Monday, September 12, 2005

Window Shopping for a Career

Just over a year ago I lost my job. Well, I didn’t lose it. I knew where it was. It’s just that when I went there, there was this new guy doing it. Actually, that’s not true either. I was working at a public relations firm that is now defunct. It was called Ballard Communications, but apparently what we were communicating was “you should use another PR firm.” I was basically the last one to board the Titanic, so I was the first one thrown off…but they all shortly followed, including Celine Dion. Her heart may go on, but her future at Ballard Communications came to an abrupt end.

Losing this job was not the saddest thing that ever happened to me. In fact, I’m a little befuddled as to how I fell into public relations anyway. I believe I was in my thirteenth year of college and trying really hard to decide what I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do, of course, was to open a business where people could come rent me by the hour to eat lunch with them and provide witty conversation. Then maybe afterwards we go see a movie, or take a nap. Or gossip. Maybe go to Media Buy to look up CDs we already own and read the back of DVDs we’ll never watch.

Anywhich, when I left Ballard Communications, I thought maybe it was time to try something different. I had some very real leads at a couple of PR firms and advertising agencies… but just wasn’t feeling excited about any of them. I had the luxury of picking up several clients on my own – people I had once worked with that needed help on specific projects or agencies out of Las Vegas that wanted a Las Vegas presence – and that allowed me to be choosier than, say, if I woke up one morning to find we couldn’t afford Blue Bunny Ice Cream for breakfast anymore.

So instead of taking the first job that became available at an ad agency, I browsed for something new. Thus began a very strange and hilarious phase of job interviews, two of which I will share with you right now.

First, I interviewed to be a sales rep with Pfizer. Yes, the drug company. And since I don’t own even one tablet of aspirin, haven’t had a prescription for anything my entire adult life, and have no need for Viagra (yeah, baby), you are probably wondering if I was even remotely qualified to work for Pfizer. Answer: Nuh-uh.

I interviewed here in Vegas first, then they flew me down to San Diego for a second interview. It was during the second interview that I could tell this job wasn’t going to happen. The guy interviewing me had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that I would be willing to switch careers and head into an entirely different industry.

“Why would you leave public relations? You have so much experience.”

“Well, I want to try something new. I feel like I’ve hit a ceiling in the world of public relations, and I want more opportunity for growth.” (Translation: Mo’ money!)

“Well…I just don’t understand why you would leave a field where you are successful to start on the bottom rung of another industry.”

“Well, is the pay at the bottom rung pretty horrible?” (Translation: It is mo’ money, right?)

“Actually, it’s quite good.”

“Well then I don’t care what my title is. I don’t plan to stay on the bottom rung forever.” (Translation: As long as I’m makin’ mo’ money!)

“Yeahhh…..” (Looking at me like he didn’t believe me.)

“I wouldn’t expect you to give me a senior level position in a new industry, at a new company. I am willing to take the bottom rung, for now.” (Translation: ‘cause the bottom rung is still mo’ money, honey!)

“Yeahhhh….” (Looking at me like he still didn’t believe me.)

I walked out of there and knew that was the end of my career at Pfizer. My plane didn’t leave until that evening, so I walked down to the beach for a couple of hours. That’s when I remembered that I would be completely reimbursed for this trip by Pfizer. Up onto my feet, and we walked until we found a nice steak and ribs place, where we ate way too much. And I was none too impressed with this waitress. You know how usually they try to force more food on you? “Did we save room for dessert?” and the like? Not this joint. I had to ask for dessert(s). Then I moseyed on over to a tiny movie theater in the strip mall nearby. It was playing one movie. Paparazzi. Never heard of it.

I walked up to the guy in the window. “What’s this movie, Paparazzi?”

“Uhh…I don’t know. It was directed by Mel Gibson’s hairdresser.”

(We both laugh to each other about how ridiculous that sounds.) “Wow,” I said, “that doesn’t sound like much of a ringing endorsement.”

(We continue to laugh, then it dies to some chuckles, then it gets completely quiet. We’re just staring at each other in silence.)

“One, please.” And I slid my money under the glass.

My second interesting job interview was with a company that does digital imaging. (P.S. Avoid the movie Paparazzi like you avoid the plague. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Paparazzi a thumb’s down.) Anyway, digital imaging. It’s not the life of a jet-setter, but it was another opportunity to not do public relations or advertising. It was another sales position.

My friend Brent turned me onto this opportunity, as he had been with the company on the technical support side of things for a number of years. He lined up the interview for me. Then he called me a few minutes beforehand.

“Uhm…you’re interviewing with Bo…he’s the president of the company.”


“Yeah…uhm…he wants us to come to his house for the interview. He hasn’t come in to work yet. He….I’m sorry Ken, this whole thing is really unprofessional. Whatever you do, don’t wear a tie.”

Brent picked me up and we drove over to Bo’s house. We walked into his backyard, and I suddenly found myself staring at a very thin Elliot Gould, circa Ocean’s 11. The man had on a robe, shorts, flip-flops, sunglasses, a baseball cap, and thin cigar between his lips that had quit smoldering about 15 minutes prior. He claimed to be from Las Vegas, but if so, then he picked up a New York accent from hanging out with the mob for too, too long.

He was hanging out in his back yard, having one of his employees – I’m not making this up – fix his pool. We sat down at the patio table: me, Brent, Elliot Gould, and his other employee.

“So, Ken…tell me about yourself.” (Said in thick, Jewish, NY accent from Las Vegas.)

