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2011 July 19

The Assistant Files, Vol. 20: Jessica Duncan, Glamour's Cindi Leive

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Jessica Duncan Jessica Duncan
Alexandra Ilyashov
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(NEW YORK) This week, “The Assistant Files” gets Glamour-ous with editor-in-chief Cindi Leive’s assistant, Jessica Duncan. The veteran Condé intern has been tag-teaming with another EIC's assistant for years to make the Glamour gamut run smoothly.  Duncan also met a coterie of BFFs at the ultimate girly mag. You know what that means: happy hours and baby showers galore! BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

How did you get this gig?
I’ve always been really passionate about reading, writing, and magazines.  I was an English major at NYU and then actually transferred to film production. But while working in film, I started to miss the literary life. I found out that one of my writing professors did an internship at the New Yorker—I totally hounded the poor guy and he sent my resume to Condé Nast. I got lucky and scored an editorial intern gig. I was there for three or four months, and while I was there I decided to try another Condé Nast magazine. I interned at Vogue, which was amazing, and then I somehow got on the shortlist for possible assistants.  When Cindi called me, I came running!

What was your interview with Cindi like?
First of all, her office—it’s  so beautiful and light-filled, I was sort of in awe. It’s what you imagine an EIC office would look like.  I remember thinking she was so nice and approachable; she asked me lots of questions, and of course, I was terrified. But she put me at ease.

How was your first week on the job?
I’m typically not a nervous person, but I was so scared. There’s something terrifying about starting your dream job. It’s hard not to worry, “What if I’m not what they wanted, or the job isn’t what I thought it would be?” But it turned out great.  On my first day, there was a meeting of the senior editors—Cindi marched me in there and introduced me to everyone, which was a really nice intro.  From my internships, I kind of knew Condé Nast culture already, so I got comfortable really quickly.

Describe your daily grind.
Cindi has another assistant, too, named Ranya Barrett. The three of us have weekly meetings to discuss everything. There’s a lot of day-to-day management of Cindi’s calendar—we always call and confirm every meeting for the following day as well. It’s not unusual for her to have 11 or 12 meetings in one day. It takes a significant part of the day. She spends most of her time in this office; she’s really dedicated to being with our staff. Ranya and I also put together research folders for Cindi, so she’s prepared for all of her meetings. Besides the calendar on our Entourage email system, we have a three-folder system set up: reader mail, correspondence and invitations. Cindi reads ever single letter that comes in, and we send her home with a stack of mail each week that’s about two inches thick. She’s really responsive; if someone writes her about getting an internship, she’ll connect them with our intern coordinator. She likes to take care of the people who reach out to her. She also does a lot of presentations, like a recent one at the NYU publishing course, for example, so I build a lot of her presentations on Powerpoint, which can take a lot of time. Because we’re producing such a big magazine on a deadline, people here operate with the understanding that you just have to buckle down and stay until the work is done—and you never know when the work is going to be done. I’ve pulled some really long hours. I live and breathe this magazine, and that’s sometimes just what you have to do. I’m my harshest critic. Meeting my own standards sometimes takes a lot of time. and I never want to turn in work that I’m not proud of.

What do you work on beyond making Cindi’s life run smoothly?
My duties are starting to become more and more editorial.  When I first started, I let myself have about six months in this position to just really focus on getting my job down and doing it well. We’re very systematic here, so I wanted to make sure I had all of those systems down pat and could do it well. I told Cindi I wanted to help out in the entertainment department here, and she said of course—she’s very nurturing of our editorial desires, because she started her career as a Glamour editorial assistant. Once you get involved with editorial work, and prove you’re capable and willing, the work just keeps coming! I have around three or four assignments for each issue, and most of it is in our “Do’s, Don’ts, News and Views” section. I also write and pitch health stories, and I’ve worked on a couple of the feature well stories. It can be difficult to juggle, but that’s the great thing about having Ranya as a co-assistant. We can really lean on each other. 

Has there been any shift in your title as your to-do list has been beefed up?
Earlier this year, Cindi promoted me to assistant editor, and she gave me this amazing opportunity to co-edit this amazing book. It’s called Thirty Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By the Time She’s 30, and it’s a dream to work on something and feel like she trusts me with such a big project. 

Speaking of Glamour projects, have you cooked the classic Engagement Chicken yet?

I haven’t, because I have a boyfriend but we’re not quite at that step yet. Maybe I’ll make it in a few years. 

What have you heard about Cindi’s time as a Glamour EA back in the day?
I’ve heard she was ambitious and a real go-getter. This December marks Cindi’s tenth anniversary as EIC at Glamour. She’s spent much of her working life at Glamour, and it shows. 

How about internship tales?

She was an intern at The Paris Review one summer during college, and she had just switched her major to religion. Her professor assigned the Bible as summer reading, and she thought it was no big deal, but it’s obviously a bit dense. So Cindi went to work by day and read the Bible at night. They had Cindi fact-checking the Review’s Russian poetry issue, and this was in the days back before Google, so she had to do all of her work at the library. Russian names are extremely long and all consonants, so as a fact-checker you’d imagine it would be quite a nightmare. While a friend was staying with her and visiting, Cindi apparently got up in her sleep, walked over to her friend with the Bible in hand and said “Betsy! We have to fact-check this whole book!” The next day, Cindi went to work and said she needed a new assignment. They told her, “No! You do this assignment!” I think that was a big lesson for Cindi about the publishing world.

What was your relationship like with Glamour before working here?
I definitely had been reading it for years—I started when I was young enough for my mom to be a bit concerned, I’d say. I still snuck it under my covers at night anyway. I felt like I really knew the magazine before working here.

Is there much assistant camaraderie at the mag?
The assistant culture here is amazing. We all support each other, and we touch base and talk to one another all throughout the day. We also see a lot of each other outside the office; we make an effort to have drinks, and I feel like there’s a party every weekend with Glamour people, basically. I didn’t have many girlfriends before I started working here, and now I feel like I have a solid 10 close girlfriends, which is really cool. It also speaks to what this magazine is all about it—that smart, caring, positive, supportive girlfriend-y message. We all really live that message here at the office.

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