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In Praise of First Jobs

As mindless as many first jobs are, they can prove to be invaluable experiences. How else would many of us know how to carry six plates at a time or fold sweaters so neatly? On a more serious note, starter stints can teach useful lessons about people, ourselves and the nature of work. Check out what initiated some of our 2016 speakers into the world of gainful employment—and what they learned.

Carla Harris

Carla Harris“Working at McDonald’s was my first W-2 job. You were expected to serve each customer in 60 seconds, and I liked the challenge. I got very effective and efficient with how I handled my line, and so the manager often wanted me on the drive-through window. But the biggest lesson I learned was that the customer is always right. I’ve taken it into every business experience even when they’re wrong.” 

Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman and Managing Director Harris will be speaking during the Opening Keynote Session and Session I and will be signing her book Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over Your Career from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Karen Holmes Ward

Ward, Karen HolmessmI landed my first job in the media as a writer at what was then the 24-hour all-news radio station, WEEI. It was the overnight shift, and the hours were not ideal, but the job helped me hone my writing skills and solidified for me that I was on the right track, at the beginning of a career that I still love today. So young women looking to build careers today should not turn away from entry level jobs in their field! Don’t forget, it’s the experience that takes you to the next step!

Ward, WCVB Channel 5’s director of public affairs and host of “CityLine,” will be kicking off the Luncheon Keynote Session.

Mallika Chopra

Mallika Chopra“There was a lot of grunt work to being an assistant, but I think you need to work hard when you’re young. I learned a lot of practical things during my time at MTV International—how to be organized, be prompt, communicate—that I am still building on and refining today.”

Chopra, founder and CEO of, will be speaking during Session II and signing her book Living with Intent from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Caytha Jentis

Caytha Jentis“I found my first job out of college as an assistant to a New York television producer through a newspaper ad. It was fortuitous, as those positions aren’t usually advertised that way. I had majored in TV/film as an undergrad and had done several internships prior—one at NBC and the other at Channel 5, which became Fox. I helped the producer to develop a children’s television show.”

Jentis, independent filmmaker and creator of The Other F Word comedic series, will be speaking during Session I.

Marian L. Heard

Marian Heard“After high school and an internship in the town manager’s office, I secured a job at a local company called Mitchell Brothers, where I was the secretary to seven people—five brothers, an uncle and a brother-in-law—and I loved it…But after three years, the office manager announced that a woman who had been there for a few months was being promoted to project manager. I asked what she had that I didn’t have. The answer: a college degree…I had my associate’s degree from the University of Bridgeport two years later [and eventually a bachelor’s, master’s and 21 honorary doctorate degrees].”

Heard, a founding Board Member of the MA Conference for Women and former CEO and president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and CEO of United Ways of New England, will be speaking during the Opening Keynote Session.

Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam“I worked behind the counter at Fazoli’s Italian Restaurant, a fast food joint, for the summer I was 17. It was tough work, and it made me forever aware of how difficult food service can be. My hat is off to anyone who can be cheerful to hundreds of customers in a row, particularly when people change their orders and take out their frustrations on people who have nothing to do with the problem!”

Time management expert Vanderkam will be speaking during Session I and will be signing her book I Know How She Does It from 11 a.m. to 11:30 am.

▶ Read more from the December 2016 newsletter.

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