In your first post-grad job? Read this!

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a powerful, no-bullshit list written by Jason Nazar, founder and CEO of Docstoc, who is 34. In his blog post for Forbes, an American business magazine, he offers 20 tips for people in their 20s, like:

Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable
& multi-tasking generation yet.  As my father says, “I’ll Give You a
Sh-t Medal.”  Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are
simply wasted potential.  There’s no prize for talent, just results.
Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked
their way to success.

I like a lot of what he says.

When you’re looking for your first, or second or third, job, it’s easy to forget or not even realize how utterly different the world of work is from school, which is why internships can be a useful glimpse into the “real world.”

In school, you have very clearly defined parameters of success and failure.Whoever else is attending your college or university appear to be your primary or exclusive competition, for grades, for profs’ attention, for campus resources.

But if your classmates are not economically or racially or politically or religiously diverse, you’re in for one hell of a shock if you relocate to a different place, or several, to earn your living.

Who are these people and why do I have to do what they tell me?

In school, if you attain a fantastic GPA and some awards, you’re the bomb.

In school, yes you are.

But in school, short of wasting tuition money and/or flunking out, there are no terrible consequences to failing or missing deadlines or getting wasted or showing up to class late and/or hungover or high.

The real world is much less forgiving of stupidity and a lack of preparation.

In school, most students hang out with their peers, i.e. people within their age group. Adults end up being annoying things to please (profs) or placate (parents) but not people you may spend much time trying to understand, cooperate with or relate to as a fellow professional.

If you’ve never worked with (or managed) someone 10, 20 or 30 years your senior, how’s that going to feel?

All these new adults — not your parents or their friends or professors or people who are inherently interested in (or deeply invested in) seeing that you succeed — don’t care. And they expect a lot. All the time. OMG!

As Nazar also writes:

You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have.  This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career.  Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success.

The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favorite films ever.

I’ve seen it so many times I can recite dialogue from it, like Priestly’s hissed dismissal: “That’s all.”

It’s about an ambitious young journalist in New York, (so I can identify with that bit) but is also about the price of being ambitious and what it means to sacrifice your friendships (or not) or your sweetie (or not) or your ethics (or not.)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The boss in the film, Miranda Priestly, is insanely and insatiably demanding, but I get it and know why. And having a boss like that is basically boot camp for the rest of your career.

If you freak out and cry and think you can’t do it — whatever it is — you’re pretty much useless. Find someone to help you. Read a book. Watch a video. Take a class, or three. Find a mentor.

Resourcefulness will probably be your most valuable skill, no matter what sort of work you do.

The truly useful/valuable employee memorizes a two-word phrase — “On it!”

I also really like this tip:

Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business.  It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of
professional opportunity.  Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible, your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure.  It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

It’s temptingly easy to think: “I’m young. It doesn’t matter. No one will notice or care or remember.”

Not true!

Take every opportunity to leave an impression as a chance to make it lasting and positive. That doesn’t mean sucking up or being a phony.

My current part-time assistant, C., has been stellar for the six months or so we’ve been working together. She never whines or complains, gets on with things and I routinely throw her into all sorts of situations for which she has zero training or experience. I know she can do it well — and she does.

Sweet!

In return, she knows she can count on me for a kickass reference to anyone she needs.

One of the things I most enjoy about this relationship is that, on some levels, we’re very different — different religions, 30 years apart in age. But she’s fun, funny, worldly. That goes a long way in my book.

My husband and I both started working freelance — while full-time undergrads — for national media, he as a photographer for the Associated Press, I as a writer for magazines and newspapers. Paid.

We put ourselves in harm’s way by competing, as very young people, with those who had decades of experience and awards and real jobs. But that’s how you learn to compete and cooperate effectively at the highest levels.

If you’re just starting out, or have been working for a while, what advice would you offer to someone just joined the work world?

Ten ways to be a kick-ass assistant

When am I gonna make a living?.
It’s gonna take a while before I give in. Yes it is.
I’m sick and tired of scratching a living.
I am hungry but I’m not gonna give in, no

—- Sade, “When Am I Going to Make a Living?”

The job market is still lousy here in the United States, for thousands of smart people — even many with Really Fancy College degrees.

In a tough economy with too many people chasing too few jobs, you need to get your foot on the rung, even the bottom one, of a ladder that might actually lead you to a job you want. That might mean becoming someone’s assistant.

No eye-rolling. No “I didn’t go to college for that!”

No one did.

OK Boss - NARA - 534390
OK Boss – NARA – 534390 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more than a decade, I’ve hired, managed and retained unpaid interns and paid assistants to help me run my writing business and to research and help promote my two books.

I got the idea while teaching a journalism class at a local university with only 13 students. I knew exactly who I hoped would intern for me — a lively, funny, down-to-earth young woman named Jessica. It was like asking her for a date! Luckily, she said yes and stayed on to work for me after her unpaid internship ended; I paid her, more than a decade ago, $12 an hour. She was worth every penny.

In return, with one phone call to someone I knew who needed help, I found her a job straight out of school in a field she wanted. Score!

