The Assistant Files, Vol. 38: Meaghan O'Connor, Seventeen's Ann Shoket
(NEW YORK) Now that NYFW is fini, it’s time to take another behind-the-scenes look at the life of an assistant. For this installation, The Daily ascended to the 17th floor chez Hearst to chat with Meaghan O’Connor, a Michigan native who serves as the right-hand girl to Seventeen’s EIC Ann Shoket. But don’t let this recent college grad fool you, O’Connor’s bubbly personality, sincere ambition, and knack for teen culture makes for both an apropos assistant and teen mentor. Impressive, non?
BY DENA SILVER
Tell us your life story, pre-Seventeen.
I grew up in Michigan and I graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in communications. We didn’t really have a journalism program, but I always knew that I wanted to get into [this field]. My first internship was at one of these little daily newspapers in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Do you have any other internships under your belt?
After my sophomore year, I landed an internship at Food Network Magazine, which is another Hearst magazine. I knew that Hearst owned Seventeen along with a few other titles I was interested in working for, so I used my time there to meet as many people as I could. I’d have coffee with every single person that would accept my email invite. Then, during my senior year at school, I did another internship with a local magazine in Ann Arbor.
How did you end up in New York?
I moved here two days after graduation, in May 2013. I knew a few people who knew Berna [Anat], the previous assistant here, and found out that she was leaving. I knew the job would be perfect for me, so I set up an interview with Berna.
What tips did Berna give you about this gig?
She was really upfront with me. She told me that a ton of girls would love to have this job, but they don’t realize how tough it is. It’s a lot of administrative work, but it’s really fun, because you get to see into every aspect of the magazine.
When did you first meet Seventeen’s EIC, Ann Shoket?
I met Ann for the first time when I was doing my internship with Food Network Magazine. I went to a Her Campus Conference, where Ann was a keynote speaker. I sat in the front row. At the end of her presentation she asked if anyone had any questions. I stood up and told her that I wanted to work in magazines, but my parents were nervous about me getting into the industry, so I asked her what I should tell them. Ann said ‘Do you want to film this answer for your parents?’ I took out my phone and started videotaping, and she said the reason she loves working in magazines is because people really love the stories that we tell and no matter what people say about magazines, they’re always going to want good content.
What did your parents say when you showed them the video?
They were shocked that I had one of the most powerful women in the industry backing me. They told me that if I could get a job in the magazine industry, they were totally OK with it!
Did Ann remember you from that first question?
After the conference, I went to the side of the stage and introduced myself to her. So when I walked in for my interview, Ann said ‘It’s nice to meet you, although I remember that we’ve already met!’
Tell us about your first day on the job!
It was crazy; I was a little overwhelmed, but we have a bible that’s basically a ‘how to’ book on everything. I spent my first few days digesting the bible over and over again; I wanted to make sure that I knew how the office worked. I learned a lot from the publisher’s assistant and sales assistants, too. We all love to help each other out, because we know that it’s a tough job.
Are people shocked that you landed this job right out of college?
I think so! People are surprised when they find out that I’m only 21 years old, but I think they can tell how passionate I am when they see why I want to be here.
Why did you gravitate to Seventeen?
I’ve grown up with Seventeen; I read it all throughout college. I fell in love with the brand in high school because I loved the real life stories and the advice, all of which seemed really genuine. I also have younger sisters, who are still teens. This job lets me go back to high school, which I really love!
Do your sisters ever give you ideas for stories?
All the time! I actually started this special reporter group on Facebook and invited all of my sister’s friends. Every time the editors say they need a trending story or advice on whether or not a nail trend is cool, I will post a message in the group and find out what they think.
What’s an average morning like at Seventeen?
I get in around 8:30 a.m., a little bit before Ann, so I have time to set out her newspapers. I make sure her office is clean and then I go to my computer and start answering emails like crazy.
What’s lunch like?
I set up a lot of lunch meetings, but most of the time, Ann just pops down there and gets her own lunch in the cafeteria!
Do you ever have late nights in the office?
Ann likes to be out of the door at a certain time of the day; that makes it easy for me to get out at a certain time too. We both like to have a life outside of work, and everyone here usually respects office hours.
Aside from assisting Ann, what are your other duties?
I schedule a lot of meetings and order office supplies. In addition, I manage our team of six features interns, meaning I give them tasks and make sure they’re working well with our editors. I’m also in charge of reading all of our reader mail, which is actually my favorite part of the job! We don’t get that many letters anymore, but we get tons of emails and tweets. It is important for us to find out what our readers want and work with them directly.
If your favorite part of the job is reading the fan mail, what is Ann’s favorite part of the job?
I think she loves being a brand ambassador and telling people why our brand is so special. For example, she sees a lot of girls on Twitter with big dreams and ambitions to go out and start their own businesses. She’s so responsive to them, whether it’s on Twitter or through emails.
Have any of the letters to the magazine ever resulted in an intern being hired?
I get a lot of resumes sent to me. The other day I got a laminated book version of Seventeen, with the girl who was applying for an internship on the cover and a complete layout telling me why she was the perfect intern candidate. It was so cool!
Do you have any writing responsibilities here?
Ann really wanted me to get my feet settled before I took on more responsibilities, so right now I just help out with research. Eventually, I’ll get to do some writing. But the research is great in itself. It allows me to tap into various areas and learn new things without having to labor over a piece of writing forever!
When you do get to write, what’s your preferred beat?
I love food and fitness! And while I do gravitate towards those sections, I also love a good news story.
What’s the best perk of your job?
Getting to see into every aspect of the job, and developing relationships with every person working at this magazine. By the time I’m done, I’ll have built up a professional relationship with everyone here!
Does Ann turn to you for teen culture advice?
Right before we decided on our One Direction cover, Ann called me into her office to ask me which band member I liked the most. Every other week we sit down in a conference room with all the editors for breakfast where we talk about life and what’s trending. Ann just wants to know what girls are talking about that we haven’t uncovered yet.
What’s your pop culture obsession?
I love teen fiction. Right now I’m reading the Divergent book series, but I was a huge Hunger Games person and Twilight, when that used to be a thing.
And when you were 17, did you know what you wanted to do?
I always wanted to work in magazines!