A self-described “dyed-in-the-wool car guy,” Mike Quincy ’86 has been writing about cars since landing a job in 1989 with Automobile Magazine. Today, he’s still an automotive writer, editor and blogger at Consumer Reports. That means he’s responsible for ensuring that all automotive data and information is up-to-date for not only for the magazine but also for CR‘s Web site and for their special publications. It also means that, while he owns a 1965 Ford Mustang GT, he rarely gets to drive it. He drives all CR test cars, “so I swap out my ride every night,” he says.
Employed at CR‘s 327-acre track in East Haddam, Conn., Quincy is a frequent guest on national news shows and writes and edits reports for Consumer Reports‘ car blog.
An American Studies major and English minor at Skidmore, Quincy was among 50 parents and alumni who networked with students at Career Jam April 15. To continue that networking, feel free to drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the most important quality, talent or trait required for your job?
I think it’s critical to be passionate about the product and what you’re writing about. There are still many days when I’m at the office and can’t believe they pay me to study the car industry and report on Consumer Reports testing cars. But working at the track means you have to know a lot about cars and how and why we test the way we do. We demand meticulous attention to detail, and people will nail you if you mess up.
What do you enjoy most and least about it?
I enjoy working with other dedicated professionals who, on the one hand, take their jobs very seriously but, on the other hand, always laugh and seem to enjoy themselves. I enjoy the fast pace, the high levels of responsibility, and the variety. My days are never the same-old thing; every day is different. What I enjoy the least is, well, some of the same things that I like: fast pace, high levels of responsibility. Also, since CR doesn’t take advertising and we’re completely independent of government, industry and mainstream media, we get a fair amount of criticism. It does get a bit draining to hear how we’re biased toward one company’s products or another. For example, we’re often accused of favoring Japanese products. But, the only car companies to sue Consumer Reports? Suzuki, Isuzu and Mitsubishi…all Japanese.
For a young person interested in some day doing the same or similar work, what path would you advise?
In terms of building an automotive journalism career, I think getting an engineering degree can be very helpful. But if the whole idea of tons of science and math classes turns you off, I strongly suggest taking as many writing classes as possible and majoring in English. Just knowing about cars is one thing; if you want to write for a decent car magazine/website, you have to have some writing chops.
I took as many writing classes as I could at Skidmore and I learned skills that I use to this day. Also, to be a good writer you have read good stuff. And read as much as possible. We can all get lost watching mindless TV, but, instead of turning on the TV or your computer, pick up a newspaper, magazine or book. Find a particular author that you like and read all of his/her stuff.
One other thought: Consider contacting the major automakers and find out if they would help put you through school to get your engineering degree. I recently read that Ford, in particular, is looking to hire a whole bunch of engineers. A number of my colleagues here at the track worked for car companies before coming to CR.
Most importantly: Just keep at it and don’t give up if your first (or second, or third, or tenth) attempt at working in the auto industry or for a car magazine doesn’t work. All of my colleagues here at the track had to overcome failures along the way, but it all works out in the end if you’re willing to work hard and keep your eye on the prize.
Reflecting on your career, what would you say have been your best decisions? Are there any you regret?
The best decision I made was to fully believe that I could beat the odds and get a job in automotive journalism. I never quit trying – even when the old-guard car writers were discouraging me (“Car magazines have the turnover of the Supreme Court” I once was told). I took the initiative to meet as many car writers as I could and eventually found a few willing to help me. Now I feel that it’s my turn to help others. Regrets? I think I would have taken the summers during my college years and pursued internships at companies I admired. I might have approached some advertising agencies in New York City, for example, and tried to get some summer work. I think if I wasn’t writing for Consumer Reports, I would have liked being on the creative side of advertising.
How would you describe the short and long-term demand for qualified people in your field?
I think there is a strong long-term demand for engineers – especially if you want to work for a car company. I think the long-term outlook for journalism is unclear. People will always seek out good content, but how the content is delivered is what’s most in question.
What steps can a young person who wants to enter this field take to really distinguish herself or himself in the eyes of prospective employers?
Most importantly you have to show some passion. Read everything you can about the field you want to enter. Do anything you can to get your foot in the door – and that means you’ll be eager to answer phones, make copies, whatever. Show up on time, be ready to work late, and always do what you say you’re going to do. Lack of follow up will kill your career and erode any trust your boss might have in you. Coming out of college you have to be willing to start at the bottom and not complain about it. Believe it or not, veteran journalists don’t really care that you have a story to tell. They’ll be more impressed by good, detailed writing. You’ll impress an editor with thorough reporting, ultra-careful fact checking, and inquisitive questions. I always thought working with words would be a fun way to make a living. Twenty-five years later, I still think that’s true…at least for me.
Bottom line: do something you find interesting. Don’t be motivated by money. The biggest pile of cash in the world won’t sustain you if you don’t like what you do. Imagine being paid to do something you love – it can happen, but only if you’re creative, persistent and dedicated to seeing it through.