One of my favorite movies is The Devil Wears Prada, from 2006. I used to sympathize with the beleaguered and overworked assistant, Andie, but after the first few viewings, my sympathies switched to Miranda Priestley, her super-demanding boss at Runway magazine.

It’s a fun film — and offers much workplace wisdom.

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...
Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]
If you’re looking for work, certainly a first post-grad job, think on these things…

Listen carefully

In an age of CPA — continuous partial attention — it’s rare to find young staffers able to offer you their full, undivided attention and look you in the eye for more than a few minutes. This is essential for creating and maintaining a working relationship with your boss and his or her clients or colleagues. Feels weird? Tough!

Your boss hired you to help them perform better. Listening very carefully to their instructions — and the tone of of voice they’re delivered in — is key. This is tougher by text or email, so try to get some face or phone time with them as well.

Take notes

Can you possibly remember everything they asked you to do? And every deadline? I doubt it. No matter how trivial the conversation appears to be — your boss is running between meetings or it sounds like an afterthought — it’s important to them. Which means it’s important to you!

Ask a lot of questions

Some bosses don’t have much time, or patience, to deal with endless questions, so knowing how much they will reveal and when is also a measure of how perceptive and sensitive to nuance you are; read up on the notion of emotional intelligence.

EQ matters as much as — if not more than —  IQ!

Do not guess. Do not make assumptions! It’s better to feel stupid and ask a question than screw it up by thinking because you graduated college you know what your boss really wants. You might.

But what if you’re wrong?

Email, call or text when necessary for clarification

I prefer assistants comfortable working independently because I have little time to manage or train them; if you see the word “self-starter” in an ad, that’s what they mean. But you will always have something you’re not quite sure of. Check!

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Check in!

How’s it going? Really.

If something is heading south, for whatever reason, your boss needs to know about it sooner rather than later so it can get fixed. If you’re used to parents who check in with you, or you with them, this is not that. This is not you looking for approval or a thumbs-up or a “Great job!” from your boss.

Take nothing personally

It’s work, kids. It’s a job. It’s not the rest of your life. It’s not the only thing you do or care about. So if someone snaps at you or yells at you or hands you a task you think is stupid, it’s actually not about you. It’s been deemed important by the people paying for your skills and labor.

When people are nasty or rude or just even unfriendly in a work setting, it often has very little to do with you as a person  — (unless you’re rude, obnoxious, unethical, lazy or entitled. But you’re not, right?) They’re likely carrying a shitload of stress, work or personal and likely both, with few places to express it.

Yes, this task (or job) is boring/tedious/repetitive — do it really well anyway!

We picked you because you seemed like a smart, lively, high-energy person. We hired you to do everything we do not have time, energy, manpower or patience to deal with. We hired you because, in the coldest language possible, our time is now valued more highly in the marketplace than yours, and we have bills to pay. So if your boss can bill $200-1,000 an hour for their skills, that’s where their focus needs to stay.

We’ve all done this shit! And your willingness to tackle tedious stuff well and efficiently sends a powerful and important meta-message to your boss: I get it.

Be cheerful, warm and fun to work with

Huge. This is a deal-maker. I’ve had a few assistants who didn’t always do exactly what I hoped for, but their genuine enthusiasm and sense of humor made it feel like we were a team. Your boss is stressed to the max. S/he really appreciates someone whose mood and attitude can lighten their load — so no whining/pouting/crying/negativity. Learn the names of your boss’s kids/spouse/pets, (and ask how they’re doing from time to time), and his/her birthday, even if all you do is wish them a cheery “Happy birthday!” Bosses are people too. (Some of them.)

Ask if suggestions and ideas are welcome — then show us what you’ve got

It’s great that you have lots of ideas. It shows initiative and gumption. But wait a while. Wait a few weeks, even months, before you start making suggestions. Unless your boss asks you for them.

Be 10000000% reliable

This is obvious. Flaking and bailing are simply not an option. Remember the letters ID — illness or death. In my book, they’re the only reason you can bail or be late. I once hired someone, who came highly recommended, who had lots of great ideas. I was psyched! Then she quit within a week because she had another income source and she suddenly remembered it was more important.

Loyalty matters.

Bonus tip:

Discretion is paramount. Never share anything your boss shares with you on any form of social media. Don’t tell your friends or your room-mates or anyone. Don’t forward it or keep it or re-purpose it for your own ends, like the assistant who casually mentioned she’d used some of my first book’s research material for a class paper. Um, no.

You have no idea who they know — the person your boss is about to hire, fire, promote or give a grant to. I sometimes have my assistants sign an NDA, non disclosure agreement, to make sure they get it. Just because you grew up sharing everything on social media doesn’t mean your boss wants his or her stuff used as if it were yours. It’s not!

What have I left out?

Anna and Grace duke it out over Galliano — finally saw, and loved, 'The September Issue'

Anna Wintour at New York's Fall Fashion Week, 2005
Anna Wintour, Vogue editor. Image via Wikipedia

What a fun film!

