As I have mentioned in previous essays, I have had the chance to work from a very early age. Somewhere close to my 11thbirthday, I took over my brother’s paper route when he got a “real” after school job. After a few years delivering papers, I moved up in the world and got a job as a dishwasher at a local ice cream shop in a neighboring town. While the job did have its benefits (mostly in hot fudge sundaes,) the pay was not very good and I started looking for a move up the economic ladder! Soon I heard that the diner in our small town (Dick’s Diner, Murrysville Pa., still open today!) was accepting applications and I decided to stop by after school and fill out an application.
Dick’s Diner was a favorite of our family at the time; we were regulars on Saturdays for lunch or an early dinner. They were known for great daily specials (The Spanish Swiss Steak), diner classics (hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches) and of course their pie (Coconut Cream, Dutch Apple and so many more!!) I stopped in that day, now more than forty years ago and sat at the counter and asked for an application … thinking it wise to order a slice of cherry pie and a glass of ice cold milk to help in the application process. The application was straightforward, I had solid experience in being a bus boy and dishwasher, and the pie and milk combo totally rocked. I felt great about the whole approach until the bill arrived and I realized that I didn't have a dime to my name in my jeans pockets…. nothing in my bill fold, nothing in the car, years before credit cards were widely accepted (and I certainly didn't have one!) no ATM’s, no Venmo, no nothing!! Here I was applying for a job and I couldn't pay my bill … I was embarrassed and mortified!!
Here is where the “interview advice” comes in because crazy stuff happens in life and this crazy moment happened to me applying for a job as a teenager. The question isn’t whether crazy/challenging moments will occur in your professional life (they will!!) but how will you deal with those unexpected curveballs as they happen.
Back to the diner counter… after realizing my dilemma, I asked to see the supervisor to giver her my application and ask a couple of questions. One of the old time waitresses gave me a little look but went back into the kitchen and brought out Wanda, the stern day-shift supervisor. I handed her my application and sheepishly told here that I didn't have the money to pay my bill, but that I lived 15 min away (she had my address on the application) and I would drive straight home, get the money and be back in thirty minutes to pay the bill AND leave a tip. Wanda didn't say much, she just told me that I better get going if I was going to be back in thirty minutes. I took off in my 1970 Chevelle and got home, got the cash and got back with a few moments to spare. I sat back at the counter and there was Wanda, candidly surprised to see me. She said that she hadn’t expected to see me again and certainly not back that quickly!
The best thing I did that afternoon so many years ago was to deal with my problem directly…. No B.S., just a candid admission of MY error/problem and a clear action plan on how to move to resolution. In any job environment, one thing a hiring manager is ALWAYS trying to assess is the ethical makeup of a candidate. That moment at the counter turned into a “live TV” test of just that, allowing me to demonstrate my trustworthiness there and then! If you are faced with a challenging moment or issue in an interview moment, deal with it straight on, admit the issue and work the problem, DON’T try to talk your way out it!
Lucky for me, Wanda and Dick’s Diner took a chance of yours truly and I worked there all through high school and loved the place. To this day every time I get back home I stop in with Jimmy and Dave (my two high school buddies that still live there) and grab a meal at the diner and always try to squeeze in a slice of pie for old times sake!!