By Marvin Druger firstname.lastname@example.org
Most people have some sort of job or career in their lifetime. I always believed that we learn more from these jobs than we do in school. Jobs provide experiences that help shape our lives. We learn from everything that we do and everything that we do becomes part of who we are.
While attending school, I experienced many different part-time jobs. The motive was to make money, since my family was poor and could barely afford the necessities of life. My father was a truck driver and my mother was a housewife. My sister, two brothers, my mother, my father and I lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn overlooking an open lot next to the elevated subway. We somehow got used to the roar of the passing trains.
Despite poverty, we always seemed to have food, but not much else. My sister had to get a job after graduating from high school to help support the family. She never was able to attend college. Because my sister had a job, I didn’t have to get a job upon graduating from high school. Instead, I attended Brooklyn College, mainly because my friends were going to college and they told me that it was free. Free? Then, I might as well go to college — and I did.
Part-time jobs while attending college proved necessary and invaluable. I painted ceilings at an A&P supermarket; I sprinkled walnuts on fruit cakes as the cakes passed by on a conveyer belt; (I grabbed the nuts from a huge barrel, and alternated between sprinkling nuts and eating a handful); I delivered telegrams in Manhattan for Western Union on a bicycle; I stamped out letters for golf bags from pieces of leather (An old man who had done this job for years seemed terrified that I would replace him at the job); I was an usher at the Roxy Theater in NYC; I was a salesman at a men’s clothing store; I did various jobs for publishers; and had other part-time jobs. Each of these jobs provided memorable moments and insights about the real world.
What were some of the job-related experiences that I recall? As an usher at the Roxy Theater, I had to wear a uniform with a cap and white gloves (like in Phillip Morris cigarette ads of that era). The manager of the theater liked my voice, so he stationed me in the grand lobby to direct people to the orchestra or the balcony upstairs. I was told to direct people to the balcony. I loudly announced, “For the best remaining seats, use the stairway on your left. Use the stairway on your left for the best remaining seats.” After doing this for about 45 minutes, the manager frantically accosted me. “Druger, What the hell are you doing? The movie ended 30 minutes ago. Everyone is in the balcony upstairs. There’s nobody in the orchestra.” Whoops!
Many memorable episodes took place in the men’s clothing store. An old man and his two adult sons, Walter and Abe, ran the store. After hours, Abe would bring ladies of the night to the store for sexual encounters. Walter mentioned these happenings to Abe’s wife. I was present for the furious argument that ensued. I remember Abe yelling at Walter, “What’s wrong? Are you trying to break up a perfectly good marriage?”
My friends also worked at the clothing store. One friend would spend much of his working time hiding in a dressing room and reading books. I remember a customer complaining that the sleeves on a jacket were too long. The tailor measured his arms and made chalk marks where adjustments were needed. The tailor than took the jacket to the back of the store and simply erased the chalk marks. He brought the jacket back to the customer. The customer put the jacket on and remarked, “Thanks. Now it fits much better.” This is how I learned the realities of the workplace.
Although most workplaces are honest, the motivation of any business is to make a profit. Sometimes, those profits are unreasonable. I’ll give one example. My wife and I were in Morocco and we wanted to buy a large Persian carpet. We saw one that we liked. “How much is it?” I asked. “$6,000 was the reply. I used my usual bargaining approach and I said, “But I don’t even like it. If I really liked it, I’d pay what you ask, but I don’t really like it.” The shopkeeper immediately said, “OK, $4,000.” “Let’s go, Pat,” I beckoned to my wife. As we left the store, my wife whispered to me, “But I really like that carpet.” “Don’t worry,” I said, “He’ll come after us.” Sure enough, as I was opening the car door, a little boy ran out from the store, “Mister, my uncle wants to see you again.” I bought the rug for $2,000. Even if that was a reasonable price, I left the store thinking, “Somehow, I was gypped.” Many businesses leave you with that feeling. After all, for some businesses, the main purpose is to make as much profit as possible.
On the other hand, it is a pleasure to deal with ethical businesses who really care about their customers. I wanted to find a printer to print my book “The Diary of Love” (available at the Syracuse University Bookstore). I was told there was a print shop below Jowonio School on East Genesee Street in Syracuse (The Printing Center). I asked the principal of Jowonio if the printer was expensive. “No,” she replied, “He’s too cheap.” I had “The Diary of Love” printed by this printer. He demonstrated competence, caring, quality and fairness. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy doing the project. We developed a good friendship and I had that wonderful feeling of being treated like a person, not as a profit.
The main purpose of this article is to provide reflections on the workplace. What are some of the important things to keep in mind when entering the workplace?
First, credentials and past experience are very important. This is why I always told my students, “Get a part-time job, or do an internship!” A prospective employer wants to see solid credentials and some work experience. Sometimes, having unusual work experiences help. My son got one job because he had a summer job cutting off fish heads in Alaska. The interviewer was very impressed by this experience and my son was hired.
Nowadays, skills with computers and technology are important. Many jobs involve working virtually from home. Many employees rarely appear at a job site. Personally, I prefer being physically at the job site, but COVID-19 and other factors have fostered a new trend…as long as the job is done. So, nurture your technological skills.
The interview is very important. I think you need experience in interviewing, and then you get better at it. I advised students to get as many interviews as possible, even if they may not be very interested in the job.
Other interviewing tips:
• Dress appropriately. How you dress shows respect for the situation. If you dress in a sloppy manner, that’s the impression the interviewer will have of you. Find out as much as you can about the prospective employer in advance. Show interest in and knowledge of the company. One person who was interviewed for an assistant professor position made a very positive impression on the interviewers. He had looked up all the other faculty on line and he knew something about everyone’s research interests.
• Presentation. Certain questions are likely to be asked. For example, suppose the interviewer asks, “What are your weakest points?” It’s probably not advisable to say, “Well, I tend to be a little sloppy.” Or, “I sometimes have difficulty completing a task.” Instead, it might be wiser to say, “I try too hard for excellence. I’m very conscientious and I want all of my work to be perfect.”
• Be businesslike. The interviewer appreciates a sense of humor, but the interviewer wants someone who can be serious about the job and do it well. I think it’s fine to ask about salary and benefits, as long as you don’t make the interviewer feel that these are your prime interests.
• Try to be yourself. Everyone is unique and has special talents. Don’t be hesitant to make the interviewer aware of your special abilities and how you fit the job. Show confidence in yourself.
Great. Now you have the job. The next step is being loyal to the company and to network as much as possible. If you have the right job with an ethical company that shows that they care about people as well as profits, loyalty comes naturally.
Networking is extremely important. The common thought is that “Who you know is as important as what you know.” Opportunities and rewards often come to those who are in the right place at the right time and who know the right people. So, get to know as many diverse people as you can. You never know when one of those acquaintances may make a big difference in your life.