In Conversation With: Rose Lander (Refinery29)

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Refinery29 has become one of the leading voices in the digital landscape for young women. Through its social platforms it produces daily editorial and video content on topics ranging from style and health to technology and politics, and is supported by live events across multiple countries with a global audience of over 500 million.

Rose Lander is the International Coordinator based in the London office, a connection between our capital, New York and Berlin. It’s a multifaceted role and having been a part of the UK team since its conception Rose has been able to be involved in everything from establishing company policy to writing regular editorial copy for the site and marketing.

We spoke to Rose to find out more about the varied nature of her position and taking every opportunity to make yourself indispensable as soon as you can get a foot in the door.

How well did University prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Technically I actually didn’t go to uni. My school was very academic: it didn’t offer media courses or any kind of textiles course so it felt a bit like my options were to be a lawyer or a fine artist, neither of which I wanted to do. I loved fashion so I started doing work experience when I was 14 and interning properly when I was 16 anywhere I could, from The Royal Opera House to a tiny fashion PR company.

When I left school I did a foundation year course at London College of Fashion, which was Further Education rather than Higher Education. It was fantastically helpful in some ways because I got to see all the different fashion education options available and who I would potentially be working with. In the end though, I just decided formal education wasn’t for me. I loved working, I actually did a full time internship while I was studying - which in hindsight was a lot to take on - but weighing up whether I wanted to work on projects few people would see for a potentially arbitrary grade or start getting myself out there in the world, I couldn’t justify education to myself. I understand for others it might be different.

I was really lucky that after I finished my course I got the opportunity to go to Paris to study French for four months, but by 19 I knew I was officially done with traditional education.

Can you describe your path towards Refinery29?

While I was in Paris I was offered an internship at the PR department of Armani Exchange in New York, which of course I jumped at. While I was there I applied for another internship with a stylist, which is what I thought I wanted to be at the time. After doing the internship though, I completely changed my mind. It’s a wonderful career path, but I was not suited for it and I was so overjoyed that I hadn’t spent three years and got into debt from student loans studying fashion just to find that out.

I wanted to come home and fortunately ShowStudio let me apply for an internship with them over the phone so I had something to come back to. Nick Knight was and is one of my favourite photographers and working there was incredible. I’m lucky in that my family live in London, but soon I had been interning for over a year and had to walk away to focus on finding a way to get paid.

I spent about 6 months working for my brother, babysitting and working as an event waitress. I do recommend really questioning if university is for you, but despite being happy with my choice not to go, I was incredibly jealous of all my friends who got to have summer holidays. Almost all the time between doing my internships I was working and even then I wouldn’t have got by if my parents hadn’t lived in London. But, I was also 21 and if there’s a time in your life you might have to work while you’re tired or hungover it’s definitely then.

After 6 months of completely failing to get anything I applied for, I got an interview at Vogue, which blew my mind. When I was told I was hired as Advertising Assistant at Vogue on a maternity cover contract, I full on cried in public. Then had to go and do a 7 hour waitressing shift, because it’s not all glamour.

I worked at Vogue for two and a half years across various department, all focused on advertising and branded content. Finally the maternity cover contract I was on as Assistant Retail Editor came to an end and I had to make the choice to leave or move back to a more junior role. It was such a tough decision to make, to leave what was a very safe job at a well known magazine, but I wanted to keep moving forward.

I had no idea where to go next and frankly at 24 I was a tiny bit burnt out so I went travelling for a while. On my last day abroad I applied to be the assistant to Kate Ward - Executive Vice President of International at Refinery29 and the woman who was launching the site in the UK - from my friend’s couch in Sweden. I organised my interview right before getting my flight home to London and we met my first day back.

It sounds really cheesy but after that I had no interest in any other jobs. I knew this was the one for me.

Tell us a bit about the role of being an International Coordinator.

This job has changed massively over time. I started off as Kate’s assistant but it was never just about getting coffees or organising her diary. Refinery29 was hundreds of people in the US but in the UK it was just us when I started (my employee number is UK00002), but the team soon grew with the hiring of amazing editorial, creative and commercial teams.

That was in 2015 and since then Refinery29 has grown massively and my responsibilities grew with it. My main role has always been communicating between the London, New York and Berlin offices and generally just making sure everyone has what they need to get their work done. This meant literally everything like making sure the printer worked to helping establish the UK office policy.  

The best thing about taking on a more junior role at a start up like Refinery29 is if you’re willing you can do almost anything you’re interested in. I love contributing to the editorial side of things, so I’ve written about history and food, and became the de facto restaurant writer for while. I’ve onboarded new staff and took charge of translating Refinery29’s amazing US office culture to the UK and Germany, worked closely with the commercial teams on events and taken charge with everything from stocking the snack cupboard to furnishing the office and organising the Christmas Party.

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Over time, organising the events have really become my passion and after three years of being International Coordinator, I’ll be moving into an events and marketing focused role to support the company’s growth in that area.

The number of staff has grown tenfold since launch and I’ve been incredibly fortunate the past few years to have a hugely supportive manager who has wanted to find a way for me to grow with the company. I’ve also been aware of every opportunity that came my way and been careful to grab each of them with both hands.

What does an average work week consist of for you?

