Have You Sharpened Your Pencil Lately?


Yesterday’s post about handwritten notes made me remember something that happened to me when I was looking for my first job.

When I was applying for jobs before I graduated from high school, the company I would have loved to work for was the local truck  manufacturer.  They were the best-paying employer in the area, with great paying  jobs for people both with and without degrees, so they were sort of the local “mountain top” when it came to job aspirations.

Because they were the “elite” employer, if at all possible, you really needed to KNOW someone to help you get a job there.

Wellll, I KNEW someone!! — or, at least, my parents did.  Mr. and Mrs. M were in Mama and Daddys’ Sunday school class at church, ANNNND, Mr. M was head of the accounting department at the truck manufacturer’s Engineering building!!  He knew I was graduating and asked my parents what I was going to do, and they said I was looking for a job.  Wellll, he said that he was going to have an opening for an  accounting clerk and that I should come in and interview for it.  Hooray!!  I was soooo excited! 

When the appointed day for my interview arrived I was still excited, but  extreme nervousness had set in too.  So, I made my nervous self look the best I could (hair teased and sprayed, check.  dress clean and pressed, check.  no runs in hose, check.  best flats polished. check.  BUT, one thing I DIDN’T “check” was the contents of my purse — big mistake!), and then I drove (probably too fast — it’s a trait of mine) to the Engineering building. 

Right away there was a little problem — I couldn’t figure out how to get into the building!!  More specifically, I couldn’t even figure out how to get into the parking lot!!  As I drove down the road toward the building I could see two lanes of cars coming OUT (it was quitting time), but there didn’t appear to be a lane where I could go IN!  I drove around the block three times, frantic that I would be late for my appointment, but unable to figure out any other way to get in (there was a back entrance that I was missing).  Thankfully, the flow of cars coming out FINALLY stopped.  I then QUICKLY drove in and parked because I had no idea when what I had seen — resembling the running of the lemings to the cliffs to jump into the sea — might start again! 

Finally.  My slightly late, nervous, sweaty, wobbly-kneed self made it to the reception area and was escorted to the Personnel Department.  I remember sitting in a small reception area on a straight back chair, alone and “sweating bullets” as they say.   A few minutes later, the receptionist at the window called me over and gave me an application to fill out.  She DIDN’T give me a pencil or pen to fill it out with, and I was sooo nervous and flustered — and young — and inexperienced — that it never occurred to me that I could have asked her for a pen to use to fill it out.  I just dug in my purse to find something to use.  What I came up with, in among the used tissues, notes from hubby-to-be and girlfriends and chewing gum wrappers, was the only writing instrument in the whole purse  — a SOFT LEAD, no-eraser-left, badly in need of sharpening, pencil.

Before I go further, let me just tell you that my handwriting up to this time reflected my immaturity.  I dotted my “i'”s with circles or “hearts” depending on my mood and just had a generally VERY BIG, SLOPPY handwriting.

Did I mention this was a job in the Accounting Department?  Do you know what Accounting Clerks did back then?  They wrote numbers in TINY little boxes on accounting ledgers, by hand, in pencil, NEATLY.  Do you see the (bad) handwriting on the wall here?

Anyway, I remember when I had finished filling out the application, looking at it and wishing I had the nerve to ask for another one so that I could start all over again — even to my inexperienced eye, it looked pretty messy.  But, I went to the window and turned it in anyway and was taken to the Accounting Department to interview with Mr. M.  I don’t remember much about the interview, because I think I wasn’t breathing most of the time, but I thought it went “okay.”  But, “hope springs eternal” so I went home hoping things had gone better than I remembered.

What do you think the chances are that I got that job?  Nil. Zilch. Nadda.  NOOOO WAYYY!  I was notified by the Personnel Department a week later that someone else was hired for the job.

But, something very good DID come out of it.  I went home THAT DAY with a resolve that I was going to make my handwriting neater.  Nothing teaches a GOOD lesson like a BAD experience.  I now have a pretty neat, easy to read handwriting.  And, it all started THAT DAY with an unsharpened, soft lead pencil and a job I would have loved to have. 

Not too long after that, Mr. and Mrs. M retired to Florida, but years later they happened to be in town when we had an open house for Mama and Daddys’ 50th wedding anniversary.  As I was moving around the room chatting with different people, I came to Mr. M.  We had a nice chat and the subject finally came around to the fact that I did, in fact, now work for the company from which he retired.  (I finally got a job there 10 years later, after working at several other companies, and staying at home with my children for a few years).  I mentioned not getting the job in his department all those years ago because of my sloppy job application and he said, “I always wondered if you KNEW that that was the reason you didn’t get the job.”

Yeah, I knew.  I didn’t get that job.  But I did get one of the first life lessons that the “adult” world was going to teach me — it is ALWAYS in your best interest to communicate CLEARLY, whether you are writing or speaking.  And, the lesson was taught with the unlikeliest of tools — a badly-in-need-of-sharpening, eraser-used-up, soft-lead pencil.

5 Responses to Have You Sharpened Your Pencil Lately?

  1. Chrissy says:

    How true this post is!! Handwriting is a big deal on applications, if they can’t read who you are or your contact information, how can they possibly hire you! Happy to see this turned out to be a life lesson!!

  2. You are one terrific writer. I love reading your blog every day. It’s full of good nuggets.

    If you weren’t my mother I’d still be your biggest fan.

  3. […] Thursday, January 1:   A lesson I learned when I was applying for a job I reallllly wanted is in here. […]

  4. Beth says:

    I’m catching up on your Oldies But Goodies!

    This is a great lesson. Awhile back I was trying to help recruit some new people into our real estate company. I was looking at typed, e-mailed resumes, so handwriting was not an issue. But grammar and punctuation and the ability to PROOFREAD…. These were issues!

  5. Sandra says:

    Beth — I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think there are many who don’t feel how they present themselves in writing is important — but I think examples like mine, and yours, disprove that!

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