Everything About Being An Assistant Is Awful

blankenship gif Mad Men assistantsNicole and I, it turned out, both bookmarked that Dissent article about Assistant-ing, and we both have strong feelings about it. Here are mine:

1) Being an assistant is terrible. Don’t do it.

2) Just kidding, you have to do it, at least in certain industries. The white-collar job market is set up such that, straight out of college, you have few options except to be an assistant.

3) Wait a minute, you may ask. What if you’re not good at long days of answering phones, organizing files, and taking abuse for minimal pay? Isn’t there another way to break in? To prove your worth? To actually do the stuff you’re good at in an office?

4) No.

5) Okay, fine. But won’t I get promoted if I work as an assistant? Won’t I impress them with my loyalty and dedication and my ability to keep their secrets?

6) No. This is the paradox of assistant-hood. If you’re not a good assistant — which is to say, you’re not good at being a secretary, and, let’s be honest, if you graduated from a typical, four-year university, you were probably taught a little of everything except how to be a secretary — you’ll get fired. If you are a good assistant, you’ll get pigeonholed as a submissive and ignored.

Besides, over my years I have noticed that, the more exciting and important a position is, the less willing any company seems to be to hire from within.

7) Well, what did you do, smarty pants?

8) I was a mediocre assistant for several years until I had finally accumulated enough “experience” to get a job as an Associate Editor at a start-up. All of my coworkers, though, were younger than I was, having come straight out of Journalism school or their first jobs. Even my managing editor was younger than me. Even the CEO was! It was a little embarrassing.

9) Is there a solution to this intractable problem?

10) Yes! So glad you asked. There should be career secretaries like Miss Blankenship, people who are good at doing the support-staff work that needs to get done. Today’s Peggy, who is only becoming an assistant because she needs “experience” and has to start in an industry somewhere, not because she is organized or hyper-detail-oriented, should be put on a different track. Call it apprentice-ship.

11) Won’t it annoy companies to have pay real salaries to secretaries instead of the crap, entry-level wages they get away with paying now?

12) Sure, but they will probably find that their companies run more smoothly and efficiently when people do their jobs well. Besides, right now, an average assistant stays at a position for what, a year, maybe? The constant turnover must be killer in terms of institutional memory and productivity.

13) Are there other hacks?

14) Of course. You can avoid industries that seem sexy and are actually manipulative, soul-killing machines that profit off of your naïveté. You can try grad school. Or, if you have a combination of creativity, drive, resilience, and ideally a little bit of a financial cushion, you can work on being the talent, not the talent agency assistant.

My cousins did that. They wanted to work in Entertainment; so did I. But whereas I thought, in an old-school kind of way, that I should start at the bottom, prove my worth, and rise like bubbles in a glass of Diet Coke, they took a different tack. They never got traditional 9-5 jobs. Instead, they made money however they could, on the side, and steadily worked together to become The Talent.

They are now represented by the very same agency from which I had to leave rather than be fired after I went to the Emergency Room during the workday for what turned out to be a serious kidney infection. They are in the midst of making album, podcast, and TV deals. You might know them as ItsTheReal.


Blankenship gif via Nobody Puts Baby In A Horner



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