you so far.
And my internships also taught me how fun work can be, from driving the motorboat for the photographer I interned for one summer as she shot footage of wooden sailboats, to sifting through manuscripts at the literary agency and finding some pretty great writing in the piles of submissions.
Her Big Break
How do you stay organized? What tools/resources do you utilize (ie. iPhone, apps, etc.)? What skills are essential to do your job well?
I live and die by Google: Gmail, Google Drive, GCal. I send myself emails constantly, I put everything I have to do in my calendar and all of my writing is in Google doc format so that I can access it from anywhere. I also keep a notebook where I write down my to-do list throughout the day; I like having a physical piece of paper to look at when my head starts spinning. And of course I keep my phone with me all the time in case I have to Instagram some beautiful doughnut that’s just come out of the fryer.
The most essential skill for my position is being able to write well. I’m writing all day—blog posts, weekly newsletters, video scripts, longer articles. But second to that is time management. I have so many deadlines throughout the week that I have to be vigilant about staying on track.
Tell us about your daily tasks and responsibilities as an Assistant Web Editor at America’s Test Kitchen.
I’m responsible for the content on our blog, America’s Test Kitchen Feed, the featured content on the Cook’s Illustrated website, writing the copy, taking photos, and managing/food-styling photos for three weekly editorial newsletters, producing our equipment buying guides, producing web videos for our YouTube channel, traveling and writing long-form pieces about the research that goes into recipe development, and managing our content partnerships. I also work closely with our other web editors to brainstorm and manage plans for promoting our recipes and research, new cookbooks, and promotional events for the brand.
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
A great part of my job is that my work is so varied. I just got
back from four days in Tennessee and Kentucky researching and documenting regional recipes with an executive editor from one of our publications, Cook’s Country magazine. And when I’m producing a video for our YouTube channel, the shoot in our test kitchen lasts all day.
But let’s take a random Tuesday. At 9:00 a.m., I go to the weekly Cook’s Illustrated editorial meeting, where our test cooks and editors talk about how recipe development is going and work through any issues they’re having with specific dishes or articles. I learn what recipes are coming down the pipeline, and get up to date on what’s happening in the kitchen.
After the meeting, I might hang out with some of the test cooks in the kitchen for a bit under the guise of getting coffee. I then head back to our web editorial office on the fourth floor where I’ll finish up writing one of our weekly newsletters, which I work on a month in advance. After that I’ll work on posts for the next two weeks for The Feed, our company blog, or the Cook’s Illustrated website. Throughout the day, test cooks will announce over the intercom that they have a tasting in the kitchen, so I’ll go to those to see how a recipe is coming along (it’s hard to resist warm pie or freshly grilled steaks). Then, if it’s nice out, some coworkers and I will bring lunch to a nearby park, or if I’m really busy I’ll just eat at my desk.
I’ll then either spend some time tracking down images to go with the blog posts and planning out video shoots and future articles. I also usually have a fair amount of interviews and travels to write up, so I try to carve out time to work on the longer journalistic pieces, too. But often I end up writing those at home on the weekends or at night when the other deadlines of the day-to-day tasks aren’t looming over me. I’m usually in the office until 5:30 or 6:30 p.m.
Tell us about your personal blog, The Wilder Things. Why did you originally create it, and how has it contributed to your career in a larger sense?
I started my blog in 2009 as a way to share my photography, although I think the early posts ended up as ramblings about teaching sailing, movies I’d watched and books I’d read. But I soon realized that if I wanted to be in the editorial world I had to show that I could write, that I wanted to be a player in the world of media and that I could finish what I started. So it ultimately became kind of a living resume, proof that I could write and take pictures, interview people and that I could follow through on a project.
How do you handle work/life balance?
I go to either hot yoga or for a run everyday before work; exercise keeps me sane. I need to move around before being stationary all day—although I do have a standing desk, which stops me from getting antsy. And I usually meet up with friends in the evenings; I like having something social to look forward to when I’m at the office, and I’m lucky in that most of my best friends live in Boston, too. Having plans after work means I really make myself focus and get stuff done during the day.
I also head up to Maine any chance I get; most of my family lives there, especially in the summer, and I’m never happier than when I’m hiking, sailing or reading on a sunny dock by the ocean. It’s heaven.
Staying fresh and innovative in today’s fast-paced world can be a challenge. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?
I really love Instagram; that’s definitely where I look for inspiration in terms of photography, cooking and style. I love seeing what various chefs are up to, learning what companies and artists other media professionals are interested in and following other lifestyle brands to figure out how they promote their content and how we at ATK can learn from it. It’s a great way to stay on trend.
I also read all the time; old books (I’m obsessed with Hemingway and Fitzgerald) and new (I’m a sucker for anything Alice Munroe writes, and I’m loving Dan Barber’s The Third Plate). At any given moment I’ll be in the middle of five or six different books. I read a wide variety of genres, from novels, to non-fiction, to collections of poetry.
I also have a magazine obsession: I subscribe to The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New Yorker, Bon Appetit and Saveur, and to quarterlies like Lucky Peach, Diner Journal, Collective Quarterly and Kinfolk. I always come away inspired to draw, write and take pictures after I read my favorite publications.
Translating passion into a career is tough. What advice would you give to women trying to figure this out? Was there a piece of advice offered to you from a mentor that has been pivotal in helping you figure out your own career path?
If you’re not sure what your path will be, talk to as many successful people as you can to pick their brains about their careers and how they got there. And if you’re lucky enough to know what you want to do, you’ve got to go for it. Don’t settle and always follow your gut.
I once quit a job after one day. I knew when I took it that it probably wasn’t the right fit, but it was at a time when I was freelancing and living at home, so I caved to social pressures of “you should have a job!” The woman I was reporting to had a poster in her office that said “DO WHAT YOU LOVE,” and she was so passionate about her career that at the end of my first day I just said, “This isn’t fair to you or me. I’m not going to waste your time or my time on something I know I’m not crazy about.” I knew that if I stayed true to myself and kept working towards what I wanted, I’d get there. Perhaps that was hubris on my part, and it was definitely idealistic, but had I not bolted after one day I might not have my dream job. And the writing was literally on the wall.
So trust your intuition. Try on different hats, too. In addition to learning what I loved, all of my experiences in various jobs and internships taught me what I don’t love, which turned out to be just as informative.
And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
I hope to continue on this path and maybe someday branch into other types of media, such as television. But, for now, I want to keep writing stories and taking pictures that people find engaging, and to keep representing the ATK brand to the best of my ability.
I feel so lucky to be where I am. Work is challenging and exciting; I’m learning so much. And as long as I’m learning, I know I’m in the right place.