Kate White’s Career Secrets

by Kate WhiteLearnvest – October 7, 2013


Lesson Learned Along the Way

One of the great “aha” moments in my career occurred the day I threw Jennifer Aniston on the ground.

Well, I didn’t actually throw her down. Rather, I tossed her recent Cosmo cover on the carpet along with the previous year and a half’s worth of issues. I’d just taken over as editor-in- chief of the magazine, and I wanted to study the covers my predecessor had done, along with the sales figures for each.

And here’s the cool revelation that followed: If I considered just the covers with models rather than actresses, blonds sold better than brunettes (Jen, by the way, was pure newsstand gold). I used this information to my advantage, booking models like James King and Rebecca Romijn for my first covers, and before long I was averaging sales of over 2 million copies a month, double what my nearest competitor was selling.

Every career has “aha” moments. Though my discovery about blonds vs. brunettes probably won’t do you any good, here are few more of mine—decade by decade—that might be worthwhile for you in your own career.

In My Twenties

After a couple of years as an editorial assistant at Glamour magazine, I was finally promoted to staff writer. Most of my assignments, though, were for a section called the Do Anything Better Guide and were sad little items like “How to Get Rid of a Pimple by Saturday Night” (whatever you do, don’t pick!). I lobbied to be given a feature assignment, but I was bluntly told I didn’t have enough reporting experience yet.

I hated being boxed out of doing bigger pieces. So without an actual assignment, I wrote an essay about the joys and pains of being single in New York City. The magazine rarely ran essays but that seemed like my only shot at doing a full-length article.

About an hour after I left the piece on the editor in chief’s desk, she walked down to the features department and asked a colleague if she knew who had written it. I’d been so nervous I’d neglected to put my freaking name on it! When I volunteered it was mine, the editor told me she loved what I’d done and was crashing it into the next issue. After it published, we were flooded with letters from other single girls who said they related to how I checked under my bed when I arrived home at night to make sure there was no one under there. Soon after, I was writing regular essays for the magazine and had my own column.

My Big Takeaway: Never simply do what they tell you to do. Go beyond that, take on extra projects, solve problems, fill a hole, do something your gut tells you other people are secretly clamoring for. (Hint: It also helped that I took the ask-forgiveness-not-permission tact.)

In My Thirties

During my mid-thirties 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.”

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