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Letter To A Graduate

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Dear College Graduate – Congratulations on your brand spanking new diploma! No matter where you go or what you do you will always have this accomplishment. You can never become a lapsed graduate or have your degree expire. There are few things like that in life so by all means bask a bit. No doubt you’ve heard a few rumblings about the job market and your prospects of doing better than your parents. Some speaker at your graduation (or older relative at your party) thought himself or herself insightful and wise to depress you with their opinion. You may have taken loans that have a looming repayment date. The thought of which may waken you in the middle of the night, the young adult version of a monster under the bed. This would be a good time to remember that with any luck, life is long and you’re going to be just fine. But there are some harsh realities that must be faced.

Uncle Don is right; the job market is different for you than it was for him. When he (and Aunt Joyce) graduated college, sometime during the heyday of network television and the invention of the answering machine (look it up) there was such a thing as “entry-level” jobs. A person could join a firm (that’s what companies were called then) at the bottom and work their way up. These jobs were plentiful as back then people did the work of machines. A mailroom in a large firm had to be staffed as emails and texts were sent in paper form and had to be sorted and delivered by people. Receptionists and switchboard operators did the work of automated phone trees. And secretaries did just about everything. In the finance world clerks and administrative assistants (which meant entry-level administrator before it became a euphemism for secretary) were an integral part of the pre-technology workplace. Back then Don and Joyce would have sent letters to dozens of firms and answered ads to get an interview with personnel (aka H.R.) During that appointment they would most likely be given aptitude tests and then placed within the organization according to their strengths. Once placed Don and Joyce would learn the ropes, distinguish themselves, serve their time and move on up or even out.

While technology is a wonderful thing, as is progress in general, and the new(ish) field has created jobs, it has also diminished an entire classification of jobs. Of course this phenomenon isn’t entirely new. Don and Joyce may remember their ancestors starting out as “office boys” or runners. There was a time when department stores (which ruled the retail world) were staffed with; counter help, salespeople, cashiers, wrappers (items went home wrapped in brown paper and string not in bags), elevator operators, restroom attendants, doormen, models, dressers, dressing room assistants…You get the idea. Department stores themselves are practically a relic from the past, let alone the diversity of employment opportunities. So yes, with each generation there seems to be a dramatic change in the employment tableau. But you and your classmates are also facing much more competition for the sparse opportunities. Many many more people go to and graduate from college today. Many more people borrow substantial amounts of money to do so. Don and Joyce knew little about that. Their friends went to schools they could afford. They might have worked their way through school, went on scholarship or went to state schools that were highly subsidized.

So great news, right?! Don was right to rain on your parade! Well not exactly. Challenging isn’t the same as hopeless. Tenacity is your best friend right now, that and humility and hard work. Be willing to do anything (that’s legal) and work like a dog. Put your head down and get it done. Knock on every door; don’t wait for anyone to do anything for you. You need to be your own manager and press agent. Style yourself and your profile to be attractive to an employer. Prove why you’re an asset, not why you deserve a job. Let go of any notion of a dream job, and embrace the concept of a job. Believe in destiny and really hard work and let go of fantasy. And once you get that job, and you will, treat it and others with respect. Go get ’em.

Signed,
F.O.D. (Friend of Don)

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Childhood, Education

 

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Spend A Little Time With Me*

Been shopping lately? By the looks of mall parking lots and the bruises on my knees from shopping bag laden pedestrians, there’s a reasonable chance that you have in fact been shopping lately. It’s early enough in the season that you may have been aware of your surroundings. In three or four weeks your shopping awareness will narrow to whatever stands in your way of finishing your list. But right now, unless you’re shipping gifts around the world or creating eight nights for eight people in two weeks, you still have hold of your senses while shopping.

If you’ve shopped more than one store you may have noticed a dichotomy in customer service. There are shops; chain, department or independent, that subscribe to the “we want to help you spend your money” retail mission statement. You will know relatively quickly if you will be a serviced customer. The clue is not the robotic yet eerily chirpy; “Hello” or “Welcome to _____” as you walk through the door. That unfortunate selector of the short straw is not there to help you. They are there to give the party line and watch who’s sneaking out with a mysteriously lumpy mid-section. The first indication you have of a customer service oriented staff is being able to identify individual staff. If they are in a huddle you’re on your own, good luck to you. If they look no different than a shopper (gazing around without intent, checking their phone, playing with their hair/clothes/make-up) you’re on the ice floe. This distracted disinterested display is not distinct to seasonal staff. All through the year you can walk into many stores and be ignored. (Ex. I asked for a smaller size four weeks ago and would still be waiting hopefully in that dressing room of “unnamed chain store” if it wasn’t for a pesky eating habit.)

No doubt some of this disinterest in extracting money from customers (via some modicum of service) is due to a non-commission structure. But it’s also simply a matter of corporate (or independent owner) philosophy. There is at least one chain store (to whom the First Lady is rather partial) that must use commissions. The sales person mentions his/her name far too many times for it to be anything else (the staff exhibits no other shared tics.)  They know the inventory and can assess one’s size in a second (a sure sign that a customer is actually being seen.) This particular chain is really no different (in style and market) than many other retailers. Yet shopping there is a dramatically different experience. You could walk in off the street and ask; “I’m in need of a sweater, but not a really sweatery sweater, just something that makes you think: sweater” and be shown several options. Try making this request in the BananaTyalorGap and you will receive a glazed eye; “uhm you need to find a manager.” (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that I need to find a manager. I need to. As if I work there.) There are independent shops and department stores that vary as dramatically as chain stores in their customer service philosophy. It’s always fun to walk into a boutique filled with exquisite one-of-a-kind odor absorbing clothing and hit a wall of curried lunch. The sales person is eating at the counter while engaging in an impassioned and excruciatingly personal phone conversation and glaring at you for listening. If that doesn’t make you want to hand over your hard-earned money, I don’t know what does.

That is why when you hear those words; “May I start a fitting room for you?” “Is there anything special you’re looking for?” or “I brought you a few other things I thought you might like.” you never want to leave. The rarity of this shopping experience is all the more baffling as online shopping becomes more robust and ubiquitous. It would stand to reason that customer service is how you lure people out of their homes. Yet sales staff training seems to consist of 3 parts folding lessons and 1 part cash register lesson. I dare suggest that the job would be more interesting if there was an actual sales component. Employees might just stick around and perhaps consider retail as a career. The majority of sales staff eating, chatting/texting and sulking are doing so out of boredom (the minority just dislike people and should seriously consider a move to a health insurance call center.)

Retailers: in a world of indistinguishable goods and competitive pricing the way to differentiate oneself is through the shopping experience. Make it easy for customers to happily part with their money.

*Big Spender – (1966) Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Holiday

 

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