Recently I shared an excerpt from Emily Kimbrough’s enchanting memoir Through Charley’s Door, about the remarkable outfit Emily selected for her job interview at Marshall Field’s department store in 1925. As promised, here is a continuation of thestory, as recalled by Emily in her memoir. (Read Part I.)
Background: A family friend has arranged an interview for Emily with Miss Gardner in the Advertising Department. Fresh from college, Emily has zero business experience and only a vague idea of what sort of work she’d like to do. The story picks up as she’s driving to the interview in her family’s car.
“I said aloud the speeches I was planning for the interview. ‘I think I would like to be in your Book Department. I like to read and I read very quickly. I would be delighted to write book reviews that you could print in your advertisements in the newspapers.’ This sounded competent, I decided. After practicing it several times with variations, my mind was at ease, though physically I seemed unable to quiet the trembling of my hand on the steering bar, or the thumping of my heart under the gold velour. . .
“At the checking desk on the first floor I asked the location of the Advertising Department from the girl who took my coat. I asked her while I was undoing the safety pin that had secured my belt, fastening the pin to the lining, adjusting my thumb through my belt to hold it in place, my hand on my hip, and then arranging my dog under that arm. [Ed. She has brought her little dog Gamin to the interview.] She evidently didn’t hear me. I had to ask twice, ‘Can you tell me where the Advertising Department is?’ Even then she only gave a stare and said, “Pardon?” looking at me very intently, at least at my belt and Gamin. I asked a third time; then she told me she didn’t know. This annoyed me a little but she pleased me almost immediately after, by asking if I were a foreigner.”
Emily finds her way to the Advertising Department, where she meets Miss Gardner.
“We came around then to talking about me and what I wanted to do. First we talked about Paris, because her friend and my sponsor, Miss Etheridge, had told her I had been there only a few months before. Miss Gardner had lived in Paris as a child and had gone to school there. She told me a little about that, but broke off to ask if I had got my clothes in Paris, adding she hoped I didn’t mind her asking since fashion was her business and my costume was one she hadn’t seen before. I assured her happily I didn’t mind in the least and that my clothes had come from Paris. I thought it unnecessary to elaborate that the dress had not come from any of the big houses but from the floor of my bedroom at the pension where I had cut it out.
“It had been apparent to me from the very outset of our interview that Miss Gardner was interested in my costume, could in fact scarcely take her eyes from it. I accepted with a glow of pleasure this endorsement of my selection. But when she said she supposed I wanted to write fashion copy, I was startled. In the first place I didn’t know what the word ‘copy’ meant. Furthermore, the idea of writing had not crossed my mind, except perhaps to do book reviews. When I told her this, she was surprised. She had supposed since I’d come to the Advertising Bureau I wanted a job in advertising.
“I rearranged in my mind my career while she said this, and assured her that advertising was what I had really wanted.”
The interview continues, with Miss Gardner doing most of the talking.
“I sat in rigid suspense like someone posing for a flashlight picture, but my mind was careening around and up a ladder of successful journalism until I was perched on the top rung, directing all the advertising in all the newspapers of Chicago, possibly of America. Gamin jumped on my lap, but I hadn’t noticed, until Miss Gardner stooped over and tickled him behind an ear. ‘I’m afraid,’ she said, ‘if you come here to work, Marshall Field & Company will not welcome a dog with you.’
“I came down the ladder rapidly, stammering that I always left Gamin behind. Today was an exception. If this gave Miss Gardner the impression that I was an old hand at holding jobs, with or without a dog, she gave no indication of it.”
Miss Gardner gives Emily a copywriting assignment as a test. Emily listens to the instructions.
“‘I understand,’ I told her. And that was as false a statement as I had ever made in my life. Miss Gardner stood up, and that this indicated the end of our interview was the only thing I had understood during the preceding five minutes.”
Nonetheless, with a great deal of trouble, Emily completes the assignment and asks her father’s secretary, Miss Dennis, to type it up. She turns it in, sure that she has failed miserably. The next day she gets a phone call:
“Some time around noon I was told Miss Gardner wanted to speak to me on the telephone. I would have given almost anything in the world to send word I was out, but since it was Mother who had answered the telephone and given me the message, this did not seem feasible. I sat at the instrument a little time before I said hello, hoping, as I said it, I would not bring up my breakfast.
“They would like to have me start to work on Monday, Miss Gardner said, though between my nausea and the roaring in my ears I could not be sure I was hearing correctly. They needed a copywriter badly and liked the work I’d done. I babbled something to the effect that indeed I could certainly be at work on Monday morning.
“She was particularly impressed, she said, by the expert typing. So few girls who were not trained stenographers knew how to type at all. She and the head of the Bureau, to whom she had shown the piece, thought that with some training I could fit into the Field standard of writing. I hung up without telling her that probably Miss Dennis, my father’s secretary, was the person she wanted in the Advertising Bureau.”
Emily goes on to spend several years at Field’s, gradually working her way up to editing the store’s “Fashions of the Hour” publication (pictured at left), before moving to New York to become managing editor of Ladies Home Journal.
In a future post we’ll learn about Emily’s first day on the job. In the meantime, here are a few hints about job interviews you can pass along to the June grads in your life:
(1) Try to dress appropriately, but if you fail to do so, a confident attitude will carry you a long way.
(2) Don’t bring your dog to the interview, and
(3) Do your best to be well prepared. But sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
Do you remember your first job interview?