OK, I am way behind on this one — the documentary, “The September Issue,” came out nationwide last September. I watched it yesterday. If you haven’t seen it, rent it with “The Devil Wears Prada” for a delicious double-bill, comparing real life to reel life.

For those of you not passionate about clothes, fashion, design or what Anna actually looks like without those damn sunglasses — the film is about the making of Vogue’s September issue, a legendarily enormous annual doorstop of a magazine weighing as much as a Thanksgiving turkey.

Tom Florio, publisher of Vogue, is a great character in the film as he tries to explicate Wintour’s terrifyingly glacial demeanor, deliciously parodied by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”, a film based on a book by  former Vogue assistant, Lauren Weisberger.

“She’s not warm,” he says. “I have to be warm for both of us. She’s busy. She’s busy doing her job.”

I’ve seen DWP so many times I can recite its dialogue by heart; I loved seeing how exactly it mimics Wintour’s real office, behavior and rareified lifestyle.

And the brutal, albeit very well-dressed, power struggles are Olympian!

Watching Grace Coddington — the magazine’s creative director — sparring with (and inevitably losing to) Wintour is a rare and telling glimpse of what it takes for two powerful, determined, talented and creative women to achieve, and remain at, the highest levels of this most competitive game. That both are British, coming from a culture where understatement trumps typical New York in-your-face-ness, only makes their civil but relentless jockeying for pages even more compelling.

Not to mention the enormous egos — photographers, models, editors, art directors, designers. However appalling to every feminist bone in my body, I loved the scene where the art director is deciding which image of Sienna Miller to use on the most valuable piece of real estate, the cover — and he’s dismayed by her visible fillings (!)

“I think this neck looks better. Maybe we’ll put this head on this body,” he says, revealing how their use of Photoshop and retouching is as automatic and unremarkable as breathing. Altered images, which I’ve blogged about here before, are normal in this world. Therefore Grace — desperate to rescue a failed shoot by using one of the documentary’s middle-aged male cameramen, complete with his real pot-belly, as a photo subject — has to rush to the phone to make sure his jiggly real-world belly is not artifically flattened by their ruthlessly fastidious re-touchers.

“We’re not,” she says to the camera, “all perfect.”

Even if reading Vogue has never been a priority, check it out.

It’s funny, moving, telling — few documentaries focus on women at work, let alone whose well-toned arms wrestle so fiercely for raw, pure power.

That's Why They Call It Conde Nasty — New Hotline Helps Colleagues Drop A Dime On Each Other

US Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour (2ndL) a...
Vogue editor Anna Wintour, in green.Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

That’s my kind of corporation! Rat out your colleagues, courtesy of an in-house hotline. Reports the New York Post:

Insiders got a memo yesterday from Chief Financial Officer John Bellando, revealing that the company set up the hotline to stop the “release of proprietary information, accounting/audit irregularities, falsification of company records, theft of goods/services/cash,” and even “unauthorized discounts/payoffs.”

This could put a damper on some of the perks inside S.I. Newhouse Jr.‘s empire.

Last fall a hacker broke into Condé’s system and stole early copies of GQ, Vogue and other magazines, which were posted online.

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Yesterday’s move seemed to put the brakes on CEO Charles Townsend‘s happiness campaign. Trying to boost morale after 2009’s turmoil and layoffs, he recently did a coast-to-coast tour to give a corporate pep talk and encourage staffers to “get their mojo back.”

Conde Nast, named for the man who founded the publishing empire in 1909 by acquiring Vogue, is legendary in Manhattan publishing circles for its elite worldview. The 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada”, starring Meryl Streep, is said to be based on Anna Wintour, long-time Vogue editor.

I interviewed at Conde Nast a few times, but never got hired there. It’s a great place to have on your resume, but maybe — now — not such a cosy place to crank out copy.

The Devil Wears Nada — Does Anyone Still Long To Be A Glossy Mag Journalist?

The Devil Wears Prada (film)
Image via Wikipedia

The scene I always find fascinating in the 2006  film “The Devil Wears Prada” is when Miranda Priestley drawlingly reminds her assistant Andrea, as she prepares to step into a crowd of Paris paparazzi, that “everyone wants to be us.” Only three years later, it feels like a century ago.

I just heard Ruth Reichl on Terri Gross’ NPR show “Fresh Air” mourning the sudden demise of Gourmet, one of the most glossy of all glossies, of which she was editor in chief, a place she described as the best job she ever had — 10 years of big budgets, free rein and a wildly creative team. Gone. And gone for good with no warning. I also heard today from the partner of a long-time Gourmet staffer, agreeing they had no clue the axe was about to fall. For journos with a deep and abiding taste for covering, if not living, the best of things, what’s next?

True Slant harbors a few ex-glossy mag staffers, so they know what’s been lost.

Given the Conde Nast bloodbath, the widespread Titanic-ness of the magazine industry these days and the paucity of jobs available at any level, does anyone even want those jobs anymore? Will they even exist in a few years?

What is the staff media job everyone wants — that actually pays?