From UM to Condé Nast: An Interview with Madisen Theobald

A current UM students speaks with a former UM student about the pathway to a great job straight out of college.

Interview by: Kathleen Murphy

Madisen Theobald did not spend her college days just getting by in classes. She not only was an excellent student, but she also always had several internships and projects happening at one time. Luckily, her hard work paid off when she snagged a career at Condé Nast, an American mass media supergiant based in the One World Trade Center in New York City.

Theobald has a degree in journalism and magazine services with a minor in graphic design from the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi. She is an alumni of Kappa Kappa Gamma fraternity and worked as the creative director for the 2016 The Ole Miss Annual. Theobald’s resume includes names such as BCBG Max Azria and Teen Vogue before she even graduated college.

In her free time, she loves to brunch, go to fashion events, photograph and write for her blog and travel. Theobald is personable and easy to talk to. She is bubbly on the phone even after a long day at work.

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Did you see yourself where you are right now when you were in college?

Honestly, this might sound strange to someone who is in college but I did truly see myself in this place, but I didn’t know it was going to be this soon. I knew that I was working hard to get to where I am right now. I had like five different jobs my senior year and I did two internships. I knew I wanted to end up at Condé Nast but I just didn’t know when it was going to happen because it’s just such a great company and it’s so big. It’s such an awesome organization to be in, so I just didn’t think that it was going to be so soon. I’m still so glad it came sooner than later.

What is the best way to get started working in your industry while you are still in college?

I saw on your resume how much you did before you even graduated and it is really impressive.

One thing me and my roommate have seen since we have been here is that you have to have the internships and you have to have those connections that you can’t really make in school. I absolutely loved school. I seriously did. I could actually come back I miss it so much, but you know, it’s really about making those connections and going out and finding those internships and the things that are really going to promote you in your career. That’s why for me I had to go out and get those internships if I wanted to be in the fashion industry. If I didn’t, there would be no way I would be here right now. So, I went out to LA and I worked for BCBG and I did New York Fashion Week when I was in college. I did some stuff for Teen Vogue being an It Girl and came to New York for fashion blogger conferences. I literally did anything I could get my hands on just so I could have it on my resume, which, thank God, it all worked out but it took up a lot of my free time. I didn’t always get to go to the formals. I didn’t always get to go to New Orleans but in the end I’m really happy where I ended up.

So you mentioned you worked in the fashion industry, what is it like and what advice would you give to someone interested in it?

I think it would be to work your butt off until you get noticed. Especially at Ole Miss because we don’t have that major and we don’t have those kind of clubs, so I went and found it elsewhere. I did freelance writing and blogging and my internships to get that experience because obviously Ole Miss didn’t have it. So, I would do things that the school didn’t offer online or I would apply to a bunch of internships and try to connect with those recruiters online. Just so if I did meet someone I knew, I could say, ‘Oh I know you from this or that.’ So, even if it is a chance you don’t want to take it’s a lot easier to go ahead and try. Even if you think you’re not good enough to get the internship or you think you don’t have enough experience, still try because you seriously never know. For BCBG they literally found me in a pile of resumes. It wasn’t like they were recruiting me for a year. They found my resume, they saw it was cool and intriguing and they picked me out from all of these people from an online portal. They usually go to Florida State or Iowa State or NYU where they physically recruit but that didn’t happen to me. I was just a resume in a pile. The best advice is that you have to take all of those chances because if you don’t, that’s what’s holding you back.

What was the transition from Oxford to New York City like? I have family from there and I love it but it is so daunting to actually think about moving there. What was that process like for you?

Well, it was very crazy. I came from a town near Bloomington, Illinois, which is about two hours from Chicago, so I knew what a big city is like but going from Oxford to New York was crazy. Thankfully, I roomed with another Kappa. Her name is Jonie and she’s great. We both kind of teamed up. I think we both found out around February that we wanted to move here. But this whole process of moving to New York was definitely daunting. You’re completely right. During my senior year spring break I came up here while all of my friends were in Cabo for informational interviews and it just really clicked with me. I really felt like I was growing up and this is where I needed to be. Even though it’s scary and I didn’t know anyone I really felt like I needed to take the chance. So, when I was younger I definitely thought it was too much for me because of all of the people and it’s so far away and so spread out and it’s really hard to get a job in New York as a journalist. It was very scary. Once I started actually making the steps like trying to find an apartment or saving your money, that’s when I knew it was real. That’s when I decided I had to pull it together and I had to figure out where I was going to live in my dream city.