Average is a interesting word, as each week finds me working on several different projects.

I attend all of the weekly executive meetings so I can make sure I’m on top of things and head any issues before they start. I create a lot of presentations and trackers for senior International team members to make sure they’re where they need to be and have all the information they need. I’ll check in with our US and German offices and connect the different teams working in London. Having been in the company for so long I’ve worked with almost everyone at some point, so often when anyone has a question they’ll come to me first.

Now a big part of my job is also events, I’ll be helping to organise a huge array of these. This year we’ve had some great ones - from panel talks about skincare to a sell-out comedy night - and I’m so excited to work on these more.  

We’re big on staff events too. Some of these might seem like pretty small things  - breakfast on a Friday, team drinks, our monthly company lunches where we shout out the amazing works our teams are doing or celebrating a birthday with a giant Colin the Caterpillar cake - but they make a huge difference.

What are the technical skills people should brush up on that are really useful for the job?

As someone who wasn't really technically trained in any skill, this is a slightly tough question to answer. You certainly need to be very organised in this job and be ready to learn new software and programmes to make your life easier. Refinery29 helps to fund certain education courses and while I’ve been here I did a short course in Journalism and another in B2B Marketing, both of which have been very helpful.

Honestly though the biggest skill I use every day is problem solving and relationship building. To do this kind of role you have to learn to listen to those around you and take the time to build strong relationships. Start every one as you mean to go on and always offer to help out and go the extra mile if you can. Then if you ever need help in a crisis or want to take on a new project, you have a great team around who you can rely on.

At the same time you need to learn to say a firm no when something is impossible and use diplomacy to work with people if you have to find a way around the obstacle instead of through it. This can be really tough because honestly when I was starting out I had this idea you need to make yourself exceptional by working flat out to make the impossible happen, but if you’re working to support a huge team you have to be realistic and create boundaries so you don’t overstretch yourself.

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What are some of the most challenging aspects of the job and how can people prepare to handle those pressures?

 If you’re good at your job, a lot of people will come to rely on you. It can be draining to get e-mails from people all over the world asking you things, especially when you like those people and always want to help! Time constraints can be a challenge and you want to to avoid feeling like you’re letting people down or not doing your job if you can’t always give them what they want.

Having a good relationship with your manager is the most important thing you can do to make this easier. If you can prove to them from the beginning that you’re a hard worker, it’s easier to set the right limits and not get overworked. You also really need to be good at communicating, not only finding out what people really need rather than what they say they need, but also good at asking other people to collaborate when you need them.

Can you pin point any specific valuable bits of experience you gained while interning that you utilise in your current job?

Once when I was interning I was specifically told not to be scared of using the phone, which turned out to be great advice. It’s so easy to hide behind e-mails and expect people to come to you but I really learnt through starting to intern so young is that you have to get out there and push for things. Make phone calls, speak up in meetings, go and meet people - even if you don’t feel confident at first. Fake it until you do.

Also the best advice I got while interning was from actually my Dad - make yourself indispensable. For me that meant taking on responsibility, being a leader for projects and generally making sure you’re noticed. If you’re truly indispensable, you’ll have a job for as long as you want it.

What are the biggest perks?

As horribly cheesy as it sounds, the biggest perk is working in the team at Refinery29.

When I left my last job I didn’t really know where I wanted to go but I knew I wanted to work in a team I liked. I got really lucky to work at Refinery29, as I love the team here. Refinery29 is a “mission driven” company which means everything we do - honestly everything - feeds into our overall mission to help women claim their power. I get to work with really interesting, intelligent, caring people who create amazing things in and out of the company and are honestly just a massive laugh.

The company encourages staff to get involved as much as they like: I’ve appeared in branded content campaigns, hosted Facebook Lives and written for the editorial team.  I’ve got to touch on very compelling work, like being part of our YourVaginasFine campaign (which works to highlight awful under-regulated genital cosmetic procedures targeted at women), whilst also having a lot of fun, namely seeing my entire company singing along to Wonderwall at the Christmas party I organised. I think I’m almost equally proud of both...

What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the industry?

First of all, be brave - when you’re starting out you need to approach everyone you can think of to ask them (very politely) to help you get your foot in the door. If you’re passionate and committed a surprising number will say yes and really help. You can’t fear the rejection of the few who won’t, take the chance on those who will.

Once you have your foot in the door say yes to anything you find remotely interesting, don’t discount things you haven’t tried. Also, don’t be scared to not follow the traditional route. University and any kind of education is of course the right route for certain jobs and if it’s something you’re interested in. But lots of roles really require experience not academic study, and if you don’t want to tie yourself down when you’re young then don’t.  

Look into part time or short courses so you can learn without needing to take out a student loan. There are amazing opportunities in paid internships, entry level posts which might start as fixed term or even freelance work. If that’s something that appeals to you, you can show potential employers what you can do as well as try new things you would never even know about through classroom teaching.

When you are ready to find something long term, look for a company where the people are passionate and supportive. Don’t go for jobs that look good on paper. If there isn’t drive there to create great work or a team who really value each other, it doesn’t matter how impressive your job sounds to other people or really how much you make. If you’re working for someone you really admire then you know you’ve set yourself a course in the right direction. You’re going to be at your job every day so make it somewhere you really want to be.

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