In My Thirties: During my midthirties I was up for my first editor-in-chief job and I really, really wanted it—not only for the sake of my career but also to have more control in my life as a working mom. At the end of the final interview (with three top executives), someone inquired if I had any further questions. Partly out of desperation to land the job, I leaned forward and told the group, “I don’t have any additional questions, but I want to let you know how much I love the magazine and that I’d do an absolutely killer job for you.”
After I landed the position, the publisher told me, “We loved that you asked for the business that day.”
My Big Takeaway: Always ask. For the business. For more money than they’re offering. For opportunities. For the promotion. Don’t tell yourself, “They know I want it so I shouldn’t have to ask.” The only sure way to guarantee you’ll get something is to ask for it.
In My Forties: I had just snagged my first really big magazine job at the now defunct McCall’s. Incredibly naïve at the time about celebrities, I told my entertainment editor, “Let’s get Demi Moore for the cover.” I’d seen “Ghost” and found her breathtakingly gorgeous.
But Demi had about as much interest in doing McCall’s as she had in buying a pleather handbag. So working with my photo editor, I located a great paparazzi shot of her and used that for a cover. I wasn’t sure how it would sell but it was utterly captivating.
“When you’re new in a job, make one big splash as soon as you possibly can.”
Well unbeknownst to me, the now pregnant Demi had shot a cover in the nude for Vanity Fair and it ended up coming out the month before mine. It was a huge hit, and I ended up riding the tailwind: My issue sold double what my predecessor’s had the year before.
The two top guys in my company went nuts. I laughed when one of them told me, “Awesome. And that coverline ‘Big Beautiful Breasts’ probably helped too.” He’d been so dazzled by the sales, he didn’t realize the line was actually “Healthy Beautiful Breasts.”
My Big Takeaway: When you’re new in a job, make one big splash as soon as you possibly can. Not lots of splashes right away, just one, because you need to do some homework still. I didn’t set out to make a big splash—I was just going for a great cover—but once sales were in, I could see the full halo effect of my choice. They were thrilled they hired me and I bought myself plenty of time.
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In My Fifties: By this point in my career, I’d starting writing books, in part because it had always been a secret fantasy of mine, but also because I wanted to cover my butt with a plan B in case I was ever canned. After a publisher made me a nice offer for a nonfiction book, I was told that one of my advocates at the house was a woman I’d chatted with at a luncheon the year before.
My Big Takeaway: Networking isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. OK, that’s a stretch, but as I look back at everything I got, so much of it was based on networking. Don’t just network when you’re looking for a job. Do it all the time. Ask questions. Listen more than you talk. Follow up. Act on what you learn.
Extra “Aha” Moment: That plan B I mentioned? It turns out it was brilliant on my part. After I decided to leave magazine publishing, I had another career waiting. So if you don’t have a plan B yet, start thinking of one.
So those are just a few of my favorite “aha” moments. Watch for your own now. Realize that they don’t always occur in the thick of things and that you may need to give thoughts time to bubble up. The key is not to flinch at what your brain is trying to whisper to you. Pay attention—and then run with it.
Kate White’s most recent career book, ”I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve,” is just out in paperback. Visit her website, katewhite.com, to learn more about it, as well as the thrillers and mysteries she writes.