So I follow you on Instagram and I saw your blog and your LinkendIn and I noticed that you have a really nice brand going on. How did you establish your personal brand?

When I first started doing everything I was doing I really wanted to establish myself as a brand. So, I kind of went through and made a whole entire mood board for myself with what my goals were and who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. That’s where I started. Then, I made my own website. Now, I actually design other people’s websites and blogs and portfolios for freelance. But when I made my website that’s when I decided that if I wanted to be in this creative field or the fashion field that I am going to have to stand out. I was going to have to create a personal brand. If you don’t, it’s no big deal but at the same time, you might also get overlooked. I went by the motto that I had to take all of these chances because if I didn’t there could be consequences. So I designed my website and then I started going off the same fonts and the same color scheme in everything I was doing. I started promoting my services and that’s one way that I think I succeeded with a personal brand. Not only was I using my personal brand for myself, but I was also using it to get clients. It was like I didn’t even have to promote myself because I was reaching out to get others. It really worked out thankfully. I got money from people and I was able to establish myself as a designer and a blogger.

So going back to what we were talking about with your blog, how did you become so successful on Instagram? These days, your Instagram is basically like a second resume if you’re in more of a creative field, so how did you establish your personal social media that made it so successful, too?

People ask me this all the time. The best piece of advice I could give is consistency. I think that having a consistent brand and color scheme and content that is something people can rely on really makes a difference in your social media. I just think posting either every day or every other day and having something that people can keep coming back to and you’re consistent with it is how you’re going to gain followers. That’s going to give you that brand loyalty that a lot of people are actually missing. You just have to keep it consistent and fluid and always keep it up to date. That’s how I do mine.

Are you happy with your career so far?

Yes, I love it. It’s a very fun job. It’s very stressful, of course. Some days I wake up and I think, ‘Oh my gosh today is going to be really hard,’ and I get anxious about it. Sometimes there are 100 things in one day that I need to tackle. Personally, I’m not one of those people that can go to bed when there is something that needs to be done, so I know everything is going to be done but I have to prioritize. At Condé Nast, you definitely have to prioritize what you should be doing at this time or where you need to be. There might be 100 things thrown at you at once so you have to know what’s important and what’s not important. Other than that, I love my everyday job and how it changes and how I get to know so many people already after just being here for eight months. It’s just been awesome. It’s truly a dream come true. I love it.

What has been your biggest lesson learned so far?

I feel like going from college to a corporate world is different because you have to make sure your work is the very best. I can’t just turn in a sloppy paper. I can’t just turn in something I think is going to be good enough. It has to be 100 percent accurate or you’re back to square one. You may never get that chance to be do that again if you mess up. If you put something false or if you’re just taking a guess, someone might say, ‘Why would you not know that?’ I have to make sure I have all of my bases covered. Make sure you are the best at your job. You don’t need to worry about anyone else’s job. Make sure you are doing everything to the best of your ability. If you don’t, someone else is going to come in and do it better than you.

If you could go back and give advice to yourself while you were still in college, what would you say?

Unfortunately, I would tell myself not to worry about my grades as much (laughs). I was obsessed. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, which was great. I was decked out in cords at graduation and it was awesome. Truthfully though, going into the fashion field or the creative field or journalism, grades really don’t matter, I’m not telling you to go slump through your classes or anything, but I don’t you should harp on the little things as much. You should enjoy your time and still get great grades but I wouldn’t be breaking my back over those things. When it comes down to a career they will look at your GPA but they’re really asking about your experience. I swear no one has ever asked me about my major or where I went to school or what my GPA was. Don’t stress about your GPA. You will get there. Do the experiences along the way and you will get to where you want to be, but don’t tell your dad I said that.