Let me tell you a little story.
Now that’s not much of an opening, nothing like some of the provocative lead sentences that grace the stories in U.S. 1’s annual Summer Fiction issue. Certainly no “best of times, worst of times,” Not even a “dark and stormy night” to dangle in front of readers.
But it’s an opening, nevertheless, and a chance to spin out a little information in a slightly entertaining way, and possibly make a memorable point or two along the way. Given my job, I’m always on the lookout for good stories. A few months ago, I braced myself for what I thought would be an onslaught of stories. What I got was a collection of letters that were informative, somewhat entertaining, and possibly memorable. Some certainly made a point, but not exactly the one that the writers had intended.
How could this be? Well, let me tell you a story . . .
It was a dark and stormy night in late April, and in the midst of one of the largest downsizings ever in the history of the media U.S. 1 newspaper suddenly found itself with a job opening for a production worker. I put an ad in U.S. 1 Newspaper and on Craig’s List. Then I braced for the onslaught.
It came. Though I am sure I lost a few responses here or there, my log shows 124 resumes for this one single position. Oddly enough, relatively few came from downsized veterans of the newspaper industry. Lots came from people in other industries — the fashion industry, for example, contributed a few candidates, as did electrical engineering and architecture. An IT professional downsized by a large company volunteered to work for free until he learned the ropes of our profession.
Of the 124 several dozen were from out-of-state. One, from California, proudly announced he would be in Philadelphia the next week, and if I acted quickly we could arrange a meeting.
Lots of resumes came from young people, recent college graduates, kids walking into what must be one of the toughest hiring climates in recent history. I had to applaud the ingenuity that turned everyday experiences into resume items. A young man put family baby sitter on his resume and elaborated that, as part of that experience, he had organized reading expeditions to the neighborhood public library. A young woman listed “drying assistant” at her neighborhood car wash as part of her summer employment background. I was impressed by the candidate’s honesty: She could have called herself “drying superintendent” at the car wash and I never would have known differently.
I did pay extra attention to the recent college graduate who listed “shoveling snow” on his resume. I thought of all the times I have been stuck at 12 Roszel Road, clearing snow in front of our storage van to facilitate our delivery process, and I thought seriously of adding him to my short list. But other than shoveling snow, the resume promised no talent relevant to our operation.
Aptly titled, the short list in our job search included just 6 names out of those 124 candidates. What was missing, even among some on the short list, was any kind of story about the candidate and how they might fit in to our small business.
And that surprised me. Both the ad in our paper and the online listing on Craig’s List included my name and E-mail address as well as the newspaper’s website.
I would have expected more than one cover letter claiming a deep understanding of our paper and its editorial mission, and some empathy for the weekly challenge of producing it. In fact I got no more than a half dozen such letters. The majority of the letters were “To Whom It May Concern” and reiterated job qualifications as if they were hoping to become a precise cog in the wheels of a large operation.
Maybe that’s what the job counselors advise, and maybe it works for applications to large corporations. But here in small business, a new employee is almost like another member of the family. Will they fit in with us? Will we fit in with them?
Two responses were outstanding. One came from a veteran graphic arts person who not only demonstrated a knowledge of U.S. 1 and its audience, but also made a Binghamton, NY, connection with me. (He must read this paper.)
Another was a cover letter from a young person who will be looking for a job in the fall. She not only had story to tell, but she managed to make it entertaining as well:
“Here’s a brief smattering of ‘all things Anna’ for the time-being.
“— I graduated from college in 2004. Major in theater (oops!) minor in Evolutionary Anthropology (interesting subject and useful at cocktail parties, but, well, let’s refer to that as a ‘double oops’).
“— I have worked as a professional actor for the past five years with stints as a farm manager (alpacas, yes, like llamas), computer networking employee, temp receptionist, coat checker, laundry detergent slinger, and myriad other jobs between the acting work.
“— I am teaching full-time at a school this summer.
“— I love mayonnaise.”
So which one got the job? No one, yet. But that’s another story.