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Finding Your Own Career Path, with Jess Torres

Finding Your Own Career Path, with Jess Torres

Episode 18: Finding Your Own Career Path, with Jess Torres

Jess Torres has had a very interesting career journey. She is the Editor in Chief of Siempre Mujer, but to get here she had to do a lot of exploring and soul searching. Jess’s thoughtful approach to her career is in an inspiration. In this episode, Jess shares her path, her thoughts on the importance of having a support network and the right partner, and some advice for people who are still trying to find what they want to do next.

Episode Transcript

00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your host, Kristy Wallace.


00:13 Kristy Wallace: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, the president of Ellevate Network, and I am joined today by Maricella Herrera. Hello and welcome.

00:23 Maricella Herrera: Hi Kristy.

00:24 KW: I'm really excited to introduce you to our guest, Jess Torres. And I'm excited because Jess is actually one of my close friends that I've known her throughout a good part of her career growth and transition. And she's currently the editor-in-chief of Siempre Mujer which is a Hispanic women's magazine under the Meredith Corporation umbrella. And it's a great magazine and Jess is a really great person. I can attest to that. And I love talking to her on the podcast to really hear her story and be able to share her story with all of you. Maricella, I know you thought it was a pretty great story as well, huh?

01:04 MH: I loved hearing the podcast. Well first of all, I loved meeting Jess, who I've heard great things about from you, 'cause I know she's one of your close friends. She is now one of my new business woman crush. Also it was great talking to her before the podcast because we share a little bit in common in the fact that we both think in Spanish at certain points.

01:26 KW: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

01:27 MH: We had a bit of a conversation about that. I count in Spanish. If you have ever seen me count, you will see that I switch. But it was great. It was great hearing her story and hearing what she's doing at Siempre Mujer and what she's doing now.

01:40 KW: When I talked with Jess, there's a big focus on her career and how she really took the reins on her career in finding what was important to her, and where she found meaning and purpose before just jumping into school, or jumping into something that she wasn't fulfilled by or happy with. And career wise, what does our community say is most important?

02:05 MH: We asked our members in one of our weekly polls, career wise, what's most important? And the number one thing with almost 40% of the votes was being confident. And I think we could hear that from Jess, in the story you'll hear in a minute, but it's really impressive how she was very confident when she was trying to get what she wanted after doing a lot of thinking and a lot of reflecting of what her career would bring. Anyway, career wise, being confident is number one. Number two, with almost a quarter of the votes, is being resilient. And followed by 16% of people who said the most important thing is who you know, so the network.

02:51 KW: Every job I've ever had, I got from who I knew.

02:54 MH: Me too.

02:55 KW: Yeah. Power of the network. Plug for Ellevate Network. Check it out. We're a community of women committed to closing the gender achievement gap by providing a network to lean on and learn from.

03:08 MH: Yeah. And who you know also brings about the confidence and the resilience, 'cause you have a support network who will be there when you need that push.

03:19 KW: Sure.

03:20 MH: I think it all ties together.

03:21 KW: I like it. It works for me.


03:24 KW: Alright, well, now we're on to my conversation with Jess Torres. Thanks again for joining us today, and if you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and write some reviews. We'd love to hear from you.


03:58 KW: Jessica Torres Cooper, who is the editor-in-chief of Siempre Mujer. Hello Jessica.

04:05 Jess Torres: Oh, that was very good pronunciation of Siempre Mujer.

04:08 KW: I'm practicing.


04:10 KW: I'm trying hard. Well, we were just talking, actually, about the importance of knowing languages.

04:18 JT: Yes.

04:18 KW: Other languages, right?

04:19 JT: Absolutely.

04:20 KW: Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how that plays into your dual language abilities.

