The Best First Job

My first job about of college was as a sales assistant (underpaid secretary) to five young stockbrokers at the firm of Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. This was not my dream job; I had no dream job. I majored in business management, a practical sounding choice, but I never really thought about how that might translate into what I would do for a living. So when I interviewed for the position (my one and only post college interview) and was offered the whopping annual salary of $13,000, I accepted. My rent was $500 a month at the time. I have no idea how I made that math work, but somehow I did.

The first thing about my office that now strikes me as crazy is that we were allowed to smoke, not only inside the building,  but at our desks. I was a casual smoker when I began the job, but I soon graduated to junior varsity chain smoker as the boredom set in.

I reported to five up-and-coming, young, stock broker types who spent their days cold calling unsuspecting blue collar business owners to pitch the latest stock recommendations to come down from Dean Witter’s crack research department. All day long these young men would read their own personalized version of the script of the week, over and over and over. “Hi, Mr. Jones, yes this is Bill Smith with Dean Witter. Just wondering if I could take a minute of your time to tell you about blah, blah, blah?” Some prospects would hang up and some would wait to hear more. One such young man spent a full week calling all his prospects to keep them “up to breast” on a situation. We listened and we let him.

I was responsible for answering the phones of those broker types, particularly those who wanted to give the impression that they were more successful than they were. I was also responsible for copious amounts of copying – we had no regard for copyrights or trees in those days. My main function, however, was to type the names and addresses into copied form letters that would be sent with various investment literature or account documentation.

The job was mind numbing, but the industry was dynamic and most of the people I worked with were great fun. We were all young, fledgling alcoholics and happy hour was every night.  We girls didn’t often have to pay for drinks, as it was well known that we made less than no money. The jokes were all off color and no one thought to be offended. The idea of appropriate workplace conduct was completely unknown. By today’s standards there would have been at least one sexual harassment suit a week. Office relationships abounded and many were of the extramarital variety.

And to be clear – this was all in the eighties, not the Mad Men sixties that is all the rage now.

We danced in the aisles, literally. We swore openly and with gusto. We had liquid lunches. We napped on the lady’s room couch after late nights and paged one another when our lunch hour had ended. We photocopied our boobs. We made lifelong friends. We may have been the least professional people in the entire professional world.

I didn’t know it then, but it was perhaps the best first job ever.