Going After (and sometimes getting) a Job

Somewhere in this great land, deep down in a long cave, outside the range of even Google maps there may be a person who doesn’t  know someone who has lost his or her job during this economic downturn.  He himself may have lost his job.  That’s why he’s down in the cave.  But for most of us going underground is not the first option. There are little considerations like roof over head, food on table and bills to pay.

The experts offer several techniques that can help such as:

  1. Try to point yourself toward work that interests you. You and your employer or customers will both be happier if you enjoy your work.
  2. Network every direction you can. Ask family friends, organizations you may belong to, angels, and any influential ancestors who have passed to the other side of the veil to keep an eye out for you.
  3. Look for mentors who can not only instruct you, but also give you a lift up.
  4. When you get an interview, look at it from your potential employer’s point of view. What can you bring him or her that will improve their business, and maybe their life?
  5. Live as good a life as you are able, so that you can be as worthy as possible to receive the help you need.

As I look back at the jobs I have been fortunate enough to receive, I didn’t know these principles. But I stumbled into using some of them. As the country saying goes, “Even a blind pig sometimes roots up an acorn.”  Looking back, mentors and boosters have been important in my job searches.

My first mentor was my older brother Gordon.  He got an adventurous summer job, in the pine forests of the Idaho panhandle. The next year he encouraged me to join him. Part of the summer we fought forest fires. This was big man stuff for a small town boy.  The rest of the job was more hard hiking than glamorous, but I made pretty good money for a high school sophomore, and gathered a well spring of stories to impress my friends back home.

I loved cars, and wanted to work in a service station or garage so in my next summer job I focused on Standard Stations. They were the Cadillac of service stations back then (when that was still a synonym for top of the line). I had no mentor, so I visited the nearest Standard which was in Provo. The manager said, “No openings this summer.”

Showing my authentic interest in helping his business, I said, “In case an opening comes up, how can I prepare to qualify for it?”

He reached under the counter and hefted up what looked to me like the Encyclopedia Britannica in one volume. “This is our business Bible,” he announced. “Memorize what’s in here, and you’ll have a step ahead of the competition, but I’m not promising anything.”

I said, “Where can I get a copy.”

“You can’t.”

“Can I come and read yours?”

He was surprised, but said, “All right. Sometime when you’re in town drop in and read it.”  I made it my business to drive the 20 miles on my bald tires many Saturdays that winter and spring. If nothing else, he would remember my face.  But summer came, and no job. Then a few days later I got the call.

“You still want to work for Standard?”

“Sure do.”

“Be in Salt Lake in an hour.”

“Come on bald tires, get another 65 miles out of those bare threads,” I pleaded. They hung on for me, and even lasted a couple hundred more when I drove to the city they assigned me to.

The big money in our valley was working for Geneva Steel. The pay was good, so the competition was fierce, especially for summer work. My first year out of high school, I hardly got in the door to fill out an application. I’m sure they dropped it into the round file where the janitor could properly attend to it.

But the next year another mentor came through for me. That year I made the Brigham Young University basketball team. The next summer my resume also included a recommendation from Stan Watts the head coach, who was an influential voice in that college town. I breezed past the gatekeepers and onto the payroll.

The Three D’s had an equal number of mentors. Chris Poulos, Jane Thompson, and Karl Engemann. Janie coached us through our college days. Karl, was an executive with Capitol Records one of the three big recording companies in America then. He helped us get signed with that prestigious label. Chris, our manager got us gigs that kept food on our tables.

As for pleasing the boss on our job, we didn’t have one. We had thousands. Every show was a new and exciting challenge to entertain, educate, and hopefully inspire our audience.  To get and keep this job meant working our hearts out to serve the people who honored us with their time and ticket money. It was a privilege, and a joyful way to make a living.

One of my most important job hunting adventures began when Dick Davis and I decided it was time to change career paths. We had had a great run as The Three D’s, then The D’s after Denis Sorenson left the group. Our families were getting bigger and more numerous, however, and the entertainment business was getting tougher. It seemed the right time to shift our focus.

I had no mentor to guide me, so I looked for work I could get excited about. I have been intrigued with radio since I was a kid curled up on the kitchen counter next to our old Philco table top squawk box. With writing and radio you can create worlds in the theater of the mind.  So I set out to hire me a radio station. I hunted down a number of stations. I found one that had a big need although the owner, a Chicago lawyer, didn’t admit it. They were not last in their market. They were outside the market in a homeless shelter for radio stations living on a feeble dribble of advertising life support.

Armed with this knowledge I called the Chicago lawyer. “No radio experience, no job,” he told me bluntly.

How could I make myself a good investment to him?  I did a little research. I called again, “You’re right. I have little experience in radio per se, but I have been a professional entertainer for sixteen years, and I have a degree in journalism. And I can tell you what I am better than. I am better than nothing, and that’s what you’ve got right now.  Nobody is on the street selling your station.  I will be on the street.”

“How much will it cost me?”  I gave him a figure. (Tip: In my enthusiasm I pitched it too low.)  But he bought the proposal.  There were lots of holes to be filled in that station.  I went from account executive to sales manager, to program director and on-air personality in a short time.  It was a fun ride, but with our big family, I was holding down a couple of other jobs, and freelance writing to put food on our table.  I found myself trying to walk through doors that hadn’t been opened.

Dale Valentine, my brother-in-law mentored me into freelance script writing that grew into clients including the Osmonds, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and a couple of short patriotic speeches for United States presidents.

Meantime, another mentor appeared, Stanley Peterson. The Three D’s had worked hard to help the success of his adult education programs in California. He remembered, and was now dean of Continuing Education at Brigham Young University. He offered me the job that allowed my battered nose to heal from sleep walking into doors.

Of course there were times when I didn’t get the job, or the advertising account, or the million seller record, or the television pilot script I went for, but I’m only giving the good stuff here hoping it will be encouraging to those who need it.

Being between jobs is tough sledding. It’s also a good time to remember that people, some of whom you may not even be aware of, are cheering and praying for you. In the words of the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, “Good hunting.”