Friday, October 22, 2004


A young friend of mine is having job woes. His company went bust this week, which means that he is newly unemployed. He’s faced with pounding the street again, looking for elusive employment.

I feel for him. It’s tough out there. Why does he think I was in government for over 30 years, accepting lower wages (or at least the argument has always gone)?

His trials have made me think again about my first forays into the business world. Well, not INTO the business world. I stuck a toe in, and found it icy cold.

A few short months shy of graduation from San Diego State College in 1970, I went on a few interviews. One was with the U.S. Navy, as I had applied for officer candidate school. The woman I met with initially told me what they were looking for: “A woman of the times, someone who wouldn’t fall apart at meeting a Robert Redford-type!” She then told her horror story of watching three young women applicants lose their “cool” when they encountered a young blonde officer. Well, I knew that wouldn’t be my problem. I assured her that if that were the test, I’d pass.

However, I wasn’t the one for them. They were looking for a certain type, and I didn’t match that description. I later entered the service (enlisted rather than officer), four years later, but only after I tried a few other avenues.

I went to a personnel agency, and they seemed convinced that they could hook me up with a well-paying job. “What kind of job are you looking for?” I wasn’t sure. Maybe a bank position, like a loan officer. A personnel job. Anything that pointed towards a career, a profession. Any job where the training could be on the job.

My first interview for the agency was for a bank, for the position of a loan officer. I still remember the fact that the man never asked me any questions, never looked over my resume. He didn’t even talk about the job. He just talked about daily affairs, and then, as a punctuation at the end of his talk, he told me I should go home, get married and have kids. He then ushered me out the door. I thought to myself, “I can’t believe this! It’s 1970, not 1940!” I remember thinking that I was amazed that I was coming up against the same barriers that stumped my mother so many years ago when she, as a divorcee, tried to make a living to support her and her young son. Some things hadn’t changed terribly much after all.

The next interview was for a clerical job on the Navy base, a government job. Same kind of drill, not much difference. At the end of this interview, in which I was not asked a single question about my qualifications, he told me he had already hired someone for the job. That was an illegal practice under the circumstances, but I didn’t raise a fuss, knowing I still needed to work within this system.

I was finally hired from a clerical and typing test I had taken the year before. I entered my first real job, totally overqualified, in November 1970, as a GS-3 Clerk Typist. I believe I was paid about $6,000 a year. I was a great clerk-typist, and ended up meeting some great people who taught me a lot. I also met a lot of chauvinists who tried to hold me and so many others back. My fellow students from SDSC, at least the male ones, were getting at least double that in salary, in a real profession. It took awhile to get going, to discover what I really wanted to do and how to go about it. Probably 10 years.

So, my friend, I’m not by any means suggesting you wait 10 years. I’m just saying that there will be obstacles. There will be stupid bosses, stupid people who interview you. There will be times when may want to go to work for McDonald’s, just to avoid another interview. My message to you: Go for what you want, and don’t let anybody hold you back. And if, at the end of a long day, you don’t get the job, give me a call. We’ll do lunch. I'll buy.

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