Career Code: How YouTube Superstar Ingrid Nilsen Handles Internet Fame
In honor of Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s upcoming book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($17), we’re kicking off an interview series featuring questions about the work lives of the most inspirational female leaders in the beauty industry.
There used to be only so many jobs you could have in the beauty business. You could be a makeup artist, a hairstylist, or an esthetician; you could start your own line of products; or you could have an editorial job like us Byrdie editors. You’d get a degree or certification in a related field, get an entry-level job, and work your way up the ladder. Even for creative jobs, there are traditional paths you can follow to succeed. The territory has already been mapped out.
But this is not how Ingrid Nilsen became a household name. The YouTube sensation and beauty guru has become one of the Internet’s most trusted voices in women’s lifestyle content. Nilsen has over 7 million followers across all her social media channels (including 3.9 million subscribers to her YouTube channel alone). Her followers hang on her every word as she reviews products; walks them through her beauty routines; teaches them simple recipes, fashion, and décor tips; and educates them about important issues, like women’s health and gender identity.
Nilsen’s Internet presence has led her to opportunities beyond the web’s virtual confines, including positions as a CoverGirl Glambassador, a judge on Lifetime’s Project Runway: Threads, and a U.N. change ambassador. Since coming out in a very popular video on her channel last year, Nilsen has also become a role model for her young LGBTQ viewers. Today her platform is huge—as in hard-to-wrap-your-head-around huge—and it’s something she could never have predicted for herself. Even five years ago, it didn’t exist.
There’s no college course called “How to Be YouTube Famous.” (Actually, it’s 2016, so I can’t even say that for sure.) At least there certainly wasn’t six years ago, when Nilsen first started her YouTube channel for fun. Nilsen is now part of a new generation of young professionals embarking on a career for which there is no precedent. For Nilsen, the territory really is uncharted.
So how does she stay afloat? What has Nilsen learned from this unique job about what it takes to succeed? And what’s her best advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps? To find out how to slay the YouTube-star game like Ingrid Nilsen, keep scrolling.
“Where do I begin? I love my job. My YouTube channel has brought me opportunities I would have never thought possible. The relationship I have with my viewers is really special to me, and that’s what really makes what I do so unique and meaningful. One of my proudest moments was becoming a CoverGirl Glambassador—being able to be a part of a huge beauty brand like CoverGirl was a dream come true. I love that through this part of my job, I am able to further empower women and girls of all ages to embrace their beauty.”
“Most people assume that I’m super outgoing, when I’m actually really shy. I shoot my videos alone or around people I know really well, so I seem really comfortable, but I actually tend to be shy in big social groups!”
“My first job was actually at a retail store in the mall, so I think it was jeans and a fitted T-shirt!”
“Cheryl Strayed! Her writing really resonates with me, and I’m a big fan of her advice podcast, Dear Sugar. I feel like she would have the most amazing things to say.”
“My friends who also have YouTube channels! We keep each other updated.”
“This isn’t a regret, but it’s something that was difficult. I shared a lot of my personal life during the first few years of my YouTube channel. It took a little while for me to figure out the right balance and where my boundaries were.”
“My team is small, so I love having people around me I actually like spending time with. I need people I can trust. I also love having people around me whom I can brainstorm with and get their thoughts and ideas, too.”
“I like how makeup helps me express the confidence that I feel inside. When I have an important meeting or want to feel my best, I am definitely reaching for my CoverGirl lipstick, whether it be a neutral shade or a bold red. I actually wore CoverGirl Colorlicious in Honeyed Bloom ($7) when I interviewed President Obama.”
“I’ll have her answer this one! She says, ‘Ingrid is so funny. I feel like people don’t even realize how funny she is! She’s also incredibly compassionate, understanding, and smart. I’m lucky to spend my days with her!’”
“I read; I try to get outside. Basically anything that helps relax my mind. A lot of the times, I’ll go on really long walks.”
“Let people know in advance, with enough time for them to properly prepare for your exit. Be willing to help find and train a suitable replacement, if necessary.”
“I’ve really been loving Sweetgreen lately. They make seasonal, healthy food with produce that’s delivered that morning. Their guacamole greens salad is basically deconstructed guacamole, and instead of croutons on the salad, they use tortilla chips! The dressing is pretty awesome, too.”
“I love social media, especially Instagram. I love that so many brands and people are on it and now and definitely have a few that I constantly check.
“I love Arielle from @somethingnavy. Her Instagram is awesome, but I love her blog and Snapchats, too! @Andrewknapp’s photography is really beautiful, and he has an awesome photo series featuring his dog.@Christopherpoindexter: I love his poetry. @CoverGirl’s Instagram is obviously a top go to for me—I love to see how they get creative with the products and all the fun things they have going on. @Compartes has the best chocolate ever, and their Instagram feed definitely makes me hungry!”
“I love the people that work at the coffee shop I go to in the morning, so it’s a great way to start my day. I really like the process of actually going out to go get coffee; it jumpstarts my day. At night, I’ll usually turn my phone on airplane mode so I can disconnect from the day and move into my personal time. I can eat dinner and not have to worry about answering calls, texts, or emails. I can read and maybe catch up on an episode of a TV show I’m watching. My bedroom is also a no-tech zone, so I never sit on my phone or watch TV in bed. I always make sure to take off my makeup, no matter what. I have a simple but effective nighttime skincare routine including moisturizer, lip scrub, lip balm, and hand cream.”
“Cheryl Strayed signed a book for me and wrote, ‘Stay brave, trust your heart’ in it. I carry the book with me all the time.”
“I recently became a change ambassador with the U.N., and we’re working toward the goal of gender equality. I’m really excited to work with them to make a difference!”
Want more career tips? Allure’s editor in chief, Michelle Lee, has some great ones.