Friday, April 16, 2010

The glamorous world of advertising take 1....

Before I get into the job and what I learned from my first go round with the agency I want to back track to the dealership again. And it actually sort of ties in more with this new job than the old one.

One of the things I got to do at the dealership was voice over work. I know, it's kind of unexpected and not at all related to the office work at all, but it was pretty close to my favorite part of the job. The used car sales manager was given a budget and allowed to advertise outside of the national advertising that the dealership usually relied on. Part of what he decided to do was radio advertising and he wanted a "voice" that would be the same through out his commercials. I was offered the job and I jumped at the chance to do it, it was something new and different and how cool would it be? It was very cool.

The best part of recording the commercials? Well honestly it was being referred to as "the talent". I loved that. It made me laugh so much. At the studio there was an area with snacks and drinks that was labeled just for "the talent" and when they were ready for me to record my parts they would send someone to go get "the talent". Now after working for the agency I realized that the labeling was just to keep the techs from eating everything and calling all of the actors and voice work people "the talent" was easier to do than learn names, but at the time, it made me laugh. Also, seeing Christopher's face as he made the realization that the voice on the radio was Mom's voice was great. He wanted to know how I could talk so fast during the disclaimer portion. I will let you all in on a recording secret...I can't. I would record those portions at a normal clip and digitally they would go in and remove the pauses that we all take while speaking. Not speeding up the track, taking out the space. It was very cool to watch them do and very cool to hear the end result.

The worst part? Being teased mercilessly by the girls in the office for my bubbly rendition of the scripts! But that's the way the director wanted them done, so that's the way I did them. I was greeted with Imagine!! (one of the lines from the commercial) for weeks every time I walked in the door. I got to do three commercials for the dealership before we moved. It was great and I thought for awhile that working for an agency I would get an opportunity to do more. That didn't happen. Lesson learned from this foray? When your boss says do you want to try "fill in the blank" and it sounds interesting to you, don't hesitate to say yes!

Okay, so back to the agency. I spent the first six months there digging out of the mess that the past year or so had caused. Remember my work at the dealership learning how to do forensic style accounting? Well, it came in handy here for sure. The job was basic bookkeeping. Agency bookkeeping isn't much different than car dealership bookkeeping or wholesale pottery bookkeeping. It's just numbers. Billing was a little more complicated than the billing for the pottery company, but not much. The only difference was in the volume of paper work and money I was handling. At the dealership it was not unheard of for me to be responsible for literally millions of dollars in money in and money out of the door in a week. At the agency the amounts were smaller but no less critical to the running of the business.

I am going to share a couple of stories from the agency during those years and the things I learned from them, but there were so many things I learned working for this company and so many things that tied into when I came back so there will be some overlap there I am sure. But I will start with just a couple of things.

I had been at the agency for a few months and was working very hard at getting all of the old mess cleaned up. Each month there were a series of spreadsheets and reports that Jack wanted to look at. At the end of this particular month I made a mistake on one of them. It was a silly error, I pulled a number from an old report instead of from the corrected version I had been working on and it was something I should have caught before giving the reports to Jack. But I didn't and he did. And then he proceeded to give me a really hard time about it for weeks afterward. Every time I would bring him reports he would question my work. I finally had enough of it. I closed his office door, walked over to his desk and said, "I made a mistake. One. I have been taking the grief over it but now I am done. Either you trust me to do the job or you don't. If you don't then fire me so we can both move on. If you do then let it go." and then I walked out of his office back down the hall to my office, closed the door and fell into my chair shaking so bad I couldn't hold my weight up anymore!

Now, at the time I was 29 years old, and Jack was my boss and just a "few" years older than that. So not only was I standing up to my boss, I was standing up to an elder. That was just not something I was overly comfortable with, but I had had enough and had to do it. And it was the right thing to do. We never had an issue again and ended up with a very close and honest working relationship. I believe he needed to see how far he could push me before I pushed back. How long I would take my work being criticized before I stood up for myself. And I believe he respected me for it. Either that or he decided that interviewing another bookkeeper would be too big a pain in the ass so he let it go!

One of the other lessons I learned about being a boss from Jack turned into one of the main ways I compared every boss to follow. As you can see if you messed up he was going to let you know about it. But never ever in front of a client. Jack would stand in a meeting with a client and take the full brunt of a barrage of abuse that you knew was someone else in the office's fault. But he never threw anyone under the bus, never took the easy way out in front of client, always shouldered the blame and would never ever let someone outside of the agency berate his people. Now if you were the reason there would be hell to pay when you got back to the office, but it was done behind closed doors in private and you were not embarrassed in public in front of the clients. Your reputation was held pristine while he took the hit.

