Blog Series: 7 Things My First Real Boss Taught Me --Lesson 1
How do you sift through the noise and focus on what’s important?
Sometimes what’s important and meaningful is found in unexpected places.
Lesson 1: “The Power of a Paper Route”
I was less than a year out of college with a Procurement Management degree in a receding economy. People were not beating my door down. I was desperate to land my first real job and did my best to beef up my resume. I may have inflated a title here and there and enhanced a job description or two. I even listed the famous “GPA in Major” to deflect attention away from my unimpressive overall GPA.
But even with all the resume embellishments I could come up with, there it still was:
The Huntsville Times – Paper Carrier (1980-1986)
It was 1989 and the job market was tough. I must have sent out 200 resumes and cover letters and received very little interest. I finally got a nibble, and as I prepared for this interview, I expected all the typical questions (that I didn’t have any good answers for) – What makes you right for this company? Why do you want to work for us? How much do you know about our industry? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I remember entering that building like it was yesterday. I was nervous and had very little confidence. I was applying for a position at a real company to sell innovative technology products that I knew I didn’t understand…and I had a paper route on my resume.
I expected a cool reception and maybe even a little hostility for wasting everyone’s time. Instead, what I found was a relaxed conversation in the comfortable office of the disarming CEO of a small, growing company. The interview that started my career lasted about 20 minutes, and 15 of those were spent talking about college football. It was a conversation more than an interview. We got to know each other, and I got a pretty good feel for the job and the company. As we began to sum up, he hit me with the comment I still remember word-for-word 30 years later:
“If you can handle a paper route for 6 years you can do this job.”
I was excited to get the job. I started the following Monday and the next several years at the company were a whirlwind, but that interview made a lasting impression on me. Today when I interview people, it looks a lot like that 20 minute conversation 30 years ago…with me on the other side of the desk.
I don’t scrutinize resumes. Sometimes I barely look at them.
I rarely ask scripted questions. I never use a set of challenging or tricky questions designed to expose a weakness or reveal a character flaw.
I really try to make applicants feel comfortable. I do just as much of the talking as they do, and not that much of it is about the job or their background.
I do strive to answer what I think are the most important questions – Does this person really want this job? Can they learn? Will they work hard?
Steve actually knew a thing or two about paper routes. His own kids had them when they were in high school. What most people today don’t realize is that having a paper route provides incredible experience for a teenager. You quickly learn the importance of customer service (read: Christmas tips!), how to deal with difficult customers, manage your finances, and be dependable. Paper routes are relentless. The first thing I had to do everyday after school (no matter what my friends were doing or what else was going on) was go home, fold over 100 newspapers, and deliver them to waiting customers.
I don’t know how many of those things were going through Steve’s mind when he made that comment and offered me the job, but his words certainly stuck with me. That day he provided me with a template for not just interviewing and hiring, but also for relating to people that I still use today.