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This article first appeared in our August 2007 issue.

August 2007


Father's Stories Brooke Allen began writing stories for his school newspaper in high school, for his literary magazine in college, and most recently for his children. He has a BA in mathematics and is a great believer in writing things down -- proofs and prose. He has been a teacher, speaker, computer programmer, and entrepreneur.

Mr. Allen lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey with his wife, Eve, and two sons, Davis and Glen.

He would love to hear from you at brooke.t.allen@gmail.com
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Learning How to Land a Job


A mentor is someone who stands out in your mind as a model for your own behavior. If you find yourself thinking “What Would Sally Do?” then Sally is a mentor. Here is the story of my Sally.

In 1979, my boss asked for my help in replacing a secretary. Rather than pay a fee to an agency, Ted hired a temp and then advertised in the New York Times. We were flooded with resumes and some of these candidates had amazing credentials. He asked for my help in organizing the interviews so that he could make sure of hiring the best person.

One could type 130 words per minute. Another couldn’t type quite that fast but took dictation. Many had Bachelors degrees and a few had their Masters. I created a standardized form on which to record each candidate’s skills.

One day Sally rang our bell. She told our temp she wanted to drop off her resume in person.

“While I’m here, may I introduce myself to the hiring manager?”

“Tell me about your education.”

“I graduated from high school last year and I’ve had six months at secretarial school.”

Ted was unimpressed. “How fast can you type?”

“I’m not sure; perhaps 40 words per minute.”

“Hmmm. We have candidates with graduate degrees in English who can type over 100 words per minute.”

“Do you need me to have a degree and type that fast?”

“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt. Can you take dictation?”

“No. Do you give dictation?”

Ted stroked his chin. “Not yet, but some of these women can take dictation so I’m thinking about learning how to do it.”

“OK. If you want to learn how to give dictation, I’ll learn how to take it.”

Ted rose to say goodbye. I could tell that since he had not bothered to write anything in the skills survey he had no interest in her.

Sally stood, shook his hand and said, “May I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

“That girl who let me in; is she the one who is leaving or is she a temp?”

“She’s a temp. My previous secretary has already left.”

Sally looked directly at Ted, “I can do what she is doing and that is the kind of work I want to do. Tell her not to come in tomorrow and I will do her job for free while we both continue our search.”

Ted pulled me aside, “Can you think of a reason I should not take her up on this?”

Sally arrived the next day. She helped organize all the candidates and found typing and dictation tests for Ted to administer. Perhaps a dozen candidates made it into Ted’s final round and every one of them was better educated with stronger skills than Sally. Even with so many choices, Ted still couldn’t decide.

In the meantime Sally did everything that Ted wanted done. She couldn’t type very fast but fast enough. She made plenty of mistakes but she recognized them herself and corrected them. If asked for something at quitting time she didn’t do it first thing in the morning; she stayed late and did it.

After Sally had been working for two weeks, Ted pulled me into his office. “Can you think of a reason I should not give this job to Sally. After all, she’s already doing it.”

Ted hired her and gave her back pay from the day she first walked through our door.

I think that young woman taught me more about how to find work than anyone else.

Things I learned from Sally:

Don’t do the interview; do the job.

If you don’t like rejection, make offers that are hard to refuse.

Attitude trumps skill.

The best person for a job is the appropriate person for the job.

Work first and you shall receive.


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Sally Would be Proud of Me


In 1993 I lost a job in Tokyo and returned to the States with a wife, two young children but no work.

Most of my contacts were no longer at the phone numbers in my book and many were unemployed. It appeared our economy was in a recession. A friend arranged for a courtesy interview at a brokerage firm I’d worked at years earlier.

Let’s call the interviewer “Bob”.

Bob began, “I hope we aren’t wasting your time but we have no jobs; there is a hiring freeze.”

“You have no work?”

“We have plenty of work, just no jobs. We can’t hire anyone except consultants on short-term contracts.”

“I would work as a consultant.”

“Are you incorporated?”

“No.”

Bob smiled, “Well then, I’m sorry but we can’t do anything. We only hire people who are incorporated. Thanks for coming in, but I have another meeting to attend to.”

“OK. How long will the meeting take?”

“About half an hour.”

“Well, I have nothing else to do today so perhaps we could talk some more when you get back. I’d be happy to help you if I can… no charge. In the meantime, may I use your phone?”

After he left, I called The Company Corporation, a firm that specializes in incorporating people in Delaware: Cost: $240 on a credit card.

When Bob returned I gave him a piece paper with my Federal Tax ID, “I am now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.”

“What? I thought you said you weren’t incorporated.”

“That was then. This is now.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because you said I needed to be incorporated.”

Bob smiled again, “Now I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time and your money. We won’t hire someone unless they are on our approved vendor list and that process takes months.”

I borrowed his phone again and called my friend at Galaxy Systems, an approved vendor. In a few minutes I was his sub-contractor.

Bob began to look worried, “We’re really backed up with work, but how do I know you can do it?”

I said, “That’s easy. I begin doing the work and you decide if I’m doing it as you want it done. At the end of the month, if you don’t think I am worth what I’ve billed, simply cross off my number and write in your own which can be any number including zero.”

Bob seemed shocked, “You would work for free?”

“Not exactly. If it turns out that what I am doing is not worth anything to you then I will ask you what I’m doing wrong. Learning what I am doing wrong is worth a month of my time.”

“How much do you want to make?”

“One hundred dollars per hour.”

Bob sighed, “That’s too bad because we are only allowed to pay a maximum of $87.50 per hour.”

“I would accept that.”

“But I thought you wanted to make $100 per hour.”

“I do. But I would accept $87.50. I would even accept $25 because I would rather work than not.”

Bob was incredulous, “OK, I guess I don’t see a reason not to hire you immediately except that it will take us weeks to get a contract written and approval isn’t certain.”

“No problem. I’m happy to start right away and bear the risk that you are never able pay me.”

I began work immediately. It sure felt better than being unemployed. The contract was approved and I was paid in full.

If someone says they want to do something, remove all their reasons for not doing it and they will see no other choice.

If you know you are worth something but an employer isn’t sure, then work on approval.

When you are stuck, think “What Would My Mentor Do?”



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