The fact that I had this job at all was somewhat of a miracle. I had set a goal of working for this Fortune 500 (top 25) years before in undergraduate school. The professor classified them as “the best” company that did what I wanted to do and I wanted to be part of “the best”. In fact, I picked my graduate school because I knew this company recruited there.
But for some reason, I missed the sign up to get an interview with the company when they were on campus (they were very popular and were talking to both undergraduate and graduate students for a variety of positions.) So I went over to the room they were interviewing in and asked the scheduler if I could squeeze my way in to talk with someone.
She had mercy on me and got me an end-of-the-day slot (not a great time as everyone would be tired, but beggars can’t be choosers.) I impressed the interviewer enough (somehow — I knew NOTHING back then about interviewing) to get to the next stage, an hour-long quantitative test they required all potential employees to take. I was done by 6:30 pm or so.
A couple weeks later, I received a phone call and they wanted me to fly down to their headquarters. I did a couple weeks later, ran through the interview grind, and somehow (again, I didn’t know anything about interviewing, though I did hear once I was hired that my test score had been one of the highest that year and that made a big impact on them) by the end of the day I had a job offer. I was such a greenie that I accepted it that day. Ugh. But I had done what I set out to do — gotten hired by the company I wanted in the field I wanted. I was now part of “the best.”
Once I started my job a few months later, I learned an amazing amount at this company, as you might expect, including the following:
- Work is hard. I thought my pace was tough in grad school, but it was only the beginning. This company was a leader in its field and it expected its employees to commit their lives to its success. I was single then and had no friends in a new city, so working seven days a week was ok with me. After all, I wanted to succeed no matter what!
- Fortune/luck can go both ways. As I’ve noted previously in this series, I’d gotten several lucky breaks up to this point. Now fortune turned the other way. I had five bosses in a year and a half, one that barely spoke English. It was a nightmare trying to accomplish anything with the revolving boss door. It also hurt the personal development of those that reported to our various bosses.
- I could succeed among the best. I was given the highest performance rating possible at my first review. I was on my way to success and the top!
- Success is fleeting. As I got to the top, I got a bit cocky and didn’t mind the details as I had before. I had two major projects go down in flames (one my fault and another mostly the fault of another department.) And not only minor flames, but nuclear warhead-type flames. “What goes up, must come down” was true for my performance at this company.
- Free thinkers aren’t always appreciated. I tried to bring some new, innovative ways of doing things to an old, “this is how we do it” company. It didn’t go over well, especially in light of the flame ups.
- Bad results gather momentum. Once I had gone from “star” to “loser”, it was very difficult to turn the tide. Even after I received a major company award for one of my projects (a “free thinker” idea BTW), I made no progress with those higher up in the organization. In fact, my award (given by a level higher up than those in my direct area) seemed to reinforce with my bosses that I “just didn’t get it.”
- Dating someone you work with is a bad idea. To make matters worse, I started dating a woman who worked on the same business I was on. And not only was she also branded as a “loser” too, but my bosses’ boss HATED my girlfriend. This didn’t go well for me, especially when my girlfriend quit the company and burned several bridges.
- Good friends are like a cold drink in a desert. A successful friend at the company came to me and asked if he could speak to my boss about my future. I told him I’d appreciate that. He came back a few days later and said I had no future with the company. At least I knew — I now needed to start looking for a new place to work. Years later, I supported this friend financially (as part of a group) as he took on some charitable work. It was my privilege to do so.
- Sometimes it’s too little, too late. As I was interviewing, my last boss came on the business and was the best I had while there. He asked me to not think about leaving but to put in an effort to stay — he said he knew we could work it out together. While I appreciated his thoughts and commitment, I knew the handwriting was on the wall. If I’d only had him a few months earlier…
Despite all the bad that happened to me at this company, it was the best resume builder I could have imagined. Just having worked at this company, even though it was only for two years, got me job offer after job offer.
Even today, twenty five years later, when I tell people I worked for this company, they are impressed. Simply having worked there, despite the fact that my time wasn’t successful (people know that this company is known to be a very trying environment), has been the biggest factor at making my career a success other than me working hard through the years. It’s been invaluable and a key reason I’ve been able to grow my income as I have.
As you can tell, my first job was an education in and of itself. I’ll post soon on job #2, one of the jobs where I had the most success in my career. Unfortunately, “what goes up, must come down” held true at this company as well.
For the next post in this series, see My Jobs, Second Job a Winner.