Thursday, March 26, 2015

My First Two Jobs

My mother-in-law likes to say "if I knew then what I know now things would be different."  Although some people claim they wouldn't change a thing, I think as we get older my mother-in-law is right.  Life is a continuing educational experience and what I know now is because of what I did then.  Most of my career has been told in my blogs, but my first two jobs  have been avoided partly because neither of them lasted very long, but any first experience is important to what happens next.

Out of university I was pretty naive.  Thinking I was smart enough that anyone would benefit from hiring me.  I didn't really have the marks to prove it and would now agree marks definitely prove you have discipline and focus.  Really I didn't understand the process of getting a job.

After a number of applications and interviews I slowly became aware that there was not a great demand for my services.  I was based in Haliburton, a rural area and spent a lot of time at my Grandmother's in Oshawa (near Toronto) whenever an interview seemed likely.

With no car I often hitch-hiked including for job interviews.  On one of my hitch-hiking trips I heard about the concept of a social worker.  I had majored in sociology, done a small amount of volunteering in a boys reformatory plus I had even been given a short trial at a home for emotionally disturbed children so this sounded feasible.

This social worker idea focused my efforts and resulted in writing to over 100 agencies in Ontario.   I decided to say that I wanted to further my education in their field and that turned out to be the right thing to say

An appointment in Belleville that I hitch-hiked to gave me a better idea of what to expect.  Shortly after I had an interview in Barrie where my best friend, Bob Stone's girl friend Adrianne lived.  Everything went smoothly.  My father arranged for me to get a car and insurance and I was able to board with Adrianne's parents.  Ironically she was taking a summer job and staying with Bob's parents in Oshawa.

Social work was a very new experience to me.  I had had little awareness that Children's Aid existed or needed to exist. A lot of the job was routine and I went with other workers as they visited clients and for awhile an experienced worker would accompany me when I visited my clients.  Mostly it was to talk with adoption applicants and foster parents.

I was responsible for a few young children and one I remember because he ran away from his foster parents.  In the short time I had talked with him, he was very quiet and he was put in a foster home (not my choice) with a couple who had mostly fostered babies.  Well they were hockey parents and did everything they could to get my young boy involved despite an obvious lack of interest.  After bringing him back from Toronto we found another home for him.  He was so quiet I didn't really empathize very well with him until after a court session when he was rejected by a step father (his mother had died).

A lot of my time was spent dealing with adoptions and I remember reading lots of confidential information about babies up for adoption and prospective parents.  Simcoe County was where there were more people wanting to adopt than we had babies, so a lot of the babies came from further away.  I was struck with the variety of situations that led to a baby being available.  Often the description of the father was very vague, although not always.

The most difficult responsibility was advising on family relationships.   At one time I was expected to try to bring back together a couple that had separated after having a child and then each married other partners, although both claiming to love each other and their child.  What I thought was a routine call to another social worker in another city led to an unannounced meeting with the father.  The situation was unresolved when I left, as there were legal complications.

On another occasion  it was suggested to me to separate a wife from her abusive husband.  It seemed straight forward, but she was reluctant.  An appointment was made to talk with her husband and I was greeted by a very drunk man who threatened to throw me into a snowbank.  I was rescued by a police officer who ironically I had previously approved as a foster parent.  The next day the abusive husband after an overnight jail stay visited me in my office to apologize.

I was not really involved with physical abuse, although my imagination could stir lots to fear.  It was amazing how some people felt intimidated by me, but I gradually realized they were fearful of losing contact with their children or in other cases they were anxious to adopt or become foster parents and needed my approval.  Trying to be fair was sometimes stressful.

As part of my agreement I took a night course in psychology at York University.  The long range goal was to get a social work degree  Enjoyed the course and got a good mark  Drove with another young worker Bruce and enjoyed his company, even going on a double date at one time.

After about 6 months  I was told I was not working out.  I sometimes didn't feel comfortable on the job and no doubt my supervisors could spot some of my deficiencies.  I was given time to look for another job and assured they would give a good reference (confirmed by one employment agency).  On the whole I enjoyed working there and my fellow workers.  Looking back I think my naivet√© was a big factor.  Telling other people how to deal with their marriage seems incredible from a guy who at this stage couldn't hold onto a girl friend for very long.  With a different supervisor who knows what might have happened, but I don't regret working there or leaving although the rejection hurt.  I came to appreciate a greater variety of humans and learned some of the basics of living on my own.

Another frustrating six months of unemployment mostly living with my parents who had thought I had flown the nest.  I learned to appreciate how many unemployed people must feel; humiliated, insecure and a mooch, in my case, off my parents. All sorts of applications and interviews and then ironically getting a job I had applied for near the beginning of my unemployment.

I had applied for a job from a classified ad that was perhaps a bit misleading, but heard nothing for close to 6 months.  Told later they didn't like university grads who thought they knew it all, but were indecisive.  Ironically what got their attention was that I was from a small town and most of their successful employees were as well.  They seemed to like me and while listening to half a typing test they announced that was good enough.  Later I appreciated they weren't concerned about accuracy, but speed was important.

