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In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Rina Stone (COM’92), the executive creative director at InStyle, which boasts a monthly US print readership of 8.7 million people and draws 11 million readers to its online sites. InStyle has been the best-selling fashion title for 18 years in a row, outdoing competitors such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar in circulation.

As executive creative director, Stone oversees the core magazine, special issues, digital, brand extensions, and books. She has had an integral role in two major redesigns of the magazine, the most recent occurring with the March 2016 issue. Stone was the brand’s creative director before attaining her current position. She has also led the creative direction and design at People magazine, Talk magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, and Entertainment Weekly. She earned a bachelor’s degree from COM in magazine journalism.

  1. BU Today: When you were at BU, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    Stone: When I was applying to college, I was very interested in photography, and I really wanted to go to art school. My father was extremely opposed to that option. I noticed in the curriculum guides there was a magazine journalism program at BU, so I applied and got in. I went into that program. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I was interested in, but I knew it had something to do with magazines.

  2. When during your BU career did you narrow your focus?

    We had guest speakers and the art director of Boston Magazine came in to do a this-is-what-I-do kind of talk. I hadn’t known what an art director was. After he explained what he did, I realized that was what I wanted to do. I reached out to him and wound up interning at Boston Magazine for my last two years of college. When I graduated, I got hired.

    Years after, I said to one of my best friends, “It’s so weird that I ended up doing this job—who knew that it even existed?” And she said that I’d been doing this job my whole life, because I used to make collages.

  3. What kind of competition faces new graduates wanting to enter the journalism field?

    It is pretty fierce. I would say as an art director, you need to be digitally savvy. I speak to many college kids, and it’s fascinating to me that they are still obsessed with print journalism. That’s exciting, and great to hear, but everyone needs to be super digitally savvy. Whether you are on the visual side or a writer, know that a web-based article is so different than a print-based article. There are a lot of people out there who want to get into this business. You need to be determined and talented.

  4. What qualities do you look for in people you hire, and what are the deal-breakers?

    The first thing is talent. If your portfolio isn’t great, you’re not even going to make it in the door. From that point, a really important thing for me is, how will you fit into my team? We work very seamlessly together, like a family, and the personalities mesh well together. I hate if someone has attitude or isn’t a can-do person, if they are name droppy when they interview. Sometimes you are barely through describing the job and they ask about the hours. I look for someone who has passion. I was happy to get in the door when I was interviewing with people. I would work 24 hours if I could. When I worked at Boston Magazine, I worked on the weekends for free, just because I was so passionate about it.

    I also have a few people on my team meet with the person if I’m getting serious, just to make sure everyone feels comfortable. I have an awesome team right now—seven art directors and seven photo editors, including digital. I often hire interns, too: half of my staff were interns, because you train them, so they work in your way. If I believe in someone, I’ll take them along for the ride.

  5. What are some key questions you ask during an interview?

    I like to ask specific questions about the work they are presenting. When you’re interviewing a student, it’s good to learn what their thought process was about the pictures they took or the designs they did. But it gets a lot trickier when you have someone who has already had one or two jobs, because you can look at their portfolio and you don’t know how micromanaged they were, so you don’t know what is truly their work. I like to ask probing questions as to how they arrived at the composition, or at the concept of the photograph, to see that they truly understand the process.

    Oftentimes, as the jobs get more senior, I have people do a test. I give them images, and ask them to do a layout and typography.

  6. What advice would you give an employee on the first day of the job and again six months later?

    I think one thing that people are always afraid of is not knowing the answer and sounding dumb. The most important thing you can do if you do not know something is ask questions. That’s the fastest way you are going to get up to speed. If you just guess or if you schmooze your way through, you will never learn anything.

    In six months? Obviously people look to who is above them, but you can also learn tons from those below you, and you shouldn’t feel above that.

  7. Are there mistakes you’ve made in your career, and if so, what have you learned from them?

    I don’t have any regrets. I always have been an active participant in the direction of my career, and if I was not feeling challenged, I would either speak to my superior, or if I felt like I was at the end of the line, I would look for a new opportunity. You need to always be learning, and if you’re not, then there’s no point. You need to make sure that you are happy, and if you’re not, then there’s no point in being where you are.

  8. Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?

    All of my editors; they’ve all been very different. They help bring my ideas to life. You need words and pictures to make sense together, and I’ve always had super tight relationships with my editors. I have taught them what I need from them to get a huge impact, and it’s just this real give-and-take relationship. These things can’t be exclusive. We really sit down and talk it through and talk about what it is going to take for an image to make sense, what’s the concept of the story, and then we brainstorm what imagery would work, and just keep building on things.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Jump-start Your Job Search: In Style Executive Creative Director

  • Itai Vardi on 12.07.2016 at 9:26 am

    “When I worked at Boston Magazine, I worked on the weekends for free, just because I was so passionate about it… I often hire interns, too: half of my staff were interns, because you train them, so they work in your way. If I believe in someone, I’ll take them along for the ride.”

    Here’s a journalistic tip for BU Today: When faced with an interviewee who exalts work exploitation, challenge them.

    • Huh? on 12.07.2016 at 11:49 am

      Huh? Some people happen to get swept up in their work. It’s not always good, and it’s not always bad.

    • C. Peel on 01.04.2017 at 12:18 pm

      Why would this surprise you? The university has entire internship programs centered around exploiting student labor for very little gain. e.g. the LA Internship program.

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