The Interview: How I Launched My Career in the Wonderful World of Advertising!

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




Buffalo Nickels & Memories of Yesteryear

Packing for a flight to Philadelphia to visit family and celebrate my granddaughter’s birthday, I ran across a small bag of Buffalo/Indian head nickels in the dresser.  Buffalo Nickels have always had a special place in my heart.  They brings back fond memories of the 1950s.    I recall sorting through the coins collected with my brother when I had the privilege to join him on his paper route. Continue reading “Buffalo Nickels & Memories of Yesteryear”

I Forget! It’s Wonderful Sometimes!

So, how can forgetting ever be wonderful?  It is a matter of being selective.  I forget things, like what I’m looking for when I cross the threshold of a room.  I have to think twice and hope a delayed reaction will turn on the light bulb of remembrance.  My mother used to say, “Tie a string around your finger so you won’t forget next time!”  It always seemed like a dumb idea to me.  When Mom was out of sorts, her Scottish  brogue would kick in, saying: “Wean, ye would forget yer head if it wisnae attached on!” Continue reading “I Forget! It’s Wonderful Sometimes!”

Dancing, Dreaming and Shooting for the Stars!

It was “bloody two o’clock in the morning!” when Mom’s shouting alerted me from my reverie.  I was dancing the night away with Fred Astaire in our overgrown closet of a living room in the old duplex on Franklin Street – at least I was in my mind.  My imagination carried me away as I watched the great dance star on the old black and white movie on TV.

Continue reading “Dancing, Dreaming and Shooting for the Stars!”

Wrecking Havoc With The Magic of Christmas

There are a line of employees waiting to get into my Wilmington, DE publishing office with the latest problems, questions, or suggestions just before Christmas.  Jeff, a recent hire fresh out of Temple University is bursting with something to say.  “Hold that thought” I say, as I pick up the phone ringing by my desk.

It is the Director of KinderCare on the phone – “You have to do something, Margaret! Your son is telling all the children that Santa Claus is a fake!  He is claiming there is a different Santa at the Mall from the one on Main Street.” Continue reading “Wrecking Havoc With The Magic of Christmas”

A Scottish Festive Holiday Grace

My Scottish parents taught us to lift our glasses as grace was recited at any important family gathering.  Be it a holiday or a family gathering, everyone joined together at the supper table ready to eat.  The Scottish prayer was recited by my Dad in a manner that was more of a toast than a standard blessing on a meal. He commanded everyone’s attention, waited for silence, then raised his glass and reverently spoke in his thick Glaswegian brogue:

“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, we recited this Scottish grace year after year, chiming in as we learned the words.  It was my understanding that the Continue reading “A Scottish Festive Holiday Grace”

Choices to Ponder this Holiday Season

Little choices and big choices surround the traditions and the little rituals that most family enjoys.  Everybody wants to be in the Christmas Spirit, but what if you are not feeling so jolly?  Many of us are pinched for money, or pinched for time.  Is the Scrooge in you coming to the surface?

We don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially ourselves.  Maybe you need to choose what to give the kids for Christmas, and how much to spend.  There is the choice of whether to have the holidays at home, and who to invite.  Should we have everyone at Christmas or on Christmas Eve?  What did we do last year?  How do we balance the time with in-laws and outlaws, and which Christmas parties do we fit in to a crowded holiday calendar?  Are we going to evening candlelight services or waiting for morning services?  Choices and decisions can be fun but they can create stress.  I ponder every year

“what is that very special thing that I can do to reassure the important people in my life that I really care?”

So many choices!  Every year about this time, I make a resolution that I am going to downplay the gift giving.  But, it seems every year I fail.  I do not shop on Black Friday, mostly because I detest crowds.  But, for some of my friends, it is a time they look forward to fondly each year and they create great memories.

It seems that no matter my good intentions, at Christmas the tree is overflowing with gifts, and everyone has overdone it.  Now we will have bills that will pinch the budget for the next several months. I pledge that I am going to make a budget this year and stick to it!  I wonder

“Why do we make the choices that we do?” 

Maybe, it is because fond memories encourage us to try topping whatever we did before.  We want to do something bigger and better.  Mostly I think we want to show how much we care.  But the wrapped up gifts are rarely what I remember most after the holidays are over.  Foremost, I remember the time spent with those important family and close friends.

My Dad was creative and frugal.  He had to be with four kids and little income.  He would get someone to drive him over to Rosemont College and pick out the best tree discarded by college students who were gone for the holiday break.  Laughing and decorating a scrawny fresh-cut tree – wow! The aroma of pine filled our tiny living room. But, it took the patience of Job to find and fix the one light in the series that threw out all the tree lights.

Six people in a crowded dining room can be a little tricky too when you are wrapping presents.  My sister, Mary and I had the privilege to wrap what Mom had squirreled away for the boys.  Dad would provide festive music with his violin, playing Christmas carols such as O Holy Night, followed by some Celtic music such as Danny Boy.   And fasting before Christmas Mass made sharing a traditional turkey dinner taste all the better.

I enjoy reading letters of love that fill my heart and this became a family tradition over time.   Mom made a tradition of placing a special long distance telephone call to our cousins, the Shepstone’s in California on New Year’s Eve.  We kids gathered round the phone as Dad was paying for every minute of this precious time.   Relationships are very important, gifts are nice, and memories are priceless.

The warm memories that come back to us of those who are not here with us this year, can add more stress to the season and leave us teetering on depression.  But, we have choices to make here too.  We can choose to dwell in the darkness and the sense of loss of what has gone before.  Or we can choose to be grateful, to be thankful that we had the time and shared the warmth of their love.  We can say “Thank you, God.”  And have hope that we will see them again, if not here, in the hereafter.  We can focus on the people who are here now in our lives today.

So, perhaps it is fitting that Thanksgiving launches off the holiday season.  When I make the choice to be grateful to God for what He has given me and go into the holidays with a thankful heart, I feel less like Scrooge.   Instead, I feel closer to the love and peace of new life — the life of the Christ Child.  I choose to move away from darkness into the light of His love.  May His birth light up your life. And may the choices you make this holiday season give you joy.