04:28 JT: Right. I grew up in Brooklyn, in east New York, Brooklyn. Both of my parents are Dominican immigrants. And my mom came when she was five, so she's basically American. And my dad came when he was in his 20's. And so he has the thickest accent. And it's really funny 'cause both of my parents were born in Dominican Republic, but when you speak to them, you would swear my mom was born here, in Queens, and my dad, who has lived here for more than he has lived in Dominican Republic, sounds like he just got here yesterday. And so I grew up in a Spanish speaking household. I actually learned Spanish before I learned English, which is a little known fact. I didn't learn English until I went to school, but then English began to dominate my life and so now I do work at Siempre Mujer and it is a Spanish language magazine, that's published here in the US and in Puerto Rico. But in my house, we speak English. And it's very strange to have grown up in a Spanish speaking household and have an English speaking household. Any Latino here, in the US, will relate to that.

05:44 JT: Yeah, I grew up in East New York with my two brothers and my parents. And we were a working household. I worked... My first job was when I was 15 years old at a hair salon, but then I started working at a company that produced surveys. I was calling people at home and saying, "Would you like to take a survey?" That was me. And when I would get the response, "No hablo ingles" then I would kick into my Spanish language script. And that actually helped me learn Spanish better. Because I was reading a script and I was conversing with people who were not Dominican, 'cause also within Spanish language people, there's always a lot of different variations of Spanish. And so I developed this very neutral Spanish where, when people speak to me now they can't tell where I'm from which is kinda cool. And I studied engineering in high school.

06:52 S1: What?

06:53 JT: Yes.

06:53 KW: What? You never told me that. How have I known you and I didn't know that?

06:56 JT: I have no idea. Because it doesn't really come up that often, because I do nothing with engineering. I graduated high school, and then I didn't know what I wanna do. I was so indecisive. I didn't wanna go to college yet.

07:13 KW: I'm later in my career and I still, sometimes, don't know what I wanna do. It happens, right? We go through changes and we're looking for meaning and purpose. And how do you even know what you wanna do when you're in high school or at a young age?

07:26 JT: Yeah, it's a lot of pressure to put on someone who is going through all sorts of developmental changes. But I always knew I wanted to do something against the grain. Part of the reason why I wanted to study engineering was because I had heard that there weren't that many female engineers. And I was like, "Well, that's not right. I can do it." And I did study engineering and loved it a lot, but was incredibly bored and not that good at it.

08:00 KW: I think those are two big warning signs.

08:01 JT: Yes. [chuckle]

08:03 KW: Not good and you're not engaged.

08:05 JT: Right.

08:06 KW: Time to find something else, right?

08:07 JT: As much as I wanted to love it, and as much as I thought that this is gonna define me, I'm gonna be that female engineer, it just wasn't me. And then what do you do, right? I just started working in different places, and at that point I was also helping to support my family, so one of the jobs weren't that career-focused. They were just jobs. And then I really realized that I had a very visual eye. And so I wanted to do something creative. I had always written a lot when I was younger. And I had books filled with poems and journal entries and all of that. But I also really loved looking at images, and looking at the composition of pictures.

08:56 JT: And so I went to... Then I went out for an internship with a photographer. He was not very encouraging because I wasn't a college student coming in for an internship. I've heard of this internship, and even though I wasn't in college, I was like, "I wanna test the waters. I wanna see what this is about." The first time that I went for an internship did not go so well. But the second time I went, me and the photographer, Benjamin Oliver, really hit it off. And I remember him asking me, "Why should I give you this internship? Some kid in college is gonna do this for credits. What are you gonna get out of this?" And I was like, "I just really wanna see what this is about." And he's like, "Yeah, but what am I gonna get out of this 'cause I don't know what exactly to teach you." And I was like, "I will do anything that you need me to do."

09:51 KW: Sure. I had spoken with a woman, Amanda Veinott, on an earlier podcast and we were talking about this, just this. The importance of an internship. Even if it's unpaid, which can be really a financial hardship. But I never had an internship. And I graduated from school not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do. And there's a lot of factors: Large company, small company, for-profit, non-profit, mission-driven, do you wanna be in marketing and what does that even mean, and what are the different functions within marketing? And that is something that many, many women will struggle with throughout your career. Unless you pick one clearly defined path and you stay with that, it's always an evolution.