One day while walking past my office he heard the voice of a screaming client on the other end of the line. Now this particular client was just a crank. Everyone who ever worked with him knew he was, and you just dealt with it. When he called with billing questions I would listen to him rage for the first five to ten minutes of the call then once he got it out of his system we could talk rationally and deal with his questions. It's just the way he was and it really didn't bother me. But this particular day, Jack over heard it and it bothered him. He knew who it was and once I was off the phone with the client he called him up. Told the gentleman that he was never ever to speak to a member of his staff like that again. If he wanted to yell at someone he was more than welcome to call Jack but never to call and yell at his staff again. This was impressive on a few levels. One, I hadn't complained, it was just something Jack saw that he didn't like and took care of. Two, this was a new client in a precarious position and we could end up losing them for any number of reasons let alone the head of of their co-op being chastised by the head of our agency. But Jack didn't hesitate for a second to take care of what he saw as an unforgivable offense.

Sometimes being the boss is great. Sometimes it isn't. But you are always the boss. Always the face of your company and Jack never forgot that it was his name on the door. He got the bigger rewards for that privilege and he also took the greater hits for it as well. He had worked his ass off for years to get into the position he was and he could have slacked off and let the rest of us be the cannon fodder for him, as we all witnessed other agency principals doing, but he never did. I measure all of my bosses and other people's bosses against that yard stick. And let me tell you most of them don't measure up. It's much easier to side step and let someone else shoulder the blame, especially if it is truly their fault than it is to stand there and take the abuse. But you don't get to be a success by doing to the easy thing. You get to be a success by working hard and doing the right thing. At least that's what I felt I learned from working for Jack.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back to work!

Okay, when we last left off on the work history blog series we were on our way to Oregon from our brief experiment of trying to live in New Mexico again. Instead of talking about the job in this blog I am going to talk about the job interviews. I will devote a blog to the job itself tomorrow. I am thinking I have three more after this one to complete this series...yikes!

So as you can imagine the last place I wanted to work when we moved to Portland was a car dealership so I started looking for anyplace else. Played up the full charge bookkeeping and office manager aspects of my resume, down played the auto specific items and started the search. In the end it came down to two choices. One was a temporary agency, but not working as a temp, working in their office as one of their in house bookkeepers. The other job was working for an advertising agency as a full charge bookkeeper/office manager. In one week I had first and follow up interviews with each company. I am going to describe them as they happened.

First off was with the temp agency. They decided that even though I was going to be in house they would put me through the same screening tests that they do for all of their clients. Basically they wanted me to understand what they do as a company, how the system worked and to show off a little how effective they were at placement. So I had a preliminary interview with the company owner and she explained their great system and their success rate. She briefly talked about my resume and experience but really wanted to save that until after the testing. Then I proceeded to take 3 hours of psychological and skill based tests. I met again, briefly with the owner who said they would call me for my follow up interview to go over the results and how excited they would be to show me the findings and how great I would find it all to be. All told it was over four hours of testing and interviews. When Brent got home that night and asked me how it went, I had to tell him I had no idea. I had never left a job interview feeling less like I had been interviewed before.

So the next day I have an interview with the ad agency. I meet with Tracy who is currently doing the job I am being interviewed for. We sit down in the conference room at this gigantic table and I have a copy of my resume and she has a copy and I wait for a beat for her to start asking questions or talking about the job or anything. Anything at all. And nothing. So I ask if she has any questions for me. And she thinks for a second and then says..."I don't have any idea what I am doing here. You are better equipped to ask the questions than I am" So I was a little taken aback but we go. So I start asking about what accounting system they use, when she would be leaving, how much training I would get before she went. And what I found out was on one level hilarious and on the other level a little frightening. Turns out Tracy was a kick ass media director who happened to be married to the last bookkeeper that the agency had. When her husband James finished up his CPA license and went to work for a big CPA firm in town and Tracy came off of maternity leave the owner of the agency needed a bookkeeper more than a media person so he put Tracy in that position. The logic being media is just numbers, bookkeeping is just numbers and anything Tracy didn't know how to do James could teach her.

