Daily Archives: August 10, 2008
You know, I managed to make it to 43 years of age with very few different jobs. I think this is partly because of my personality and partly because of my hearing loss.
Anyone that’s followed my blog for a while probably knows that I’m a worrywart. I’m one of those people who likes stability and resists change; in other words, you would never see me working for a temp agency where I had to get used to a new workplace, co-workers and job duties on a regular basis. I like to settle in and stay for a while, thank you very much!
I think the biggest stressor for me as far as employment has been the telephone. Second to that would be customer interaction. From the moment I turned 16 and started looking for jobs, my main goal was to find one that didn’t require me to use the phone.
As a high school student, I considered and then discarded the possibility of being a waitress (I’d get the orders wrong) or working in any kind of fast food environment (again with the orders). Receptionist – no way. One of my friends worked in a pizza place, taking orders…nah, that’s telephone work. Even just looking for a job was horrifying to me, because I had to call to inquire about the positions I saw in the classified ads. Not only did I have a hard time hearing on the phone, but I also have a general phone phobia and just hate it – I get tongue tied and incredibly nervous if I have to make a phone call.
I finally got my first job, working at Baskin-Robbins ice cream, because my brother’s friend worked there and put in a good word for me. He gave me a number to call about the job, and I had my best friend do it for me. She had an amazing phone presence (which I really envied) and just loved talking on the phone. They thought she was me so I easily got the job!
It wasn’t too bad for a first job; I had to interact with customers but my lipreading skills helped quite a lot. There were two major downfalls: First, I wasn’t really trained. They showed me how to scoop ice cream (duh), pull the replacement tubs of ice cream from the back room, and do the end-of-night clean up if I was closing. I was never taught how to make specialty items like malts and floats. Luckily back then (late ’70s or maybe it was 1980) they didn’t have very many fancy ice cream concoctions like they do now. The other downfall was the scheduling. I didn’t have a robust social life but I did have a bit of one, and this job just killed it. They would make a tentative schedule and then change it all up if the weather was warmer than expected. So I’d assume I was off for the evening and they’d call me up at home and want me to come in. Sometimes it was fine but other times I’d already have plans so it really messed things up.
I had a couple of close calls with the ice cream – one guy ordered a malt on a day when I was the only one working, and I had no idea how to do it. I had to explain that to him, and I gave it a try but when he tasted it he gave it back to me. (He was very nice about it.) I gave him his money back and apologized profusely! Another time a lady came in to pick up an ice cream cake and wanted it personalized. I had no idea how to write on the cakes – nobody ever showed me that – and again, I was alone. I winged it and it came out really well, thankfully!
I didn’t last more than a few months there – after they kept calling and wanting me to come in on my days off (and being really shitty if I didn’t do it) I had my friend call up, pretend to be me, and quit. That’s right…I had somebody else quit my job for me. What a relief that was!!
School was about to start back up so I didn’t worry about working again for a while. Then I got a job at a store called Venture. I can’t remember if I was working there during the school year but I’m pretty sure I was – this would have been my senior year of school. I got this job because my boyfriend’s mother was the manager in charge of cashiers, so she already knew me and let me know when there was a job available. I didn’t have to call about the job and the interview was really easy.
Venture was like K-Mart or Target, but their “thing” was that they had no numbers on the cash registers. They were totally blank; they wanted the cashiers to be proficient enough at ringing the numbers up while looking at the items that they didn’t need to glance at the keypad. This was before the days of scanners; every item had a department number, item number and price that had to be punched into the register. I was sent for 3 days of training at headquarters before they let me loose on a cash register. Holy cow, I was terrified. You had to be FAST and accurate – looking at the price tag while you punched in all the numbers with your other hand and didn’t look at the cash register. Plus there was a lot of customer interaction, obviously.
Every checkout line had a telephone, which you could use to page a department if you had a problem or an item didn’t have a price tag. We also had to use it if someone used a credit card to pay for a sale that was over $50. In that case, we had to call the authorization center, give them the credit card number and expiration date and the total amount, then wait while they authorized it. They’d give us an authorization number we had to write on the sales slip. (This was back in the days of knuckle busters, and every charge had to be written up on those rectangular slips.)