10:36 JT: Right. Well, at a time that I was seeking out this internship, I was also working a full-time job. And this is also something that I've done a lot, worked a full-time job and do something else.

10:48 KW: Your side hustle?

10:49 JT: Yeah, I'd always had a side hustle. I'd always had something else to keep me occupied if my full-time job was not fulfilling me in a certain way. And that kind of multitasking and time management really helped me in the long run, but it was insane as it was happening. There's actually one... I was managing a restaurant and I had to close the restaurant at 11:00, and then be at the studio for a shoot at 5:00 AM And this was my life. It was going from barely stopping at my house, going from one thing to the next, sometimes without enough sleep. And actually I fell asleep in a shoot and the photographer called me out on it. It was difficult but it awakened passions in me that I didn't realize I had. And there are also all these industries that you don't think about when you're younger, and people are like, "What do wanna be when you grow up? What do you wanna do?" You don't even know half of the things that are even out there that are possibilities.

12:02 JT: I'm glad that I followed that instinct of not going to school right after I graduated high school. I'm glad that I realized that I wasn't ready, because, when I was ready, I got so much more out of it. I wasn't just chasing a degree, I was really taking classes that I felt would enrich me in a lot of different ways. Once I finished my internship, I was like, "Okay, I gotta go back to school and I gotta do something creative, because this is really what lights my fire." And I quit my job at the restaurant with my boyfriend's blessing at the time. I was like, "You've gotta support me, so I can go to school." And when you have...

12:48 KW: Are you talking about Dave?

12:49 JT: Yeah, I'm talking about Dave.

12:49 KW: You mean your husband?

12:50 JT: My husband, my now husband, who... When you have...

12:53 KW: Good girl. We do what we want, right?

12:55 JT: Yes.


12:55 JT: Well not only that, when you have someone that's truly an equal, and really... He's down for you as much as you're down for him, that kind of thing is okay. If I say, "I'm gonna take a year off to go to school, and it's gonna be better for us in the long run." Unselfishly he was like, "You're right, go ahead. Do it."

13:18 KW: And I think that that's supporting your partner's dreams. That's key. Jake supported me when I was going through my career transition, and understanding what my next step would be. Then I supported him when he started his company. Having that support network, family, friends, whoever it may be, it goes a long way because it's hard to go it alone.

13:46 JT: Yeah, absolutely. There are certain women, and I think both of us, we can say we're those women, they're those certain women that people wonder, "How did she do it all? How did she balance this, how did she balance that?" Not alone.

14:00 KW: I'm a superhero in disguise. You may not know it but I am. I'm kidding, I'm kidding.


14:03 JT: No, but all of those... The superheroes, the supermoms, the rock star, all of those nicknames that we get, we have earned those, but not by ourselves. And definitely in my case, I would not be where I am if I didn't have the great support of my husband, and now the great support of my family, my friends. This is not a one woman show. It looks like it on the outside, but behind there's all these people pushing me and holding me up. When I went back to school, I was gonna study history, and go into a more creative field. And then I took English classes 'cause they're required, and I re-discovered my love of writing. And I was also getting really good grades in those classes without even trying.

15:05 JT: I was like, "Did I miss something here? Was there something that I loved to do before that I didn't consider as a possibility for a career?" And because I was so open to learning what's out there, and because also during my internship, I got to see the publishing side. And I was like, "Oh, this shoot with this kid eating peas, is about this story about, what to feed your kid and all of that, and how to stop your kids from having bad manners or whatever." And I was like, "There's images but there's also these very rich stories behind them."

15:45 KW: I was talking to Jess Williams who... Her advice was, "Follow your gut."

15:50 JT: Yeah.

15:51 KW: You followed your gut?

15:52 JT: Absolutely. I followed my gut and I also had people pointing me in that direction, like "Hey, you're kinda good at this kid." And so then that's when I decided, "Okay, I'm going to see if I could get a job in publishing." I had applied for a job in publishing right after my internship, before I went to school, and I was still working at the restaurant. And I applied for the job, had three great interviews. Everybody loved me. [chuckle]

16:31 KW: As they would, as they would.

