Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the world’s most successful MMA journalists Ariel Helwani for my podcast “The Outerview”. While our conversation was focused mostly on the art of interviewing, Helwani offered some great advice on how to approach potential mentors in media.

“A lot of people do email me and I’m somewhat disheartened if I’m being honest, by what they write. Because they say to me, “I would love to be an MMA journalist, what do I have to do? “,  “Can I come work for you?”, “Can I come work for your site?”, “How did you get started?”, and to me, if I’m going to reach out to someone who I look up to or I want advice from, I will do my research first and I feel like my story has been told enough times now where you can get a sense for “Okay, what was my road to this point”, and maybe then you read the interviews and then maybe you can ask a few follow up questions, but to be honest, when I started that website, it was fairly easy for me to come up with the idea, “Okay, what do I have to do?”

Helwani adds.

“We live in an age where people are accessible, so everyday I decided that I was going to write 30 to 50 Myspace messages,  just wrote to fighters, and you know, if one or two responded, great! Now I have one or two interviews, and all I was trying to do was get one interview out a day, because I love the art of interviewing. I love talking to people. To me, you give me a room with two chairs, a desk, maybe two cups of water, and that to me is the greatest set in the world. I realised that “Okay, let me reach out to these guys and put out these interviews”, and so when people reach out to me, it’s like “Okay, what do you want to do? Be different”. Look at everyone else, be different, what’s your style, and so sometimes I feel like, you know if I’m being honest, I feel like the younger generation is a little lazy and they want someone to just hold their hand and tell them exactly what to do and give them the big opportunity, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m still scratching and clawing. I’m still trying to make it as well. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes I will say “Oh my gosh, you know, you could’ve looked it up and come at me with some better first questions to make this good first impression”.

It might sound like simple advice but you would be amazed at the amount of media students who reach out to me on a regular basis who want to take the short cut and land the big gig straight out of college. Helwani’s advice of doing your research and figuring out what initial direction you want to take will stand you in good stead. No one is going to hold your hand and give you the big gig. But there are those who will give a helping hand and point you in the right direction. You’re going to have to graft to stand out.

So what’s your first step?

You can hear the full interview with Ariel below