WELL. I’m sure you all can imagine how much I loved doing that! Most of the time I could never understand the questions they were asking me at the call center, and I usually couldn’t understand the numbers being said to me for the authorization number. Luckily, in those days people mostly paid with check or cash. It was kind of rare to get a credit card, and even more rare for the sale to be over $50. Sometimes I would ask if they could possibly pay another way (ha ha…it cracks me up that I did that, but I actually did get people that changed their payment method). Sometimes I’d hear everything just fine and I’d breathe a sigh of relief as I completed the sale. Other times I’d understand nothing, and just write a bunch of numbers that I thought sounded right. It was awful.
Items without price tags were another horror. I’d have to wait for a call from the department and hope I could hear them, because they’d be reading me 7 numbers and then a price to enter into the register. After I’d been there for a while, I just started asking people what the price was, if they knew. I’d enter in generic department/item numbers and whatever price they told me. I did that partly to keep the lines moving and partly because I couldn’t hear on that darn telephone.
I stayed at this job for a while, around a year or so if I remember correctly. I liked the people I worked with, I was fast and efficient with my actual job duties, and usually enjoyed talking to the customers. I only remember one incident where someone was really mean to me because of my hearing loss. A woman had four place mats stacked together and she absolutely freaked out when I asked her how many she had. She was yelling and saying that she already told me that – she must have been talking to me when I had my head down, looking at the numbers on the price tag. I was already not having a good day (although I can’t remember why, whether I wasn’t feeling well or what) and having this lady scream at me over something so silly was just the last straw. I showed her my hearing aid (which nobody could ever see; my hair covered it), told her I was hearing impaired, and then started to cry. It was so embarrassing!! My manager saw and came over – she sent me to the break room to compose myself and took over my register. After that I was a little wary of people and it kind of soured me on working with the general public, to be honest.
I stayed with that job through high school graduation and the following summer. My mom was really bugging me to get a full time job and I did look in the paper, but everything seemed to require phone work. A few weeks after school ended, I got a phone call out of the blue from someone at the main office of the high school district I had attended. The district offices were located in the rival high school, actually, not the one I had attended. They had a keypunch machine – remember those? They used long, rectangular shaped cards and you used a machine to punch the rectangles into them. Then they stacked these cards and put them into a huge computer and it would run the program. (I know, I know…I’m really dating myself here!!) Their keypunch operator was on a temporary leave of absence and they needed someone to cover for her. I’d taken a class called “Office Machines” my senior year and apparently my teacher recommended me for this job. It kind of scared me since it was so totally out of the blue, but it also intrigued me so I said yes.
For a while I worked both jobs; the keypunch job was full time and I worked weekends and some nights at Venture. Once I realized the keypunch job would last for a while and I wasn’t going to be fired immediately or something, I decided to quit Venture. And yes, I did quit that job myself. It was on good terms, since I only left so I could work full time, which wasn’t an option at Venture.
The keypunch job was a dream come true. I worked in a small room with no other people around, and I loved the keypunch machine. I was a fast learner and they started teaching me other jobs – I’d help with typing, filing, making copies, etc. I never had to use a phone because I was kind of a floater – I moved from desk to desk doing whatever job they needed me to do. I worked with all older ladies who were really kind and friendly, although it was funny because I had to walk through the halls of the high school periodically. I started in the summer, when school was out, but when it started back up again in the fall the hall monitors would sometimes yell at me, thinking I was a student walking the halls during class time!
This job made me realize I loved office work – I preferred to be sitting down instead of standing at a cash register all day. There were no crabby customers to deal with. It was just me and my machines. I ended up working for the high school district, on and off, for two years. The keypunch lady took 2 or 3 leaves of absence and then the other secretaries all started having hysterectomies, and they would be off for at least 6 weeks at a time. There were periods of a month or two where they didn’t need me, but then they always called me back eventually.
Finally though, I realized I needed a steady full time job that gave me benefits. This coincided with the end of the many leaves of absence people were taking, and I was about to be permanently let go anyway. I did try to get a permanent job in the attendance office but my problems with the phone prevented me from getting it. I also was told to try for one of the secretarial positions but they required that you take dictation and know shorthand, which I didn’t. (Can you imagine me taking dication?! Ha)
One of the secretaries told me to apply where her daughter worked, at McMaster-Carr Supply Company. I’d never heard of it before, but it was supposed to be a great place to work, with awesome benefits. So I applied to be a file clerk (again…looking for the job with no phone work). It took about 3 months of me checking back to see if they had considered my application, but finally they called me. Although interviews made me nervous, I usually did well on them. I can lipread well enough in a face to face situation and once I get going I can talk to pretty much anyone. I had to interview with 2 or 3 people and got the job, which thrilled me.