The head office was in Toronto, but within a very few days an opening happened in Hamilton and because I had no loyalties to Toronto they thought I could fill an urgent need.  As it happened my  sister Pat and her husband lived in nearby Burlington and I ended up living with them for several months.  This decision changed my life in a big way.

Mapping was one of the skills to learn.  They had maps for different cities and over time I collected my own maps.   Brewer's Retail surprisingly had one of the most useful maps.  Our office was responsible for Hamilton, Burlington, Brantford and the Niagara Peninsula, but often I would go further if some other office needed help.   I got to love maps and prided myself on finding my way around places I had never been to before.

It took me awhile to learn the job, but I got better over time.  I was encouraged to hire part timers to write up reports so I could make more inspection calls.  I hired my sister  and my girl friend (who I married a bit later).  My girlfriend was surprised to do a report on one of her closest friends, Judy who I had not met, but later became our maid of honour (and the source for my blog title).  Another report was on a house across from my future grandmother in law and one block from where I now live--the house had been involved in two fires (but none since).  Meeting my future wife in an odd set of circumstances obviously changed my life.  You can read more:

Reports had two important factors--incriminating things and speed.  Some insurance employee wanted the information to make a decision.  Some reports were not looking for bad things, but to confirm a customer deserved a discount.

A lot of what I learned came by accident.  Part of the routine was asking an insurance customer  details such as if they drove to work   The form given to me told what they were insured for and soon found that many people said they didn't drive to work or that they only drove a short distance.  I got confused somehow and one day skipped the first part and asked instead how far they drove to work.  Amazingly many people incriminated themselves by giving me the distance, even though they were not insured to do so.  Later I came to appreciate that in many cases an insurance rep had given them a lower rate by encouraging them to fudge some details.  As a salesman years later I appreciated that how you word a question and how you sequence them can make a lot of difference.

One experience that left a lasting impression was with an irate insurance holder.  He owned a business on a highway in a rural area.  Right off the bat I knew he was not insured properly and he resisted my questions.  I thought I was doing him a favour and pressed him for routine answers.  But he became angry and I left without most of my questions being answered.  I was so upset that without realizing it I spun my tires so that a rock flew out and broke a window.  He contacted the police, but he was so distraught he gave a very poor description of me.  I found out about the window when my head office complained to me and then investigated.  It turned out that he just couldn't accept that an important insurance company would send someone so casually dressed that he thought I was not legitimate.  I was ordered to get some new more professional clothes which I did.  This taught me the importance of first impression appearance and although no one would mistake me for a fashion expert I have mostly dressed relatively formally compared to other staff wherever I worked.

Another negative experience I had was when I was sent to an address where I learned the subject had died.  His widow assured me that it was not a problem and I left after apologizing.  Later she complained about me to the insurance office whose fault it really was.  Over the years I have had  similar experiences, but perhaps have handled them better.

We were evaluated on incriminating information, but also by how many inspections we could turn in how quickly. This often meant taking short cuts if someone was difficult to contact.  At one point I felt too intrusive and unhappy that I was causing many people to pay more.  It was pointed out that honest people pay for dishonest people and I could see a few examples of that.  But then in other ways I felt dishonest, particularly where we took short cuts and just finished a report, (almost always non incriminating) just to get rid of it and get our pay.

I was offered a promotion to my home town of Oshawa, but had already decided I wanted out.  On one of my inspections I had learned about newspaper circulation jobs and felt that was more in line with my interests and talents.  I stalled and a few months later I got a job that led to a career with newspapers.  I had admired my boss who told me I should do what is best for me, but when I gave my notice he was very quick to dismiss me although I had told my new employer I needed two weeks.

There was more interaction with people on this job than when I was a social worker.  I traveled a lot more and developed a liking for it.  I developed a love for Hamilton that previously was at the bottom of my list.  I reinforced my interest in basketball with an opportunity to see  N.B.A. game in Buffalo.  Most importantly I met my wife.

A start on my newspaper circulation is at:

Getting a job depends on a lot of things--what you have to offer and what is needed.  Finding the right or at least an acceptable opportunity.  Making an impression.  Experience is respected, but it only comes from doing things.  The interviewer is trying to read your character and if they don't like it they won't give much credit to your qualifications.  If they like your character that might make up for a lack of ideal qualifications.

During my unemployment I had been accepted at two different teacher's colleges and at a community college, but in the end walked away from them.  I was definitely interested in teaching and had even done about three days of supply teaching.  About 30 years later the Teacher's Pension Fund tracked me down after several moves on my part to send me a cheque for my pension contributions plus interest amounting to about $40.  I might have been better off becoming a teacher, but I felt I had been too big a drag on my parents and opted for a job when one finally became available.

The photo is my home and where my decisions led me.

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