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6 Things I Learned In My Summer Jobs

827015136Summer will be upon us shortly. Colleges have let out and public schools will be finishing soon. As a child I respected that summer was the time to hustle and make a few sheckles. I grew up in the late 60s-early 70s in Springfield, NJ, a suburban town in Northern Jersey.  In that era there were no “internships”. Summer jobs were ones where you did physical labor of some sort, worked in a service industry, and hustled to make a buck. That was OK by me.

I remember making $100-150 dollars per week and being happy doing so. A summer earning $1000-2000 put some real money in my pocket. At least it seemed real back then.

Here were the jobs I worked in the various summers:

1967 (age 14)—Caddie at Baltusrol golf course in my hometown of Springfield, NJ

1968, 1969, 1970—Door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman

1971, 1972—Waiter in NYC at 2 Central Park restaurants—Fountain Café & Tavern on the Green, respectively

1973, 1974—Doing odds jobs at a local Semiconductor business

For my first job, as a caddie I was the lowest man in the line. I would sit at the end of the pole for hours and get a loop with one bag, not two. No double loops for me either. I hated it. However, in retrospect, it also allowed me to play Baltusrol on Caddie’s day Monday mornings (really). I liked playing golf then, but not now. I  never appreciated that I was playing a world class golf course for free weekly!

Aside from learning that I didn’t like being a caddie, I learned some valuable lessons in the various summer jobs as follows:

1. Be dependable—Show up on time, every day.

2. Be respectful—Speak intelligently and respectfully to others

3. Say yes—Having a “can do” attitude was important.

4. Hustle—Walk fast, get stuff done. Persevere

5. Say thank you—Genuine thanks is a powerful tool

6. Sell aggressively, but with grace—Obviously important in door to door sales when selling Fuller Brushes, but even as a waiter, graceful suggestive selling to increase the tab (and concurrently tip) was important

In retrospect my Fuller Brush experience may have been the most valuable of them all. I had Sy Greer to thank for this experience. Sy was a nice man who I met at Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield, NJ. I attended synagogue daily in 1968 to say Mourner’s Kaddish for my father who passed away in late 1967. BTW, interestingly the Mourner’s Kaddish makes no mention of death.  I am not a religious sort and do not attend synagogue often, if at all, today—although I still can recite the Mourner’s Kaddish by heart.

Sy Greer was a frequent member of the minyan, 10 bar mitzvahed men (at that time) required to conduct the daily service. Sy took a liking to me and figured a 15-year-old kid who was fulfilling a personal commitment to honor his late father could be a good salesman, or perhaps he was just being nice. No matter. He asked me if I would be interested in a summer job in 1968 selling Fuller Brushes door to door. I was. And I am thankful to this day for the opportunity he provided. Back then I didn’t appreciate the lessons I would learn, and the value they would have.

I was a good salesman. I kept stats of doors knocked on, conversion ratios, average sale etc. I am no Peter Drucker, but it taught me then “what gets measured, gets managed”. I used free samples of low cost product (mainly vegetable brushes) as door openers. I earned a 40% commission on every sale and fulfilled orders on Friday evening & Saturday morning every week. It helped me develop salesmanship and build self-confidence, traits that have always served me well.

Interestingly later on in 1976, with my NYU MBA in hand I landed a job in the ad business at Needham Harper & Steers as an AE on the Amtrak account. I mistakenly perceived my “impressive” academic background helped me land the job. In fact, my first boss, Neil Tergesen, later told me that he figured anyone who had the guts to go door to door and knock on strangers’ doors pedaling Fuller Brushes would have the guts to be successful in the ad business. Like Sy Greer did earlier, he put his confidence in me and I was grateful.

So, my advice to all students is get a summer job, and be grateful for whatever opportunities you have. If it is an internship in your supposed future field, great. But if it isn’t, don’t sweat. Meet people, take pride in your work, and learn. You will be better prepared for the work force later in life for the experience. I know I was.




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