Bernadette Anat (Public Relations ’11), producer for Teens & Emerging Trends at Instagram, smiles as she takes questions from a crowd of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students.
USC Annenberg / Brett Van Ort

Alumna turned love of teen culture into top job at Instagram

Barely a full cycle of students have passed through USC Annenberg since alumna Bernadette Anat (B.A. Public Relations, ‘11) graduated, but when Anat visited the Geoffrey Cowan Forum for a “Lunch with Leaders” discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 28, she had not one but two careers’ worth of wisdom to offer students.

Having recently joined Instagram as a Community Team Producer focusing on teens and emerging trends, Anat’s passion for teen culture previously helped her create content for The Huffington Post and Scholastic, and land internships at Seventeen and Glamour magazines while still a student at USC Annenberg.

As an undergraduate, Anat consistently networked with professionals whose careers she wanted to emulate, and used the spring break of her senior year fly to New York City, where she spent a week meeting with as many people in the publishing industry as possible. 

“I always liken networking and gathering mentors to dating, kind of like online dating,” Anat said. “You just sort of like throw yourself out there, and you just feel around and do informational interviews and coffees and then really stick to the people you feel like you click with.”

This approach ultimately proved crucial to her success: during one meeting in New York, Anat was encouraged to apply for the position of executive assistant to the editor-in-chief of Seventeen, a role she filled for two years.

While this communication was vital to finding a foothold in publishing, Anat emphasized that students should strive to make networking as specific and meaningful as possible. One strategy she recommended for doing so was emailing contacts news articles they might find interesting, or following up about something they shared on social media.

Anat also suggested that students use existing contacts to try and reach other professionals in their field of choice.

“Any time I would have a conversation with someone that I felt got me, someone that I vibed with, I always made sure I would end the conversation with, ‘So now that you know me, is there anyone within your world that you would recommend I talk to?’” Anat said. “It felt like monkey barring from there.”

Networking was a popular topic for the dozens of students who attended Anat’s “Lunch with Leaders” discussion, the first in an event series designed to connect Annenberg students with alumni who have become leaders in journalism, public relations, entertainment, and more. Anat dedicated the majority of her hour-long discussion to fielding questions from students about everything from freelancing to networking to how she remained positive during uncertain times in her career.

One of those periods came when Anat organized a volunteer day for Seventeen staffers at a camp for underprivileged inner-city students in upstate New York. There, Anat discovered a passion for nonprofit work, and after two years as an editor at Seventeen, and several more spent building a publishing portfolio, she decided to shift her career focus and became a teen advisor through the YMCA.

“That was a total changer, and a giant salary change, too,” Anat said. “I had to offset that with a lot of freelance work. I ended up reaching out to any connections, through Glamour or Seventeen or Annenberg, just saying ‘Hey, I’m going to do this thing for my heart, but I really still love to write.’ That freelance hustle allowed me to actually live my life in New York City.”

Though she second-guessed her decision at times, Anat said switching gears professionally ultimately helped strengthen her career-building skills.

“All through high school and college I was like, I’m totally going to be the editor-in-chief of Seventeen. And then I had that moment like, ‘Do people change dreams, especially when I’ve been going so hard at one?’” Anat said. “I approached it like I was a freshman in college, like I was starting over. It was a slow baby crawl cold emailing people. It was very humbling.”

As she tried to find her footing in a new field, Anat sought support and motivation from the mentors ― about five or six of which she credits with “inventing” her ― who have helped shape her career.

“I feel like my career path has rested entirely on who I know, and the people that know me and know my work,” Anat said. “I think it’s helped that I’m super obnoxious about the work that I do and when I do something super exciting I share it. My mentors that I had a really good vibe with knew to think of me for certain opportunities, and that’s really great.”

One of those opportunities came about this past year when Anat was approached by a former colleague to fill a newly-created position at Instagram, where she began working in September.

In her role as a Community Producer focusing on teens and emerging trends, Anat is able to use her knowledge of teen culture to keep an eye out for popular communities and topics on Instagram. One example of this, Anat said, is #bookstagram, a hashtag teen girls have shared to create a sort of virtual book club on the platform.

Another part of Anat’s current role at Instagram, and her previous job at Seventeen, involves hiring candidates for internships and jobs. Having reviewed hundreds of resumes and applications over the years, Anat offered students a few pieces of advice about how to stand out from the crowd.

“You kind of have to do the crazy stuff, you have to do something to catch their eye,” Anat said. “I’ve never seen anything that made me go like, ‘That’s too much, I don’t want that.’ What does make me feel like it’s too much is when I get the incessant emails, and DMs, and commenting on my Instagram being like, “Hire me.’”

Ultimately, Anat said, “As a candidate you have to do the crazy thing. You have to do the thing that no one’s thought about, and make sure it gets in front of someone’s face.”