“Well, I was previously working at Community Bank of Nevada, where we did $300 million in revenue last year.”

“And was that because of you?” (It suddenly became apparent this guy was trying to compliment me, no matter what I said or had done.)

“Well, no. I wasn’t a loan officer, I was the director of marketing. So, really, I would try to drive the business to the loan officers.”

“So, they couldn’t have done it without you, is that what you’re saying? Don’t be modest.”

“Well, I –”

“Can you create a marketing plan?”


(Looking at Brent, with a very smug look.) “That’s great, because Brent here hasn’t created one yet – and I’m sorry to say, Brent, my wife is very upset with you.” (Mrs. Elliot Gould is the CFO of the company.)

“Uhm…I’m tech support. I don’t think that’s my job…?” said a bemused Brent.

“What else, Ken?”

“Well, I was working at Ballard Communications…but they are having financial difficulties.”

“Didn’t they know that before they hired you?”

“You’d think so.”

“So, they hired you to save them…but it was too little, too late.”

“I guess. Like I was hired to steer the Titanic.”

“You know…I saw Titanic yesterday for my third time…(wait for it)…powerful movie.”

We sat at that table for about an hour, experiencing tangent after tangent, before Bo/Elliot Gould stands and announced, “Let’s take this conversation to a restaurant. You like steak?”

On the way out to the car he has me follow him into his house, where his wife is on death’s door with some kind of croup. I’m waiting in the hallway, and he is about ten feet from me, looking into a bedroom, and having a one-sided conversation with someone who I hope is his wife.

“We’re going to The Ranch House, do you want something? Why don’t you come here and meet Ken Craig. I know you’re sick, but he’s right here. Well, do you want something form the restaurant? I know you’re sick, just come meet Ken Craig…we’re on our way to the restaurant. What are you watching, Titanic?”

She walks out to meet me and shakes my hand. And if whatever was making her feel that sick was on her hand, I was certainly not going to be eating steak before washing my hands. She looked like she had been praying for death and was hoping I could assist with her termination. We exchanged pleasantries, she whispered “Please kill me,” and Bo, Brent, Employee, and I left.

We sit down at the restaurant and Bo offers me the job. Boom. It’s mine. He says he’ll have to run it by his wife, the CFO, but as far as he is concerned, it’s mine. Says he’ll call me early next week.

I never got that phone call. The next Sunday Brent told me that Bo/Elliot Gould had checked himself into rehab in Reno. But he said Mrs. Elliot Gould was still alive and still wanted to interview me. We met and she offered me the job, in between puffs on her non-Virginia Slim cigarettes. She said, “Well, I’m going to have to look at the books, but I think we can get you what you are asking for.” I never did get what I was asking for, because the next Sunday Brent told me she was filing for divorce and they weren’t sure what was going to happen with the company. I told him “You know what, Brent, I’m not really interested in the job anymore.”

A couple more job interviews, a couple of offers (including an offer to be the VP of Public Relations at a firm in Phoenix, Arizona!), but nothing seemed to fit right. Then…one day…

Another friend told me about a job where he worked – as a sales rep for World Savings, a mortgage lending company. A huge mortgage lending company. I interviewed, the interview went well, my friend let me know that both gentlemen I interviewed with thought highly enough of my abilities, charm, and willingness to suck up that they were going to offer me the job. And then they did. And I took it.

That was Wednesday. Friday, I was at a friend’s Christmas party. A friend of my friend overheard me talking to my first friend about my new job possibility at World Savings. He approached me and said, “Hey, I didn’t know you were looking for something. I would love to hire you. I work for Atrium Windows, and we need a sales guy. If you want it, the job’s yours.”

That was it. No interview, no questions, no idea what Atrium Windows does. So I took it.

Monday morning I woke up, showered, walked out to my driveway, got in my car, and sat there wondering which of the two jobs that I had accepted was going to be the one I actually drove to and started working at. I sat there for a while.

I chose Atrium Windows.

I love telling people I am a sales rep for a window company. I love it because it conjures up one of two images. The first is that I work in a retail window shop. You know, like in a strip mall, where people sort of casually wonder in, just browsing really. And maybe, just maybe, they make an impulse buy.

“Oh, Reginald! Look at this tan, vinyl-framed horizontal slider with the TP grids! Have you EVER?!”

“NEVER, Lovey.”

“I HAVE to have one, Reginald!”

“Of course you do, dear. Sales Rep, we’ll take TWO! Gift-wrapped, please.”

“Certainly, Sir. May I suggest Lowe glass instead of standard clear?”

The second image is that I am actually a door-to-door salesman, carrying framed windows under my arm. I’m dressed quite snappy, with a hat of some sort a-top my head, a pep in my step, a grin on my face, and windows on my mind.

I like to perpetuate these images, soI have canned responses when people ask me how the window biz is shaping up. It is either “I can hardly keep these things on the shelf!” or “They are sellin’ like hotcakes!” And if somebody has called me during work, I like to cut the conversation short by saying, “Well, I better get back to work. These windows aren’t going to sell themselves!”

I hesitate to puncture a hole in the dapper, 1950's image you have created in your mind, but in actuality, Atrium Windows is a window subcontractor. We work with homebuilders to win the opportunity to supply windows for the subdivisions they are building. I essentially try to butter up the purchasing folks at the homebuilders’ office to get the work, then have the superintendents swear at me on the job sites where we supply the windows. That’s the short definition. And I figure the shorter the definition, the more likely you are to try and care.

At least I have job security, because, well, you know, everyone loooooves window shopping. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice.