I wouldn’t mention the one-week job I had as a legal secretary in the 1960s. The one where my boss asked me to pick up a birthday card for his sister and said he loved my taste and wanted me to buy all his cards from then on. Those were the days when bosses asked their secretaries to do stuff like that. I can’t believe they still do it, or that anyone would agree to do it.
That’s not exactly why I quit the job after one week even though they threw a birthday party for me because my birthday happened to fall that week. I quit because I expect to be good at a job when I do it, and the legal stuff was gobbledygook to me.
My new boss was patient with me, but I wasn’t.
You didn’t really need a resume to be a secretary. They gave you a typing test and maybe an IQ test (don’t scare them by doing too well on that one), and asked where you worked before. Even if you had a resume, you had to fill out one of their company application forms.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a secretary, but it wasn’t the worst job I ever had. Typing can actually be soothing, sort of like a meditation, as long as no one’s bothering you.
Taking dictation, on the other hand, depends entirely on the person dictating to you. I never took a course in shorthand, but taught myself from a book (like I learned how to type), and so I wasn’t that fast at it in the beginning.
I had a very nice boss when I was learning, though, and he didn’t mind slowing down for me. In fact, he really liked to talk more than work when we sat in his office with the door closed. He always started dictation late in the day, and we’d still be there after everyone else had gone home.
He was a family man, an ordinary man who did not take risks, and he saw me as exotic because I owned a motorcycle and had a boyfriend who’d been in jail. He loved to hear stories about John and me, and he told me stuff about his life on the road as a manufacturer’s representative.
He treated me more like a partner than a secretary. We’d go out together to look at new equipment for the office, like the new Xerox copier. He asked my opinion about things and listened to what I said.
He did get very upset with me one day. A client called early one morning (my boss never came in before ten, but worked late in the evenings). When the client asked where my boss was, I said, “Home sleeping.”
Well of course, looking back, I realize how stupid that was. But it was the truth and I just said it automatically. That’s how comfortable I felt in that office.
I also wouldn’t mention on my resume anything about the way I managed the petty cash box at a company I worked for in LA. One of the other secretaries had four kids and no husband. She’d sometimes come in breathless asking to borrow money for the taxi she took in order not to be any later than she already was. I’d give her the money from the petty cash box. But I didn’t have the heart to ask her to pay it back.
We used to hire day workers for the plant sometimes, and pay them out of petty cash. I’d put in a chit for the hours they worked, and at the end of the month the chits would be added up and replaced. So it was easy to put in an extra chit to cover the taxi fare.
And once I’d done that, it was a slippery slope. I was always broke in those days, too, and in an emergency would put in a fake chit for myself.
My boss never said anything when he reviewed the petty cash box. I think he must have known.
Finally one of the New York managers audited us and said that the chit system was not good accounting practice.
I was relieved when it ended.