As I read the news of the departures of longtime staffers with whom I worked closely at the Huffington Post, I think back to the day I got the biggest break of my career. It a warm April afternoon in 2008, I was 24 years old, and I was sitting outside an office building in midtown Manhattan, waiting for Arianna Huffington to pick me up. I was interviewing for an entry-level job as an associate blog editor at the Huffington Post. The company was beginning to make a splash in the news world, but it was still a bare-bones operation, with only 10 or 15 editors in a large SoHo room filled with MacBooks and flat-screen TVs. I’d interviewed there earlier in the week with two senior editors, and it appeared to have gone well. They made me an appointment to meet the boss. I was told Arianna personally approved every hire. I only dared to dream that this meant that if all went well, I would get the job. My jobs in publishing thus far had been as an intern, a freelance writer, and a fact checker. I didn’t have famous or well-connected parents. My main qualification, I think, was that I was insanely ambitious.
The editor, Colin, who’d set up the meeting, kept in phone contact with me, informing me that Arianna was running a little late, and that when I was looking for her, I should know that Arianna was taller in person than I might imagine. (True.) The plan was to do the interview in her town car as she was driven from her meeting to a luncheon. Also, she had a CNBC film crew with her, so she would be sort of easy to spot.
She had a film crew with her. I didn’t really have time to think about what this meant before Arianna appeared, camera and soundmen trailing. “Sorry about all of this fuss,” she said as she waved at the crew. “Just ignore them.” As we walked to the car, we chatted about my alma mater, Vassar, which her oldest daughter was considering attending in the fall. We sat down in the back seat while the cameraman moved into the front passenger seat.
“Can we mic you?” he asked gruffly. They were filming everything Arianna did that day.
Arianna looked at me. I realized the only answer was yes. I was about to have the biggest job interview of my young life, and it was going to be filmed for national television. I did not let myself think about the pressure, or the absurdity. I don’t remember her asking many typical interview questions, or looking at my résumé. She did ask, “So where do you see yourself in five years?”
I answered something like: “I don’t think anyone knows what news or online journalism is even going to be like in five years. I just know I want to be a part of the conversation of helping create whatever it becomes.”
She liked that. She smiled. Every time I answered a question, the cameraman pushed the huge lens about a foot from my face. After 10 minutes of chatting, she’d made her decision. “Katherine, you are fabulous. You’re hired!” She beamed at me, and she beamed at the camera. I beamed right back.
She called Colin to tell him the good news. After handing me a galley of her latest book, she made calls and checked her BlackBerrys until the town car pulled up to a charity luncheon in Chelsea for which she was the keynote speaker.
“Come to the luncheon with me,” she offered. “It will be great!”
I quickly agreed. Over the course of a short car ride, I had been transformed from a girl with a résumé that had deeper aspirations than depth to a woman who got invited to trendy events as Arianna Huffington’s guest.
Arianna made the driver step out of the car so she could make a privileged phone call related to a news tip about Hillary Clinton. I could listen in, she said, now that I was part of the team. I was wide-eyed with excitement.
As we entered the luncheon, Arianna introduced me to the crowd—women who worked in fashion, all wearing perfect black dresses—as the newest member of the HuffPost team. I was handed a gift bag that included Armani sunglasses, a $100 gift certificate to a store that sold clothes costing $1,000, a copy of an earlier book by Arianna, and some cookies. I was directed to a seat toward the back, where I imagine they stashed people who weren’t actually invited. I made small talk with some junior fashion staffers. They seemed quite impressed by my new job.
It was all so incredible that I stepped outside to call Colin to confirm that this was, in fact, a real job offer, that I hadn’t just landed into some kind of fairy tale involving cookies and designer eyewear. He confirmed with a chuckle that I did have the job, and that he’d see me Monday.
Arianna gave her talk, and afterward many of the women in the audience lined up to get their books signed or have their picture taken. I went to say goodbye, and she gave me air kisses on both cheeks. “Katherine, I’ll talk to you soon!” The film crew was still tailing her. I gushingly thanked her and left.
I donned my Armani sunglasses and floated down the street. I stayed at HuffPost for the next two and a half years, and most of the days were not as glamorous as that spring afternoon. I waited with nervous anticipation for the CNBC segment to come out. Was I going to come across as some flighty Apprentice wannabe? Would my new co-workers see it and laugh at my answers?
I watched it at the office when it aired, and I could barely breathe. I was relieved they didn’t include any of my answers. The story, of course, was about Arianna. I was just a flicker across the screen.