Well, yes, media is numbers but they are completely different numbers than bookkeeping. Buying a TV schedule is nothing like billing a client. Having lunch with media reps is nothing like listening to your receptionist cry because she is having a bad day and can't focus and the phones keep ringing and no one understands. Tracy was in over her head and sinking fast and she knew it. She had convinced the owner that she needed to be back in media and he needed a real bookkeeper. The ad went out in the Sunday paper and my resume was the first one on the fax Monday morning so she took it as a sign. And she decided right away that she liked me in the interview (Really still not an interview) so she was recommending me to the owner and would I like to meet him? Umm...okay...

So I am introduced to the owner and I think, now the interview will start. I go into Jack's office. Shake his hand start to say something like, "Pleased to meet you.." and he cuts me off. Tells me Tracy likes me so that's a good start, but he has no clue what I need to know to do the job, gives me a phone number to call to meet with his accountants and tells me if they like me and think I am qualified THEN he will talk to me, but doesn't want to waste his time now if I am not the right person. And I am dismissed. When Brent got home that night he asked me how it went. I had to say again that I had no idea. I told him I wasn't sure if there was something in the water but Portland job interviews were the strangest things I had ever seen.

So the next day I had an interview with the CPA firm from the advertising agency in the morning and a follow up with the temp agency in the afternoon. So I meet with the CPA that handles all of the agency monthly items. And this is a real interview. How long have I been a bookkeeper? Do I enjoy it? They checked my references and they all came back very positive. She detailed what I would be doing in my daily work and what they would need from me monthly. They handled all of the tax issues so I wouldn't have to worry about those items. They would give me the adjusting entries every month so I wouldn't have to worry about anything other than posting those either. She was pretty sure the software they used was agency specific and would be easy to learn. She asked me what I thought about Jack and I had to answer that I really didn't know yet. She said that was a great honest answer and shook my hand and I left.

Great, feeling a little more confident I head down to the temp agency for my follow up with them. And things got really weird. I walk in and the first thing that happens is the owner introduces me to the other bookkeeper in the agency who I would be working with. And he says, "Oh is this the anomaly?" Pardon me? Is this the what? Well it turns out that I am not a bookkeeper at all. That's what all of their tests showed. Psychologically I do not have the right personality to be a bookkeeper and I would be a miserable failure at it if I were to choose it as a career. BUT...and here is the part that is freaking them out, I am a bookkeeper. An excellent one, with outstanding references who also aced all of their skills tests for the job. So what are they supposed to do? I have just taken their entire belief system and trashed it. Everything they have put stock into says that I am not a bookkeeper, yet my resume, education and job experience says that I am. So what they want me to do is explain to them why I am a bookkeeper.

Seriously. They want me to justify my career choice to them. So I do. I tell them I got a practical degree that would ensure I could get a job no matter where we were transferred while Brent was in the Navy. And...and here the owner interrupts me to tell me that I am wrong, my test scores show that I should have chosen a career path in the creative arts, or public speaking NOT bookkeeping. I told her that though those would be very interesting choices and probably a lot of fun, they weren't as practical and likely to be available no matter where we lived. She again let me know that I couldn't have made the choices I did based on my psychological profile. But I did make those choices, I pointed out. And she said, well yes, she knew I had, but I shouldn't have been able to!

This went on for another hour. Them questioning every step I had taken that led me to this interview. My answers on their tests. The fact that they have never had someone skew so drastically different from what they "should be" doing to what they were doing. And they just couldn't understand how I could be successful, even though apparently I was. So after awhile we pull the interview to a close and they let me know they will be back in touch. I am thinking, oh no you won't, and I really don't want you to anyway!

As I was leaving there my cell rang and it was Jack from the ad agency wondering if I had time to come for another interview right then. Well I was already downtown and my day couldn't possibly get any weirder so why not. I go in to meet with Jack, the receptionist had to leave early that day so he actually greeted me at the elevator when I got there. Shook my hand, told me how impressed his accountants had been with me and ushered me into his office. So much different than the brusque guy I had met the day before. So his main concern was with my resume. He pointed out that I had had a lot of jobs, but had never just quit or been fired, it was always because we moved. He wanted a guarantee that if he hired me we wouldn't just turn around and move. I told him I couldn't promise much but Intel had just moved us up there and I didn't see them moving us again anytime soon. I said, I will give you two years for sure. He warned me that it would be a lot of work, a real challenge, there hadn't been a consistent bookkeeping presence in there for over a year and things would need fixed and that no one in the agency knew enough about it to be able to help me. Then he told me he was going to think about it, wanted me to think about it as well and he would get back to me.

