Thirty six years ago, I was an accountant. Happily or unhappily, as the case may be, putting lots of numbers into lots of big black books. Yes, they were big black books. Edison had invented the light bulb but Microsoft was some kind of fabric that kept small children and big dogs from making a mess on pillows . Being not too long out of a divorce I was focused on talking on the phone to discover what was going on with the rest of the world of newly divorced people — planning where and what time the “young and the restless” were going to solve the problems of the world that night. In a fit of pique, my boss walked by my office and uttered the now infamous words, “Why don’t you go find a job where you can do what you do best…talk on the phone.”
Now if you have ever been divorced or have spent much of your life putting numbers in little boxes, you know the mind set du jour of someone who is newly divorced and doesn’t like what they do for a living, either. I remember saying something like, “That’s a great idea, now if you will excuse me, I am on the phone.” I kissed my life as a bean counter goodbye (as soon as I got plans firmed up for the evening), picked up my purse, and headed to the nearest employment agency.
The Old Employment Agencies
At this time, there was no such thing as a recruiter or a recruiting firm, and if someone had used the term talent acquisition professional, I would have thought I was being hit on by a pimp. It was an employment agency. The people who worked there were “personnel consultants” or “employment consultants.” They worked in little bitty offices with little bitty desks on which they had a little bitty wooden boxes with little bitty 5 x 7 applications printed on heavy card stock. Which, by the way, had places for one’s age, date of birth, social security number, marital status, number of children , amount of child support, and other income other than previous job and of course that most important of all…”Do you own a car?” The applications were 5 X 7, but the contract one was required to sign in order to obtain the services of this wonderful group of ladies was three pages long on legal paper. Said document, when condensed to legal meaning, gave them the right to all your worldly possessions, including the car they were worried about you having and at least your first born child. All of this to be attachable in the event they sent you to a company who hired you and you didn’t pay the fee. A full page was devoted to calculations showing what the fee would be based on your annual starting salary to be sure that folks didn’t die of a heart attack when they figured out that a job paying 900.00 a month was going to cost them $2,100.00. Payment terms were of course available. People stayed a long time on jobs back then; they had to if they went through an agency — at those salary ranges, it took three or four years to pay off a fee.
I filled out all the paper work, signed the contract, and was summoned into the presence of the “employment consultant.” I was ready to hear about all the wonderful new things I could do other than accounting. Preferably a job where I could do what I did best: talk on the phone.
My “consultant“ reviewed my application, double checked my signature on the contract (three times for all three places), and asked me how I wanted to pay my fee. Did I want to pay it all in one payment or would I prefer to pay it out in terms, and if so how many months did I think it would take me to pay it?
She went on to discuss that with the amount of child support I received, perhaps I would want to agree to pay it in one or two payments. This went on for 30 minutes. Finally, she asked , “What do you want to do since you don’t want to do accounting?”. I remember thinking, “I came in here so you could tell me what was out there, what kind of jobs I might do, or where an accountant who didn’t want to be an accountant could find a job to talk on the phone.”
I looked at her, smiled, and said,
“I want your job…I think I could do it better than you.”
There was a moment of shocked silence during which I was trying to remember the names of the other employment agencies in town, as I was sure this was going to be a short visit.
My “consultant” started laughing like a demented thing and said, “God I hate this job; I came in here last week looking for a bookkeeping job. They talked me into taking over the accounting desk and I hate this. Don’t move — I am going to talk to my boss.”
Five minutes later I was summoned into the office of the boss. He asked me, “Do you like people?”
Me: “No , I don’t like people, but I can handle people. I have an associate degree in psychology and I am trained to deal with people in crisis, but I really like to talk on the phone.”
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The Boss: “Can you start Monday? We pay minimum wage ($3.25/hr at the time), no overtime, and you have to bring in three times your salary each quarter to make commission. Anything over three times your salary you get 10%.”
Me: “Can I talk on the phone?”
The Boss: “I want you on the phone all day.”
Me: “Sounds perfect, see you Monday.”
A New Opportunity
Having officially launched my career as an “employment consultant,” I waltzed back into the office where I was discovered and told the girl who wanted to be a bookkeeper to call a friend of mine who was looking for a bookkeeper. She did, interviewed the next day and was hired. She gave notice the day after that. I was asked to come in on Wednesday instead of the following Monday because I had just placed the consultant who was running the accounting desk. Well, I did say I could do her job better, didn’t I?
I quickly discovered that I was an excellent “employment consultant,” and my income proved it. My commission the second quarter I was there was over $11,000.00. I started making placements where the employers paid the fee (my boss threw a fit because I guaranteed them for 90 days replacement). I never asked anyone how they were going to pay their fee. After two years, I decided to start my own firm. Fees were all paid by employers, nobody signed any contracts, nobody filled out applications. I guess it worked — I’m still here. Professional Search, Inc. Int’l. grew and morphed from a niche O&G firm into a group of seasoned generalists who believe that we can recruit anything because we are recruiters who evolved from 5X7 cards to Boolean searches.
We’ve come a long way baby, but I still get to talk on the phone all day. It’s still what I do best.