I remember driving to my interview from Smith. I drove down alone in my little Audi Fox. My dad had given me the car in my sophomore year as a reward for getting good grades and because going to an all women’s college had made a social life difficult without a car.
It was pouring rain. I knew the 95 well but it still felt treacherous to be driving. I don’t think I had ever driven into Manhattan from school before and I was nervous. It was only mid March but I was interviewing for my first post college job early. I knew that I wouldn’t want to live at home for long before moving into the city so a job was an imperative.
I grew up loving fashion magazines.
I was obsessed with them.
I had to have Seventeen, Glamour, Mademoiselle and of course Vogue every month.
I was fiercely possessive over them. I never shared them with anyone and I read them privately and in silence.
I didn’t just read them, I studied them . I knew the names of every designer, all the photographers, and the models.
When I was at Smith there were only two things I wanted to do. I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to work at Vogue magazine.
My dad would have neither. Neither seemed good enough for him.
I studied medicine because he was a doctor and it was difficult and cost me a real experience of learning.
In my senior year I switched majors to french literature and before graduating decided that as I hadn’t been able to study acting, I could still perhaps work at Vogue.
And so I wrote to Conde Nast, the publishing company that hires for all their magazines. At the time they were, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Brides, GQ, House and Garden and I think, Gourmet.
I wrote and I was invited to come in for an interview.
I wore a bone colored suit with a little fitted jacket and a knee length skirt. With it, a short sleeved, nubby knitted crew neck little sweater and on my feet, spectator pumps. My curly hair was blown out smoothly and as it was raining I drove into the city with it twisted around my head tightly and covered with a stripped ski cap.
My plan was to brush out my hair at the last minute.
I do not remember arriving to the building or where I parked.
I do remember my interview with Ms. Sarah Slavin.
Ms. Slavin was a conservative brunette with a pretty face. It was challenging being interviewed by her as one of her eyes was either lazy or deformed and so I spent much of the interview wondering if she could tell that I was either looking into that eye, or not looking at it. I tried to look into both eyes normally. I wondered what was normal and whether or not one looks into both eyes at once . I tried to look from one eye to the other in a casual way. I finally decided to talk into her mouth and to listen there too and I wondered if she could tell.
I remember that she stood up and extended her hand and said, “Well, thank you, Shareen, lovely to meet you.” And I stopped for a second and thought, she is dismissing me. She is sending me away. And so I said, ” No, no, wait, I am going to work here. I am not going to leave here until I do work here. I have been offered jobs in the Bloomingdales buying program and the Macy’s buying program and I am going to turn them both down. I will sit out there in your waiting room unemployed for the next year if I have to but I am going to work here.”
Honestly, I do not know where I got that from or how I had that moxie but I was always outgoing and very confident and determined.. And she smiled at me. I can still see her. She smiled at me and said, ok, then, let me bring you back in for a typing test.
Conde Nast is a publishing company. At the time it was a tradition to take a typing test irrespective of which department you were to work in. It was required that you pass the typing test before moving forward with the interview process. One had to type 50 words a minute with only 5 mistakes.
Smith College does not have dorms. Rather it has houses in which you live for all four years. The houses house all four grades and you have singles or doubles depending on seniority. Everyone eats together in the “dining room” and there is a common living room and study room on the first floor.
For three weeks in April I was found in the study room typing. I had a basic typing instruction manual from which I read while typing on my IBM electric typewriter. At the time you only studied typing if you intended to be a secretary. It wasn’t like today when typing is a part of our every waking moment. And so I sat in the study practicing over and over and over.
I remember the tiny room in the personnel offices in which there was housed a simple metal table, an electric typewriter and a chair. I was seated there, a piece of copy was placed to my side, Ms. Slavin stood over me and I was timed for exactly 60 seconds. Ms Slavin circled each mistake in red. 8. I had failed.
I asked if I could take the test again and she permitted me. I took a deep breath.
It felt as if the keys were moving underneath my fingers. I lost control. 9. Failed.
I looked up at her blankly.
She asked if I could do better and I said, I know I can.
She suggested I go and take a walk, get some air and come back after lunch.
To be continued…