So that night I told Brent well...the jobs are down to one I couldn't possibly be qualified for and can't possibly do successfully even though I had been for years, and one where no one would be able to help me out or even understand what I was doing and the biggest concern is that I will leave. And honestly I hadn't even gotten solid offers from either of them so I would start over again tomorrow. I was just a little rocked. It had been such an odd day. I thought it couldn't get weirder. I was wrong.

The next day the temp agency called me back in for another interview! This time they made an offer. They wanted to hire me so they could watch me do the job and try to understand how I could possibly be a success at it with my test scores. I said, you want to hire me as an experiment? The owner said, "well no..."then she said..."well sort of yes. We can see you are good at this job, but we also can see that you shouldn't be so we would like to watch you work and see what coping mechanisms you utilize to make yourself good at the job and accommodate your personality discrepancies." I remember just laughing...I think I have personality issues? Oh my...She gave me the hours, benefits, salary range and told me to think about it and get back to her on Friday. This was Thursday. I left there thinking, this is just nuts.

Friday morning comes and I am thinking, do I take the offer from the temp agency? The pay and benefits aren't bad. Do I wait to see if I hear back from the advertising agency? Seemed semi-promising when I left, but I hadn't heard from them since Wednesday. Or do I just start over again with the Sunday paper? Then the phone rang. It was Tracy from the ad agency, she was so sorry that she hadn't called me before, but her baby had gotten sick so she went home early Wednesday and wasn't in Thursday, but Jack really liked me and she really liked me and could I possibly start on Monday? The pay and benefits were fairly comparable. The temp agency paid a little more actually so there was that to weigh.

But it came down to did I want to be someone's freak show or did I want to be someone's bookkeeper? I had a chance to make a difference for the ad agency, I had a chance to be different at the temp agency. As you all know I chose the ad agency and that ended up leading me down many different career paths at a later date. But at first I was just the bookkeeper/office manager/den mother. And that is a blog for another day.

When I called the temp agency to turn down the job, the owner actually asked me if they could check in with me here and there for the next little bit to see how I was doing in my latest bookkeeping job. I politely refused. Though I do wonder now if maybe I should have listened a little more to what their testing said I should be doing, might have saved me a lot of time in the continual debate of "what do I want to be when I grow up?" But it also would have prevented me from holding my next few jobs, which would have been a real shame.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A brief side trip....

Okay, I know I am in the middle of a series right now, but sometimes there is the blog I am "supposed" to write and there is the blog I "have" to write. If I ignore the blog that is a have to it blocks up the works and I can't get out the supposed to. So...this is the blog that has been gumming up the works for the last week or so.

Today I cleaned house. Top to bottom. Mopped the floors, dusted, scrubbed the bathrooms, did all the laundry. Big time clean. Now I clean house probably more than most. I keep a tidy place. Not as clean as Brent would like it, not as messy as I would be comfortable with, but clean. I have been told my messy house is everyone else's clean house. I knew this big all at once cleaning was coming, and it would have been worse if I had done it when we first got home from New Mexico, but continuing education requirements kept me busy long enough for the most neurotic of it to pass. So here we go...background time (it's your favorite part right?)....

I am not sure how far back this goes, you don't notice as much when you are little, it's not until you are older that it starts to seep in that things are maybe not this way in everyone's house. Our house was never clean. Or I guess I should say it was never neat. I know it was clean because it was my job to clean it. So I would dust, and vacuum and take things to people's rooms where they belonged, take out the trash, do the dishes, do the laundry...all of the things needed to keep a house clean. So underlying everything it was clean. But it was never neat. No sooner would I gather up a pile of stuff and put it in the respective bedroom than it would be back out in the main living area. Eventually you just give up. I would stack things into neatish piles and move them around to dust. Pick things up to vacuum and then put them back. Move the tons of knick knacks from the shelves, clean then put them all back.

It was just too much stuff. Add to that two dogs, a bird, a cat and fish. Plus anywhere from 4 people at the lowest to 8 at the highest all living in a 14' x 70' trailer and you can see where this is going. At its best it would have been cluttered. Just a small space with too many people and pets. But this isn't at its best. This is beyond that.

My dad doesn't throw anything away. Broken things can be fixed or salvaged for parts. My mom collects things. Anything and everything. Someday it's "going to be worth something". And she rotates through collections every few years, hummingbirds, owls, Precious Moments figurines, Noah's Ark themed items, anything QVC sells and on and on. And all of this stuff is out on display, or stacked in boxes in corners. Junk drawers are crammed so full of stuff you can't get them open. Garages never hold cars, they hold more stuff. The house my parents live in now is much bigger than the trailer we lived in when I was a teenager, but they just have filled it with more stuff.

