It's that time of year around Webber -- the sun is shining, spring is in the air, and seniors are in their interview clothes. And, it's that time of year when those of us with more experience in the work world just cannot help but try to share what we've learned.
I've had several wonderful jobs. And, while every job has it's "I-hate-this-job" moments, I've had a couple of jobs I hated most of the time. But I learned an awful lot at the one I hated most. Once upon a time, I was a Business Analyst at Dun & Bradstreet (so were U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, though we never met). D&B is a great company -- lots of opportunities, good work environment, good pay, does good and meaningful work that helps keep commerce humming and, consequently, people working. But, it was most assuredly not the right job for me. And, according to my friends who still work there, things have changed a lot in the last few decades, so my experience on the job wasn't the same as someone would experience today. But, my oh my, was it an experience!
I was just a kid at the time. It was my second job ever. I beat out 400 other applicants, got good training and excelled at it. I was usually the best reporter in the region and occasionally in the nation. And, while it didn't take me that long to figure out it wasn't the right job for me, I learned some very valuable things.
- Lesson 1: Nothing substitutes for integrity. Okay, I knew this before I got there. But when I got called into the office because a business owner I quoted said he never spoke to me, things got real very quickly (fortunately, he didn't remember talking to my manager who was checking up on me either). Integrity was paramount. "It's true" was the ultimate defense to anything. There were no second chances for "made it up."
- Lesson 2: Nothing substitutes for results. I had to write 50 cases a week. Felt like it? 50. Didn't feel like it? 50. Car broke down? 50. Hung over? 50. Lots of folks not at work due to snow on the roads? 50. And a huge chunk of my pay was depending upon adding value to those cases... X pieces of data coming in, X + Y percent of data coming out = bonus. Good reasons for not being able to do it? Explanations for lack of performance? Excuses? Generally got you a "Wow, if I had your numbers, I'd be on the phone calling instead of here telling me why I couldn't do my job." One performed or one did not perform, and no amount of babbling defected attention away from whether you were one of the ones adding value or one of the ones consuming resources without producing. One didn't last long in the latter camp.
- Lesson 3: Pressure builds competencies; results build confidence. Where you stood was always up there on the "big board" in dry erase marker. To say that one got a bit of ribbing if he or she were near the bottom of the heap is to put it charitably; fortunately -- you'll remember I beat out 400 other folks for my job -- if one stayed at the bottom of the heap, he or she didn't have to put up with it long! It's amazing what that kind of pressure cooker -- together with being 23 and not knowing any better -- will do. I called and got through to the chairman of Boeing. I called the president of Supercuts at home and we had a great conversation. Bankers and CEO's returning your call -- and big, old stacks of cash when you did meet your goals -- did a whole lot to boost confidence.
- Lesson 4: It's all about filling needs. It seems like an impossible job really: call up business owners, get them to tell you all the details of their business for a report you're going to sell to folks they may or may not want having it. And you couldn't even sell the credit rating, really, since some got horrific ratings or none at all. So it really took a good deal of seeing it from the other perspective to make it. Those who made it learned how to explain to business owners what was in it for them (largely credibility and verifiability).
That's the neat thing about life. You learn something new every day. And, some of those lessons last a lifetime.