16:33 JT: And I really thought... I was like, "I nailed this, I got this job." And then I got a phone call saying, "Listen Jess, we really wanted you to get this job, but you don't have any college... " I didn't have a single college credit. "And we can't put you in this position." It was actually a marketing position within publishing. And I was like, "Well that sucks, and I never wanna hear that again." And so that was the catalyst for me to quit my job and go back to school. And then another position opened up at that same magazine, which is Siempre Mujer.


17:16 JT: And another position opened up and I went for it again, and I was honest and I said, "Listen, I have applied here before and I didn't get the job because I had no college... I'm in school now and I'm working on it, and I would really like to work here." And it was for the editorial assistant position. And I have to say, it was a part-time position, it was two days a week. And they said, "All right, as long as you can handle it."

17:47 KW: That's important because as women, research shows, it's not just me saying this, we tend to undersell ourselves. We see a job description, and maybe you were checking seven of the 10 boxes, you're like, "Well, I can't." And so that's a big thing. We need to have confidence and we need to go in and say, "Alright, well I may not have that college education but I'm smart, I work hard, I'm a great writer, I'm passionate, and I can do this."

18:16 JT: Right. That's the key. You have to believe that you can do it regardless of what the specific requirements are. When I went into that interview, I had already such a knowledge of the magazine because I had already interviewed there, and I knew everybody so it was easier for me because I'd already met them, so I felt very comfortable. But I believe that that job was for me and I believe that everything that I was doing was leading me in that direction. When I sat down in front of the person who was interviewing me who later became my mentor, there was no doubt in my mind. And because there was no doubt in my mind, I could see there was no doubt in her mind that I could do the job. That was the biggest opportunity that I've got to get me where I am now.

19:14 KW: It has been said the most important conversations about you happen when you're not in the room.

19:19 JT: That's true.

19:20 KW: And so having somebody who believes in you, can advocate for you, is important. I think the challenge is how do you make those relationships?

19:31 JT: You have to find someone that really believes in you and they're basically your cheerleader in front of your face and also when you're not in the room. Besides my first mentor, I also had a second mentor who really let everyone know everything that she was doing, I had a hand in. And so at that point, I was still working at the magazine.

20:00 KW: She wasn't taking all the credit.

20:01 JT: She wasn't taking all the credit. She was very generous with her praise and at times that can sometimes seem insincere, but there are people who it absolutely is very sincere and she was definitely one of them. I worked at the magazine for years and I kept getting promoted, and I was like, "I don't talk to anybody but these two people. How is this happening?"

20:29 KW: Your head's down, you're working hard, right?

20:30 JT: Yeah, exactly. And I was going to school full-time. I actually didn't graduate until I was already a beauty editor by the time I graduated college.

20:45 KW: You started as an editorial assistant.

20:46 JT: Yes.

20:48 KW: Going to school full-time. You then become the beauty editor.

20:54 JT: I was associate editor and then beauty editor.

20:58 KW: And now you're the editor-in-chief.

21:00 JT: Yeah.

21:01 KW: In your role, you are in front of the public quite a bit. I've seen you on TV, I've seen you on panels, you've won some great awards. And I know for me going from behind the scenes desk to being in the spotlight, it's hard, it's a hard transition, but we've talked a lot about raising your personal profile and to do that you get out there, get on panels, you need to write some thought leadership, really create your brand. That's hard. How did you do it? Any learnings you wanna share?

21:33 JT: Well, I don't think I've done it yet. I'm still right smack in the middle of that. I've done some media training to help prepare me for my TV appearances. But overall I think having that transition from at the desk, head down, to now, the face of a brand, it can be jarring, but it's also something that is just another challenge.


22:04 KW: You are amazing.

22:05 JT: Awe, thank you, so are you.

22:07 KW: Congratulations on all your success and thank you for sharing it with us here today.

22:11 JT: Thank you.


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