The Meat and Potatoes of Life
Death of a saleswoman: Facing post-grad job realities
Special to Stars and Stripes April 21, 2023
Wearing frosted purple eyeshadow and a borrowed suit jacket with massive shoulder pads, I entered the College Career Center with my head held high and my big hair bouncing. My Class of 1988 graduation was only a few weeks away, and I felt ready to discover all the exciting opportunities my Bachelor of Arts degree would bring.
With four years of higher education nearly under my belt, I was quite proud of myself. Sure, I’d slipped up a few times. Like that political science course, when I’d skipped most of the classes, wrote an embarrassing term paper on the politics of Iran, then pulled an all-nighter before the final exam. “When would I ever need to know about the Middle East anyway?” I’d thought, naively.
I’d chosen a major that would please my domineering father. He, a lifelong salesman, believed that the School of Business was the only path to success. However, I couldn’t understand business, much less spell it, so I signed up for Communications. It required business courses like marketing and statistics that would keep my father happy, but allowed me to explore my secret curiosity for writing, psychology, geology, journalism, physics and philosophy.
After studying the campaign communication strategies of various U.S. presidents, my future career came into focus: I’d become a press secretary! Of course, I couldn’t simply graduate and — voila! — land a job working for a famous national politician. Duh! I’d find an entry-level job that would hone my burgeoning public relations skills, then branch out into the political communications world.
“I’m here to find out which interviews I’ve been selected for,” I said to the woman behind the College Career Center desk. My school’s career system matched seniors’ resumes with employers, and spit out interview matches. The woman handed me a dot-matrix printout showing the interview slots I’d been assigned.
While ripping the perforated margins from the printout, I dreamed of a cozy cubicle in a sleek skyscraper where I’d contribute to national PR campaigns for Procter & Gamble, Kroger Corp., Macy’s Inc. or Kraft Foods. When my creative genius attracted the attention of the CEO, I’d be on my way.
Plastered with a giddy grin, I looked down at the printout. “Ferguson Enterprises? Ameritech? Standard Textile? Richardson-Vicks?” my eyes scanned the page for anything familiar.
The Ameritech interviewer didn’t ask typical interview questions such as, “Why are you a good fit for our company?” Instead, he launched into a cheesy sales pitch, offering me the “opportunity” to pay my own way through a six-week training course, then work on commission selling telephones.
“I’m a public relations professional, not a saleswoman!” I huffed.
I wasn’t really sure what “textiles” were, but the Standard Textile meeting went so well, they offered me a second interview, and I drove my 1976 Volkswagen Beetle to their headquarters. Waiting in their lobby, surrounded by portraits of the company’s male founders wearing yarmulkes, a rendering of a manufacturing facility in Israel and two competing male interviewees wearing yarmulkes, I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting the job anyway.
The Richardson-Vicks job required setting up cough syrup displays in grocery stores around Cincinnati to earn sales commissions. My battered and beaten post-grad job hopes finally died when my last interviewer informed me that Ferguson Supply was a plumbing equipment company, and my “dream job” involved selling toilet bowl bulbs and urinal screens.
Utterly defeated, I wondered, “Why had I worried so much about declaring a major, padding my resume and passing poly sci? I should’ve gone to more frat parties, because four years of hard work only got me lousy sales jobs!”
That summer, I applied to law school in a desperate attempt to avoid becoming a saleswoman for my father’s industrial cleaning chemical company.
The moral of this cautionary tale is not “College degrees aren’t worth it,” but rather, “Manage your expectations.” I’ve strongly encouraged our three children to attain bachelor’s degrees, because college sets one up for success. Statistics show that college graduates earn more money, have an easier time finding jobs and are more likely to have health insurance than non-graduates.
So reach for your career dreams, but keep one foot firmly planted in post-grad job reality.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com