Now coming from the other side was Brent and his family. There were RULES about cleaning. Dirty dishes were rinsed and put on the counter next to the sink, never left in the sink dirty or soaking. When there were "enough" dishes to wash you washed them and put them in the rack to dry. But not over night. They had to be put away. Clothes were never left in the dryer, once dried they must be removed immediately and put away. Beds were made daily. It was a very very neat house. The opposite of how I grew up.

When we got married we just didn't have a lot of stuff to clutter up a place with. I have talked about how we only had enough furniture for one room. We didn't get prints for the walls until we had been married for a few years. We had a ferret but just the one pet and she was small so didn't take up much space. Since there were only two of us, and we both worked a lot of hours the house wasn't really too hard to keep clean. A couple hours here and there and it was tidy and neat. And when Brent was out to sea it was even easier. Dishes each day took about 5 minutes to wash. Even though he was gone I still slept on the same side of the bed so it took about 15 seconds to make in the morning. The house was always clean. And I got used to it being the new normal.

Even after Christopher was born I kept the house pretty darn tidy. Of course our version of tidy changed. Anyone with little ones knows that the living room becomes a repository for toys, but they were kept neat as possible. It was added to the routine, after C went down for the night the toys were put away and the living room straightened up for the next day.

Then Brent got out of the Navy and we spent awhile living with my parents while we saved for our first house. I will always be grateful for them opening their home to us, but it was a really difficult stretch. Part of it was due to the house itself. I went back to work before Brent got on with Intel, so he stayed home with Christopher and tried keeping my parent's house in a way that would make us both comfortable. He soon reached the same conclusion I had years before. It was just impossible. Not growing up around it, it was worse for him. He just couldn't stand the clutter. Thankfully we found a house we could afford pretty quickly and moved into our own place.

So we have reached a pretty comfortable balance. I do tend to end up with a small pile of things I am working on right at that moment. Anyone who ever saw my desk when I had a desk job will let you know that I did not keep a neat desk. It was all stacks of stuff I was working on. Nothing got filed until I was finished with it. I am completely an out of site out of mind type of person. Drives Brent crazy. He will tell me if it's important I will remember it...well no, I won't. I am multi-focused at times (my more flattering way of saying easily distracted) and I often forget things that are VERY important to me, so I keep things out that I don't want to miss. Brent is a everything put away type guy, so we balance. I have a basket and a shelf that I keep a stack of things on. Everything else is put away. Still very neat, even in my messiest. Not as messy as I am in his most disorganized. But a good balance.

Then we go home. I am physically uncomfortable in my parent's house now. It's just gotten worse over the years. There are currently six people, two dogs, two cats and a bird in the house. The garage is packed full of things. I almost took a picture of what should be the dining room, or study depending on how you use it, but I wouldn't have been able to explain to them why I was doing it. "A reminder to NEVER live like this" just seems harsh to say. But it was packed. Stacks of stuff. Paper, boxes, old magazines, just stuff. So much stuff. The kitchen table couldn't have been used to eat off of without a few hours head start. And without someone in the house who is as dedicated to keeping it clean as I was growing up, and as Brent and I were when we lived there, it's not clean anymore under the clutter. Pet hair, dust, just not clean. We aren't talking Hoarders level, but Clean House for sure. I just want to call Niecy Nash and have her fix it all. But I know that it wouldn't stay that way. And I know it doesn't bother them. So it shouldn't bother me.

But it does. Every time we go back to New Mexico when we come home I clean. Or I guess I should say I CLEAN. I toss things out, I give things to Goodwill, I scrub, I scour. I clean. If I had gone at the house right when we got back I would have been digging through boxes in the garage sending things away. And I probably will anyway. But I will wait for the neurotic feelings to pass so I can do it with a clear head. I have, in the past, gotten rid of things I regretted later. I didn't realize at the time how it was tied to my parent's house and how I grew up. Now I do. So now I wait. I wait to make sure if I am getting rid of things it's because I don't want them, not because I am afraid to keep them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

We'll be back after these brief messages...

...okay so I have been MIA for a bit. Between Spring Break, Family Life and Continuing Education everything else sort of took a back seat for the past few weeks. I will be back to blogging this week.

Things to look forward to...
Finishing up the "things I've learned at work besides the job" blog series.
Family trips
Writing on writing
Socks and their hidden meanings
Wait, wait, I have one more blog on weight

And then whatever else I think up between here and there. Going to try for a blog a day this week to "catch up".