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The Devil Wore Talbots

February 29, 2008

During my recent vacation, I found myself watching a lot of movies on the gazillion movie channels in our condo.  One of them that I watched almost the whole way through was “The Devil Wears Prada.”  I really enjoyed the book as an escapist read, and the movie fits the bill as well.  If you’ve seen my LinkedInprofile, you’ll see that I refer to my first job as my own Devil Wears Prada experience, except without all the fabulous clothes.  I haven’t explained exactly why that is, until now. 

I often tell people that I am very satisfied with my life as it is right now, and as such, cannot imagine having any regrets about things I’ve done in the past, because those actions might now have let me to the place where I am now.   That said, I do wonder what would have happened if I gave more thought to the job search out of college.  The recruiters who came to campus were interested in business majors.  The only companies who would interview a pleasant History major like myself were retail, and that wasn’t of interest to me.  I had no job when I graduate college, so I took a summer job with Hampton Jitney, working in the reservations office and as a “coach attendant”.  Seriously, I could fill an entire blog with anecdotes about the regular folks and celebrities who made my summer more entertaining than most, but that’s not really why we’re here.  I worked there through the summer, had a blast, and decided I would stay at my family’s house there through the fall into winter.  The Jitney folks were kind enough to extend my job, and not do a summer layoff on me, but Mother IT was not accepting of that idea.  No, I had to put on my Brooks Brothers business suit my dad bought me the year before and head to the big city and look for a “real job.”

Not at lot of preparation or research went into this.  It was the 80’s and employment agencies weren’t exactly clamoring for more college graduates to have to place in jobs.  When it came down to it, I settled on two job choices – a scheduler at a “fashion” (boy, do I use that term loosely) house and a sales assistant role at a magazine company.  Since big dream was to work at an ad agency (just like in “thirtysomething”!), that latter one seemed close, so hello sales assistant job at Diamandis Communicaitons Inc.

DCI was a company spun off off Ziff Davis and CBS magazines.  It was headed by Peter Diamandis, a great entrepreneur, who just before I joined agreed to sell DCI to Hachette Publications for beaucoups bucks.  The company was in transition, but I wasn’t nearly savvy enough to realize that.  When I started, I was one of two assistants to 25 sales reps and about 5 senior managers.  We had a direct manager, Dave, who I got along with really well at the interview. I thought, this is great, I’m going to have a super mentor, and work hard and move up through the ranks.  In reality, I lasted 7 months.

There were a couple of things that made the job challenging.  First, the whole first assistant, second assistant thing so memorably portrayed in the movie.  There was no such structure, but V, the other assistant, saw a green kid just out of school and decided to put it into place.  Dave, our manager, was mentally checked out and would resign 3 weeks after I started, so I didn’t know otherwise.  Audrey, his replacement, was a nut job who was fired 2 months after starting, hitting <ctrl><alt><del> on her computer on the way out before security got her.  So we were kind of on our own.  I certainly accepted the fact that V was there longer, and I could learn things about the organization from her, but taking management direction from someone who had not even graduated high school was not something I was going to do.  But she acted just like Emily in the movie, delegating her tasks to me, and enjoying having someone to boss around.  When B., the VP in charge of the division called, V. jumped, running after her with steno pad in hand to listen to her every need and then dump them on me.  A girl who never drank coffee before was challenged, even in the pre-Starbucks days, by having to get the right language down to order B’s coffee, just like in the book/movie. 

B was a character in herself.  Reeking of Calvin Klein’s Eternity and swathed in the latest Hermes scarves, neatly tucked into her shoulder padded epaulets (it was the 80s, remember?), she would inspire terror in all who worked in the division.  But not me.  Even though I was taught to fear her, I never could.  I spent a week working directly for her when her executive admin was promoted into a new job and grew to respect her.  She was a woman of power in a male-heavy company, not an easy thing to do.  She was fair, and someone who I learned a lot from.  My Miranda, if you will, and I began to up the wardrobe ante and dress like her.  I stopped going to the Limited and frequented Talbots and Lord & Taylor.  Oh, I look back on pictures now and see how ridiculous I looked in those shoulder pads and scarves, but you could see a look in my eyes that said I was going to go places.  Ah, youth.  I think she respected me as well.  She put up with my endless questioning about how I could progress with the company, and even came to my going-away party at a dingy bar in the theater district, to the shock of my co-workers there.

I have to say, if it wasn’t for the IT head of the division, a guy named Andy Kehoe, I never would have made it out of there, nor found myself in the career path that I am in today.  Andy found me an old IBM PC so I didn’t have to use the IBM selectric to write sales letters to clients.  He encouraged me to read the DOS manual and the “bird book” to understand how PCs worked so I could have a new skill.  He taught me how to mix a perfect dry martini.  He was more of a mentor and support system than anyone in that place, and for all he did for me, I am eternally grateful.  No idea where he is today, or I would tell him myself. 

Watching that movie, I could see in Andy the me of 20 years ago.  It’s amazing how much of those 7 months came to mind when seeing it.  Good grief it was 20 years ago this fall that I took that job.  I certainly dreamed I would be in a better job, with a better life, and it’s happened, a combination of hard work and luck.  Just don’t expect me to put “second assistant” on a resume, LinkedIn or otherwise. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 29, 2008 12:40 pm

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

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