One way or the other, this question always sneaks its way into every employment interview. “So tell me,” the voice across the table asks, “why are you looking for a job?”
The answer is telling. Hiring managers listen for the keywords and they have heard them all, from “downsizing” to “opportunity”.
But “Tornado”? That was a new one.
I had a chance to sit on a panel at an annual meeting of the Data Processing Manager Association (DPMA) in Minneapolis in the early 1980’s. Everyone at the table was looking for a job and it was not a good time to be doing that. The economy in the midwest had tanked so badly that farmers were literally shooting bankers. Housing was inexpensive but a mortgage could run you 12% interest, if you could find one that cheap.
There was no hiring - at all.
I had just bought a house (at an interest rate north of 12%), my daughter had yet to take her first step and my wife was also unemployed - then the tornado.
“It tossed a MTC bus through the front-window," I explained, "then it blew the roof off.”
The consensus was, “Wow!”
“Perhaps you heard about it” I said, “the company’s name was General Parts.. As the name suggests, they sold parts, little parts, stored in cardboard containers about the size of a shoe box. The tornado didn’t damage our inventory, instead it knocked everything out of the boxes. Without being in a box with a label, we had no way of telling what the parts were. So we lost 90% of our stock. The owner rethought his business plans - and here I am.”
Again the consensus was “Wow!”
The guy to my right was asked the same question.
His story held a different drama. He worked on operating systems at the mainframe maker Sperry-Univac for thirty years, until they rethought their business plan - so here he was.
The guy next to him spent his entire career at the Burlington-Northern Railroad. He hadn’t worked since they laid him off four years earlier. All he knew was railroads and no one was sure why he was there, or particularly interested in what he had to say.
The other two people on the panel were even less memorable than him
After a series of formal questions, the audience was invited to query the panel members directly.
A young, and may I add, snide, manager directed a question to the guy from Sperry-Univac. “Why should I hire you?”, he asked.
The old guy didn’t say a word. He simply waited for what he knew was coming.
“You have been on the job for what? Thirty years? That means you’re at the top of your pay-scale. You get five weeks vacation. You come in at 9:00 and leave by 5:00. I doubt if you have read a technical journal since 1970.”
The old guy didn’t blink.
“On the other hand, I could hire him,” he said pointing at me. “He will work 60 hour weeks for base-pay. I’ll bet he’s a crack programmer too. Up on the latest technology.....”
I nodded eagerly.
Still the old guy didn’t flinch.
He was too old school to get flustered. So he sat there motionless, wearing a tie-too short and a cotton shirt too small.
The guy probably wore the same outfit every day: striped tie, blue shirt, wrinkle-free pants and wing-tip shoes. It was his uniform. By his name-tag, I could see he was Irish, which in Saint Paul meant he was Catholic, which in turn meant that he wore a parochial school uniform since Kindergarten - and after graduation he probably wore a uniform in Korea.
That made me feel pretty confident. He was so old-school, so stodgy and I was so bleeding-edge.
The young manager repeated his question, “So why should I hire you?”
“I doubt you would,” the old guy said.
“Why would anyone hire you then?”
The old guy’s gaze swept across the room, pausing to make eye-contact with one manager after another.
“Because,” he said, “all my sins are paid for.”
Sitting next to him, looking out at the crowd, I could tell that half the audience had no clue what he just said. The other half, the wiser, older, battle-scarred half, slowly, knowingly, nodded their heads in agreement.
I didn’t get a job that day but somebody else did.
This week's challenge: write about losing (or looking for) a job.