At the Top Girls Employment Agency, Marlene is interviewing Jeanine for a position. She begins by noticing that Jeanine has passed her coursework but only with mediocre marks. Jeanine is currently working as a secretary after having started as a typist. Her bosses are all male, she has no opportunities for advancement, and she wants a change. Jeanine is only twenty years old and wants to make more money so she can save up to get married, and Marlene then asks if that means that she doesn’t want a long-term career. Jeanine says she might - she does not want children anytime soon. Marlene advises Jeanine not to tell prospective employers about her impending marriage and to avoid expressing any desire to have children.
Marlene asks if there is a particular kind of company Jeanine wants to work for, and Jeanine says she would like to try advertising. Marlene suggests that vacancies in advertising firms are “looking for something glossier” and Jeanine asks if she should dress differently. Marlene tells her no, it’s about experience, and suggests two alternate openings, one at a company that makes knitwear and the other, lampshades. Both jobs pay the same or a bit more, although they have some room for advancement.
Jeanine seems unsure about these options and mentions that she would like to travel every now and then as part of her job. Marlene says there’s a job as a personal assistant to a top executive in a multinational, and that Jeanine should think of it as something she could do in 10 more years. Jeanine says she might not be alive in ten years, but Marlene says she hasn’t got the “[typing] speeds anyway” so she’ll send Jeanine to the other openings. She instructs Jeanine to be confident and present herself well, because her performance in the interviews will reflect on Marlene and the agency.
Act 2, Scene 1 is built on a series of oppositions between Marlene and Jeanine - based on their differing perspectives on work, ambition, and marriage. Marlene's interview questions are actually pointed inquires about Jeanine's values – is she married or engaged, does she want children, does she want more money, what are her long term goals. It is clear from Marlene's condescending responses that she does not think highly of Jeanine's life choices.
Their conversation begins with Jeanine mentioning her grades at school, all O’s and no A’s, which immediately shows her to be an average student. Marlene reacts negatively Jeanine's lack of academic prowess, although she tries to veil her disdain through her indirect questions and pointed suggestions. She implies that Jeanine is too young to be engaged, and that her impending nuptials will hurt her chances of employment because companies will think Jeanine is more interested in being a housewife than a working woman. Marlene even advises Jeanine that if she does have an engagement or wedding ring, she ought to remove it for interviews.
Meanwhile, Jeanine seems somewhat open to making certain changes to improve her employability, offering to dress differently, and indicating that that she might consider a long-term job even though her immediate purpose is to save money for her wedding. Jeanine has very limited professional ambitions, but does not see that as an issue because she is in love and wants to have a family. When Marlene suggests that Jeanine could begin to construct a ten-year plan that could lead up to working as an assistant to a top-level executive, Jeanine tells her that she “might not be alive in ten years”. Jeanine is fine with her short-term ambitions, but Marlene clearly does not believe that woman can maintain a powerful career and family life simultaneously - which is at the thematic core of the play.
As the interview goes on, Marlene's responses become more and more harsh. She tells Jeanine that she “hasn’t got the speeds anyway” to be an executive, as an easy way of devaluing Jeanine’s aspirations for an exciting job. Marlene displays an aggressive hyper-professionalism by immediately profiling Jeanine as unambitious and unfocused - as if she is evaluating a product. Hence, she suggests that Jeanine work for a lampshade or knitwear company, performing basic secretarial duties that would pay the same or marginally more than her current occupation. Marlene refuses to “waste” any time going deeper into Jeanine’s case because she finds her entirely dull and unambitious. This interview also indicates that Marlene thinks very highly of her own choices, and looks down on women who are not as career driven as she is.
By the end of the interview, the power dynamic has shifted considerably. Jeanine came into Top Girls asking Marlene for help finding a new job, but by the end, Marlene is behaving like Jeanine's boss. She briskly informs Jeanine that she wants her to get one of the two jobs she’s suggested, and that by sending Jeanine to these interviews, Marlene is putting her own reputation on the line. Marlene’s “encouragement” that Jeanine be “confident and go in there convinced” that she is going to be hired is simply Marlene’s way of increasing her firm's success rather than trying to find Jeanine a position in which she will be happy. Marlene immediately decides that Jeanine is not worthy of the more exciting positions she knows about, but she thinks Jeanine might be able to fool some potential employers into believing that she is competent. Their short interview establishes Marlene’s intense professionalism, and lack of compassion for women like Jeanine, who are trying to balance having both a career and a family life.