By Larry Teren
Getting tossed from a job happens to everyone at one time or another unless you’ve always worked for the family business. I’ve had the inglorious event occur twice to me. The first time was my own fault. Aw, what the heck- the second was, too.
The first time was in 1975 when I was about a year out of college and had already tried a couple of career paths that were not my true calling. I took a job just to get one so that I could build a resume. I was at that age where it was the main purpose in getting a job. I had no thought of being enslaved to an employer for many years.
At the job interview the guy doing the hiring was very specific about work hours. I knew that I could not be as flexible as he wanted but kept my mouth shut because I figured that if he saw how good I was he would be a little lenient. Such was not the case. Two weeks into the job he asked me to work a schedule that was not good for me. He threw a Rumpelstiltskin and then walked into the owner’s office. A few minutes later I was summoned in. The owner gave me a dressing down because they once again had to spend a lot of effort finding my replacement. Like they didn’t hire and fire on a regular basis? C’mon! It was not that great a paying job. The owner did feel sorry for me and wrote a letter of recommendation that helped in securing my next job. The trouble was that the next job took four or five months to find.
I studied the Sunday Chicago Tribune job want-ads religiously but to no avail. Try getting a job without experience especially when all of the Viet Nam War Veterans were returning back to civilian life and getting first dibs. A stroke of luck happened in that my mother mentioned to a good friend while they were yapping over the phone that I needed a job. Her friend worked in the secretarial pool at an electronics manufacturer. As a matter of fact, I knew at least three people working there who could vouch for my character (yeah, sure.)
I was granted an interview, showed my letter of recommendation as well as the fact that I had a college degree in English (whoopee!) and could spel mutch (ha, ha). The department head in Inside Sales hired me on the spot. The thing was, I was interviewed by the outgoing department head. The section leader who was taking over a week later did not like that. It was like a baseball manager hiring a new third base coach a week before he was retiring.
As difficult as Trish, our revered section leader, made my life, I gritted my teeth and held on because of a couple of others who had their cubicles near mine. We got along fantastically on and off the job. Trish herself bailed out sooner than I expected so I was rid of one element of aggravation.
The guys and gal sitting around me were all about the same age and suffered from the same strains of the immaturity virus that infected me. During slow periods of work, one of us would call the 800 toll-free number for Dial-A-Joke, and ring the rest of us to make a conference call so we could convulsively guffaw together. We also used to play tricks on the secretarial pool. We used Dictaphones to prepare correspondence that would be typed by a secretary. Sometimes we would purposely talk very fast or slow down to a crawl to confuse the ladies into thinking that their Dictaphones were breaking down.
One day, a couple of years into my journey through the minefield of employment at that place I noticed two very nattily dressed young people being treated with much respect. Usually younger folk were looked on as being stupid and most of us dressed as cheaply as possible considering the pay scale. I asked who the two were that management were fawning over. I was told that they were computer consultants. I asked what that meant. It meant that they were brought in to troubleshoot and support a new computer system for handling customer orders.
It also meant that they sat just outside my section cubicle area in their own office with windows and a door and poured through reams and reams of hexadecimal printouts trying to figure out how their company screwed up our new order processing system. On the one hand we were given state-of-the-art 4×6 blue tinted micro fiche film that contained what used to be a twenty pound folder containing a few hundred pages of order information. (Remember, this was long before personal computers, kids.) On the other hand, all the miscellaneous replacement kit orders to be shipped to end users rather than authorized dealers were now being addressed as Miscellaneous Customer with the shipping address the location of our business instead of the recipient’s actual name and address. In other words, it was a big time disaster and it took these two hero-worshiped nattily dressed computer consultants a few days to straighten out the mess.
But, they had their own office! So, I looked at my nearby co-workers, pointed to the two screw-ups, and shouted, “that’s what I want to be!”. I started feeling my oats and began to realize that I was going nowhere at this job. I would never get promoted out of the department. I went to an employment agency and told them when they asked for references not to call my current place of work. Naturally, they did.
Less than a week later, Frank the department manager came over to me around 4pm one afternoon and asked that I follow him into a room off to the side that had no windows. For about thirty seconds I thought, â€œwell maybe I am finally going to get a promotion after all.â€ Yeah, right. Frank had tears in his eyes as he began to tell me that sometimes a change was needed. Once I heard the words that I was being let go I interrupted Frank and told him not to feel bad. Actually, I was quite happy. I received a paycheck for the days worked since the last payroll, another for accumulated sick days and a third for severance pay and vacation time. All in all, it was pretty good.
Did I mention that I was escorted out of the building that I had worked in for over two years by an armed security guard while I shouted “Attica! Attica!”? It was THE kick in the pants that I needed. At that point, I dedicated myself to learning computers. Of course, back on April 23, 1978 there was no such thing as small computers for small businesses so I figured that I was getting in on a ground floor opportunity. More than thirty years later, I’ve made it to the first floor and the view isn’t so bad.