I stayed with that company for 10 years! I moved from filing to word processing after a year or two. We used Wang word processors, which I thought were amazingly cool. The phone usage was really minimal – I worked under the direction of a manager who was pretty controlling and she usually handled the phone…I was happy to let her do that! I stayed on there through 1994 and only left after Paige was born, so I could stay home full time with her.
I think the hardest job hunt I had was when I went back to work full time, after my first husband and I split up in 1996. All of my real experience was in office work, but it was pretty much impossible to find an office job that didn’t require you to use the phone. I worked briefly in the Accounting department at Dominick’s, a local grocery chain. That was my worst working experience ever. They never trained me for the job, and I couldn’t even tell you now what my duties were. It had something to do with calling vendors about something. The girl before me walked out so she wasn’t there to train me, and nobody else in the department had time to. My manager was a pompous jerk who just wanted me to figure it out as I went along. I had been really misled in the interview because they made it sound like working with forms and paper, adding machines, etc. but never the telephone. It turned out to be major phone work! I never did make a phone call; when I realized what it really was (and the huge, massive pile of work the girl before me had left which nobody was going to train me on) I left my ID badge and a note telling them I quit, and I left. That was the only time I ever just walked out on a job as an adult; usually I would stick with a job even if I didn’t like it, figuring it would get better over time. I never regretted leaving, either!
Then I spent a few panicked months wondering how on earth I was going to support myself and two little kids, plus make enough money to pay for daycare. I called about a job at a small pad printing company that I never even realized was so close to my house. It was a job processing the paperwork for shipments so I would be working in the warehouse area, in the shipping department. But it was strictly a paperwork job with no phone work, and I really love that kind of stuff. Things that most people would find monotonous really don’t bother me. I got an interview and kind of hit it off with the Human Resources manager. She was asking a lot of questions about my computer skills and then took me for a walk around the company (which was much bigger than it looked from the outside!) They were a division of ITW (Illinois Tool Works) and the pay and benefits were more than I ever thought I would make (although measly by today’s standards).
She told me that she didn’t think I’d like the job I was applying for – it was in the warehouse, with all the guys, kind of a dirty job. Turns out she had been looking for an administrative assistant, partly because Corporate was pressuring her to transition to a computer and she had no idea how to use one. I told her about my phone problems, because one of the requirements was to cover the switchboard when the switchboard operator was at lunch or on vacation. That really terrified me. She took me to the switchboard and had me sit with the girl for a bit. I could kind of hear, and she said they’d get me an amplifier for the headset. So we agreed to give it a try and see how things went.
I started that job in 1997 and stayed there until I got laid off in 2001. I won’t go into gory details but working the switchboard was so incredibly stressful. The switchboard was also a receptionist type position, so I had to greet people that came in and call the people they were there to see. The lobby area was huge, cavernous, with a waterfall to one side so hearing in there was really difficult.
I was probably not the best administrative assistant because I avoided all the phone calls I possibly could. Luckily I wasn’t in charge of setting up events or travel (which really required a lot of phone work). If I could, I would walk over to someone’s desk to ask them a question or talk to them, rather than calling them. The company started using email after I’d been there for a year or two, and that really made things easier.
When I left, things were getting weird because my boss had been gone for a while – she took a medical leave of absence. So I had no manager to assist, and the Accounting department kind of took over the Human Resources duties. After a while they just decided my position wasn’t needed anymore; I ended up training somebody in Accounting and she had to do both her job and all the HR stuff. (I don’t envy her!)
I received a good severance package and unemployment benefits as well, so I looked for another job and started selling the candles I had been previously been making as a hobby. The candle business started taking off, doing far better than I ever expected, so when my unemployment ran out I just turned it into a full time business.
The joy I felt when I set up the website with NO phone number on the contact page can’t even be explained. It was such a nice feeling to know I had control over whether I had to use the phone or not. When I set up the contact form, I explained why we don’t use the phone and gave a fax and email contact in its place.
Finding a job (that doesn’t require a college degree, which I don’t have) that doesn’t require use of the phone has always been really stressful. Now that I’ve been my own boss for the past 7 years, I can’t imagine going back and working for someone else. It’s been hard, because the monthly income fluctuates and there’s no guarantees as far as how much money will be coming in. There’s no insurance coverage or retirement plan (we spend every penny that comes in). But since I stopped working outside the home and stressing myself out every day, my health has improved and so has my state of mind. We aren’t rich, and probably never will be, but it’s still worth it to me!