At age twenty-six, it was high time I made some decisions. Could I interview and land an interesting job that had growth potential? Or should I figure out a way to support myself and go back to college? Did I even know what degree I wanted? Maybe something in law or journalism?
I loved to learn, I just loathed studying and theory. It seemed so much easier and faster to learn by doing. And, my husband had already shown during our five years of marriage that he was not a reliable means of financial support.
On a Thursday morning in the fall of 1973, I got ready to hop out of my yellow Pinto to interview for a job that seemed questionable. The newspaper classified ad asked for an “Enterprising Gal Friday”. That could mean anything! And the word “enterprising” gave me visions of working for sales commissions. But, I was definitely not going to leave my three-year old son without the assurance of a decent salary.
The banks I interviewed with the week prior, felt a little too corporate and stodgy. I knew in my gut that I would be miserable there. And, that other interview closer to home? Well, the owner there looked a bit disappointed when I could not muster more enthusiasm for his foam rubber manufacturing business.
Watching people in the city scurrying around, rushing to be on time during the morning rush hour, I wondered if I should run away from the work-a-day rat race. It seemed like a trap. Could I ever come across a great job that was really exciting?
It was Time to Focus
It was time to focus – to think of the interview from the employer’s perspective. In most businesses, performance trumps degrees. The ability to save or make money for a business is critical. So, I just hoped I would find a job growth opportunity where I might have the potential to seize the day, learn, and make money for my employer and myself.
Glancing again at the ad, I noticed that it mentioned “secretarial and bookkeeping” which suggested a salaried office job. So I brushed the donut crumbs from my mouth and off my red dress, and took the elevator to the fifth floor of the Beneficial Bldg. in Wilmington, Delaware. My confidence would have to make up for whatever else I lacked.
I was to interview with Mr. Peterson, President of Enterprise Publishing Company at 1:00pm. Working with the president could have advantages if a career opportunity was really there.
Upon arriving at Suite 509, I found a hand-written note taped to the door. It read, “I went to play tennis, come in and wait. Nick” What the hell is this? I am paying a babysitter and I am supposed to wait for tennis? Taking a closer look at the door, I saw three company names: Enterprise Publishing Co., The Corporation Company and Peterson Advertising Agency.
I opened the door expecting to find a reception desk. Instead, the door opened into a small area not larger than an overgrown walk-in closet. The area was divided by a partition with the far side facing out a window that offered an angled view of Market Street.
The office area was expensively furnished with solid walnut desks and cadenzas, one slightly larger against the window and the other in the area behind the partition near the entrance door. The shag carpet looked new. I saw office chairs and a visitors’ bench all in cushioned royal blue leather with bright chrome supports. On the wall of what must be Mr. Peterson’s office was a nude, yet tasteful painting. Another suggestive painting by the same artist decorated what must be the area for Gal Friday.
What Could Studying My Surroundings Tell Me?
My head started swimming with questions. Is this some kind of bizarre joke? Am I safe here? Might I be waiting for an eccentric lunatic? Could I get out the door quickly if he showed up right now, or would I be trapped? So, I propped the door open imagining I was on the TV show, Candid Camera. Is someone looking at what I am doing right now, wondering what my reaction is going to be? I was looking around the office again for a hidden camera when I noticed a pile of magazines on the walnut credenza next to the custom-colored file cabinet in royal blue with white drawers.
Since the desks were clear of paperwork and there was no other evidence of any business activity, except for two white desk telephones, I decided to look through the magazines. Soon I found that there was a full-page ad in several of the magazines with a coupon to mail to: Enterprise Publishing Co. Sure enough, every one of the magazines contained the same ad.
So, I studied the heavily copy laden ad for clues. The ads were selling a book by Ted Nicholas called How to Form a Corporation without a Lawyer for Under $50. So, the Corporation Co. had to have something to do with the book, perhaps a service company of sorts. And Peterson Advertising Agency? Well, maybe they placed the advertising in the magazine. But, where were the people who ran these companies?
Then, in strutted Mr. Peterson with a big smile on his face, bright blue-green eyes, and a nice gut tennis racket in one hand. He seemed relaxed, confident, and well-tanned in his late thirties. “I see you found my ad, what do you think?” He seemed mildly surprised that I had figured out the basic connection between the companies, and added that the author, Ted Nicholas, was his pen name.
Establishing a Rapport
We hit it off, as the conversation flowed easily or perhaps I came under his charm. We talked about politics, child-rearing, and tennis in addition to the needs of the business and the job. Unlike the crazy guy I feared, Mr. Peterson was knowledgeable and very open, a charismatic businessman who wanted only the best for his business. He made good eye contact, and was an attentive listener. I sensed that I could learn a great deal should he become my mentor.
Nick explained that independent contractors working for home were conducting the day to day business. He liked being able to pay for performance, piece work, etc. rather than for time. But, the nature of the Gal Friday position actually required someone to be on site during business hours and he needed relief from phone inquiries from advertisers and customers. If hired, I, in fact, would be his first employee.
Closing the Interview
As the interview was coming to a close, Mr. Peterson looked again at my application and asked: “Why are you asking for a starting salary that appears to be thirty percent higher than you have ever earned?” This told me he was interested and maybe even sold, so it might just be a matter of negotiating the salary. I wanted him to be confident that he would be getting a great deal and look no further. So, I looked him in the eyes, smiled and said:
“Because I am worth ten times more than I am asking. And, if after the first month you have any doubt whether I am worth every penny, I will refund my salary and walk away.”
The phone rang an hour after I got home. “Can you start Monday?” Now, it was up to me to deliver on my guarantee. (Stay tuned for more of the story in a forthcoming blog.)
The world has changed tremendously over the last forty years, but there are some things that never change.
Career Shopping and Interview Ideas That Have Stood the Test of Time!
- Know your worth and ask for more than you expect. Then, be ready to negotiate. Study industry salary averages online at sites like Career Trend or PayScale in the area where you will be working.
- Evaluate what type of work you are good at, what interests you, and what you will not accept. What you got a degree in is not always what is best for your life. If you don’t have a clue, take the free test at 16Personalities or visit Erica Sosna’s website.
- Understand your skills and your limitations, but be ready to find a way to supplement what you don’t know.
- Learn as much about the company before your interview. Every business has a website you can study. Find out who their main competitors are and give yourself a short course on the industry, if need be. Websites like GlassDoor offer useful feedback from prior employees. Think about some insightful questions you might ask about the company and the position. The better equipped you are, the more confident you will be.
- Listen carefully to find out what goals or benefits the interviewer hopes to achieve with the person who fills this position. Target that goal before closing the interview
- Persevere in the quest! Look for a job you will love – don’t settle. You are bargaining for your precious time – your life! Don’t sell your life too cheaply, or spend it miserable in a career that isn’t right for you. You deserve better!
Featured image: Lily Tomlin, Interview Magazine, May 1988