Know thyself. That mission is passed down to each freshman during convocation when you walk under the arch at Porters Lodge into the Cistern Yard, and it never leaves you. Mary Alice Miller ’12 felt the weight of those words throughout her time at the College of Charleston.
They were there when she declared her majors in English with concentrations in both poetry and fiction creative writing, and studio art with a photography concentration. They were there when she studied abroad in Spoleto Italy, when she took nine classes during her last semester though she only needed three, and when she spoke in front of thousands of students, alumni and families at the morning and afternoon spring commencement ceremonies.
Working to know herself has paid off for Miller, now the Editorial Production Assistant at Vanity Fair. See the Q&A below to learn how she got the job.
Q: What do you do as Editorial Production Assistant?
A: I am the assistant to the Associate Managing Editor, Ellen Kiell, and I also assist a Contributing Editor, Elise O’Shaughnessy, as well as the 20-person production department.
Day-to-day it’s a lot of administrative work, but on a larger scale the main function of my position is to carry out decisions made by our Associate Managing Editor, whether they deal with scheduling, deadlines, manufacturing, or distribution. I also liaise with the advertising side of the magazine. The production department is a really strong team. We manage the stages of each page, always collaborating and moving things forward, so I am also there to assist anywhere in that process.
Q: Do you see yourself transitioning into a more writing-based role?
A: I love what I do, but I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to do a bit of writing for the web. I want to do a lot more of that. The digital side of the magazine has just undergone a total overhaul under the new Digital Director, Mike Hogan. It’s really exciting. Both he and the Digital Editor, Chris Rovzar, encourage the staff and assistants to pitch ideas directly to them. That’s been really good for me because I need the creative fulfillment and collaboration. I’d like to do more of that on top of the work that I do.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: It’s definitely working with the Associate Managing Editor, and I also love that I’m required to interact with everybody. So when I walk around the floor I get to talk to people and see all the different things they’re doing and learn from them.
Q: How did you get your job?
A: I interned at Vanity Fair the summer before senior year, and at the same time, I was also the production coordinator for Sean Thomas, a freelance photographer, who I actually worked with again recently on a short film. Interning at VF and working for Sean at the same time really helped prepare me for my current position.
Knowing I wanted to work at VF after college, I really struggled with how to keep in touch with the people I worked with there. It’s delicate because they’re so busy and notable. But I kept up with them and when I moved to New York I was told they didn’t have an Editorial Assistant position available, so I eventually met with my current boss for an informational interview. I was very eager, and we talked about my background in production. We immediately clicked, which was really important. Five days after we met I had the job, and I started July 5, 2012.
Q: What did you do during your internship to ensure your supervisors remembered you?
A: I tried to take everything as a learning experience, and to always volunteer for tasks. So I worked to become well rounded by taking on all the tasks they assigned, but I was hoping also to make an impression as someone they could count on to be available and who is ready to tackle any project.
Q: How did you acclimate to moving to New York City?
A: Leaving Charleston is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew I wanted to be in New York. I grew up not too far away from the City in Oyster Bay, N.Y., so it was important for me to be close to my family and friends. I’ve learned to be really outgoing, and also to be comfortable being by myself and doing the things I want to do in New York with or without friends and family.
My coworkers have also been a tremendous help. I work with a team of the most brilliant, capable, hilarious and kind people.
Q: What advice would you give to current students interested in working in the magazine industry?
A: First of all, Charleston is the most amazing place to live and learn so enjoy it. Spring semester of my senior year I took nine classes both for-credit and auditing, because I felt like I couldn’t leave without taking a class from this professor, or taking that crazy class. Just do as much as you can while you’re in Charleston, and really focus on “knowing thyself” because if you have that at your core, you can get through the ups and downs, the successes and the failures. All of it just adds to that.
Then, don’t be afraid to meet with people and ask questions. If a position is not available, ask for an informational interview, and ask the interviewer, “What can I do in the meantime to become a more attractive candidate when a position opens up?” It’s the kind of thing you can’t really ask in an interview, so take advantage of it when you can!