By Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal
Here’s the incredibly true story of why I NEVER should been hired for my very first job as the assistant-to-the-editor-in-chief of CosmoGIRL! magazine. Now, I mentioned in my very first blog post on Not So It Girl that I spotted the premiere issue of CosmoGIRL! on the newsstand at a Walmart around 2am. I read then 26-year-old editor-in-chief Atoosa Rubenstein’s letter from the editor and KNEW I was destined to work there. Atoosa bravely printed pictures of herself as a teen AND put Ben Affleck stickers in the magazine. I was in heaven.
Once I moved to New York City, I applied to any and every magazine editor job in the teen/pop culture/entertainment genre . . . even the positions that specifically required “one or two years experience.” So, when I couldn’t figure out an “in” at CosmoGIRL!, I applied for an associate editor job at “big” Cosmo. I had zero business throwing my hat in the ring but my chutzpah paid off. A week later, I received a phone call from Cosmo‘s then editor-in-chief Kate White’s very chirpy assistant Miriam. I was so shocked, I spit out my coffee and watched it dribble down my already stained shirt and desperately tried to sound more professional that I currently looked.
“Hello? Lauren?” Miriam sang the greeting into the phone like she was warming up for Carnegie Hall. “Is this Lauren Brown?”
“Yes,” I answered nervously.
“This is Miriam from Cosmo—I’m Kate White’s assistant. You’re not ready for the job you applied for, associate editor, I believe? No no no. But, Kate noticed you were an ASME intern . . .”
I braced myself for what was coming next—I expected a gentle blow with a promise to keep me in mind for something more appropriate for my experience level—and a final wish of having better news and lots of luck to me in my job search.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.
“Did you know that we just launched a teen magazine called CosmoGIRL!?” Miriam asked.
I spit out my coffee again—was she teasing me?
“Yes, I LOVED the first issue!” I squealed. No sense in trying to “act cool” now!
“Well, the editor-in-chief, her name is Atoosa, she’s looking for an assistant and Kate thought that if you were interested that she’d pass your resume along. It’s the perfect job for someone just starting out.”
“That is my DREAM job,” I squealed into the phone.
A week later, Atoosa called me to personally set up our interview. When we hung up, I had no clue if I was supposed to show up at her office the next day at 12 or 1pm.
Because I was so excited, I broke one of my now cardinal rules and did NOT bother to find pen and paper to write down the details. I decided it was better to show up early rather than late so I picked noon as my arrival time. I was an hour early and it was not a good look. Atoosa thought it was her mistake, laughing, “This is why I need an assistant!” and I did nothing to correct her. To this day, I’m positive she was onto me.
In person, Atoosa was larger than life—it was like being in the presence of a supermodel. She seemed much older and wiser than 26-years-old, especially because her leather skirt, designer t-shirt and stilettos definitely cost more than my college tuition. She was poised and confident and I felt fat, weird and awkward trailing behind her in my ill-fitting skirt straight off the Old Navy clearance rack. My hair was barely blow dried and my eyes watery from an allergic reaction triggered on the subway. I was a hot mess and I knew there was no way I was getting this job. There’s was no way she’d ever want someone like me representing her.
As we sat down to chat, I was still tongue tied and still thrown by my early arrival. Atoosa looked at me curiously, trying to size me up, and dove right in. Every other interview I’d been on had focused on my skills, college experience and internships. Atoosa asked me my astrological sign, what magazines I read and the TV shows I obsessed over. Was I into Backstreet Boys or NSYNC? And what did I think about the very first CG! cover featuring Melissa Joan Hart? When did I know I wanted to be a writer?
Then, she asked me where I saw myself in ten years and I panicked. I asked if I could answer with a five year plan instead because ten years felt beyond scary. She obliged but I could sense a shift—there was doubt. Somehow, as I was getting up to leave and go cry over a plate of carbs and cheese, I worked in my craziest story from college about finagling a meeting with my idol Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I told Atoosa how I manifested it with a persistence I never knew was inside me—much like how I knew this job was meant for me too.
I walked out POSITIVE my career was over before it started. I cursed myself for not just making up a ten year plan. I felt I deserved to be cursed with late and crowded subways for the rest of my time in NYC as punishment for not writing down the correct interview time. And, let’s not forget I didn’t know a red soled Louboutin from a Steve Madden knock off. I wasn’t stylish, sophisticated or put together enough to represent Atoosa or work at a fashion-centric publication. I resent my application to Teen People while looking at the prices of one way tickets back home to Miami. Maybe New York City and CosmoGIRL! just weren’t meant to be?
I was about to pull the trigger on the cheapest flight I could find—just four layovers, no big deal when you didn’t have any income to speak of—when a call came through from the HR department at Hearst magazines. A call that changed my life.
DID I WANT THE JOB AS ATOOSA’S ASSISTANT?
Um, did I want to fit into clothes on the second floor of Bloomingdales? Did I want a boyfriend who actually called me back? Did I want the metabolism of Cindy Crawford? YES YES YES. I could not believe my Walmart fever dream was coming true.
Later that night, Atoosa personally called to say congrats, welcome me to the team and reveal what tipped things in my favor: the Steven Tyler story. She just knew in that moment that I was a true CosmoGIRL! at heart and meant for the job.
So nearly 20 years later and I still thank Steven Tyler for making sure my career wasn’t derailed before it started. My encounter with him happened because I refused to take “no” for an answer. That side of my personality was muted for a bit when I first got to NYC—but it inadvertently propelled me into the industry of my dreams. And that drive grew with a vengeance as I got more settled and established.
But now, can we get real for a moment? This story had a happy ending but here’s what you must takeaway from my mistakes:
– TAPE A NOTEBOOK TO YOUR HANDS. Whether you’re an intern, assistant or the boss—ALWAYS WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. Your notes are your saving grace. As a hiring manager later in my career, I was not always so forgiving of lateness. I once had an assistant show up an hour late on her first day . . . enough said.
– Go for the job you know you’re NOT qualified for—you have nothing to lose, it CAN get you noticed (for the right reasons ) and get you remembered when you ARE ready. It’s a subtle way to network and lay down the foundation of your career.
– If you have a Steven Tyler [insert celebrity YOU idolize here] story, it’s always a sure way to get noticed. Ultimately, by expressing that you’re passionate about something—anything, it really doesn’t matter what or who—it shows a side of your personality and depth of character that might NOT be made clear otherwise.
– Have your five and ten year plans locked, loaded and ready to be unloaded. Doesn’t matter if you’re prepping for a job interview or perfectly content where you are. Whip out a piece of paper and pen and just start writing where you see yourself in the future. Don’t even let the pen come up for air until everything at the top of your mind spills onto the paper.
– Feeling out of your league is a discomfort that you must experience. It’ll help you block out whatever intimidates you and not allow it to trip you up. Now, technically, I couldn’t block Atoosa out during our interview—but I could’ve pretended we were already best friends and acted accordingly!
Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal is the Storyteller-in-Chief of her site The Not So It Girl, sharing lessons learned from her career in media as a writer/editor (and more) over the past 20 years. She gets real about her experiences at outlets ranging from CosmoGIRL! and Glamour to MTV and Sirius Satellite Radio—and recounts painfully true stories (such as how/why reality stars got her fired and declaring bankruptcy at 30) to dole out career advice and create camaraderie. Follow @thenotsoitgirl on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—and read my full bio here!