By RICHARD PLINKE
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a 10-part series of excerpts from Richard A. Plinke’s upcoming book, “How to Sell the Plague (Without Being a Rat and Other Cheeky Musings of an Unrepentant Salesman).” The series humorously explores how Plinke ended up in sales, the last place he ever thought he’d be and what he learned during those early days that carried over through his 35-year sales career. Subsequent installments will be posted each Monday. Part 1 can be found here: http://www.salesandmarketing.com/article/dancing-jaws-dragon
I didn’t know where to start. That was in the days before the Internet and Web-based employment services, back when you had to go through the paper everyday and circle or cut out employment want ads that interested you, before the binary codes from countless micro chips scanned your resume for key words and matched you with potential employers, way back when you had to do it all by yourself. It was an arduous and time-consuming chore that was, really, far below my higher sense of order, but money was money and I needed money for reasons I wasn’t yet fully cognizant of.
In those days, most of the ads asked for a resume to be sent to a blind mail box at the newspaper. That way, employers didn’t have to reveal any real information about themselves, like who they were or how to contact them, so they could review applicants without the hassle of being solicited or pestered. It was also said that employers would place blind ads to see if their employees were looking for jobs, but that always seemed a bit Machiavellian to me and not a very productive use of company resources. But who knows, American industry has always been a bit neurotic.
If I knew then what I would come to learn over the years about job hunting, or if I had taken some time to find some effective directions, I could have saved myself a great deal of time, energy and frustration. But I was still too preoccupied with other aforementioned objectives. Finding a job was only important relative to supporting those more highly prioritized initiatives.
After spending one particularly gloomy Sunday going through the local Philadelphia and South Jersey newspapers and repeating the process for a few more days, I realized that I probably had to do a bit more than just clip and paste want ads if I expected to actually acquire gainful employment. It occurred to me that the companies behind the ads I was clipping probably wouldn’t come to me, that I was going to have to go to them. This whole thing was getting to be a major pain in the ass.
To begin with, I didn’t have a resume and only vaguely knew what one was. It sounded French and definitely bourgeois, and I really wanted nothing to do with the whole idea, but all the ads asked for a resume, so here was another piece of my soul I was going to have to give up (after already suffering the humiliation of getting my hair trimmed and putting on a tie for graduation). So the complete and irreversible sellout begins!
I talked to an advisor on campus and she suggested I use a resume writing service. She said they were a little expensive, but worth it because they knew how to present my qualifications in the best possible light. What qualifications? At the time, I didn’t recognize my own innate ability at positioning and packaging; I didn’t realize it then but, like all of us, I had been promoting and selling myself to everybody I came into contact with, but it hadn’t yet dawned on me that I already knew how to sell myself. I just hadn’t put the pieces together and figured out that the pot of gold I was looking for was right inside of me, so using someone else to do the work sounded OK. The less I had to do with this process, the better.
So I’m sitting in front of a guy who looks like he collects string and he’s telling me what employers look for in a resume. The guy’s sitting behind a beat-up, cheap metal desk in a closet for an office, wearing argyle socks and a cardigan sweater and he’s telling me what I need to do to be successful. The irony is too rich. As the lessons come at me fast and furious, something weird happens. Hocus pocus and abracadabra, the guy puts together a resume that makes me look pretty good. When I pick up the first draft a few days later, I can’t believe my eyes as I scroll down the one-page description of who I am and why I’m a hot catch. I didn’t know what a spin doctor was then, but this guy had spun gold from straw. I looked pretty darn good on paper and how could an employer resist such a swell candidate? This was going to be easier that I thought.
Another couple of days pass and I have a finished resume ready to go. Hot damn. I can’t wait for the offers to start rolling in. After sending out about two dozen resumes (without cover letters, which I had yet to discover) and making countless phone calls, I was still drinking beer at the tavern and wondering if I was, perhaps, going about this the wrong way. A month or so had passed and I hadn’t gone on a single interview; nobody had even called me back. And then, viola, the sales puke from the employment agency appears in a puff of smoke to change my life forever.
I had apparently sent a resume to an employment agency without realizing it. I doubt if I even knew exactly what an employment agency was back then, probably figuring it was some kind of government bureaucracy designed to futilely assist the mangled masses of the chronically unemployable. And here I come.
Next Week: “Baby We Were Born to Run: Part II” – The author hitchhikes to Aspen with $100 in his pocket and no plans other than to get a job for the ski season. You can read it here: http://salesandmarketing.com/article/baby-we-were-born-run-part-ii
Learn more about the author and read his blog here: http://www.howtoselltheplague.com/Home.aspx.