Graduated from college and back home in Philly after my cable and electricity had been cut off at school, I started the dreaded regular-job hunt.
There was one type of job that I’d always found it easy to land interviews for. The job listings targeted athletes, and mentioned wanting people who were “competitive” and “wanting to win.”
That sounded like me! I’d think as I applied. Maybe it’s a sports job!
I later learned that I wasn’t the only one who got these interview initiations “easily.” Every one that I went to had 4-6 other applicants in the room with me.
These were outside sales (read: you go to/call the potential customer and cold-approach) jobs that were essentially 100% commission. Sales jobs have notoriously high turnover; all-commission sales jobs are damn near impossible to staff. What I was slow to realize was that they invited anyone who’d call to interview for the job.
The interviews always went the same way.
Some slick-talking man in a suit without a tie would sit behind an impressive-looking desk, framed sport and travel photos lining the walls around his office. He’d talk random sports shit and give hints to how successful a person he was before slowly and causally sharing what the actual job was.
I don’t remember what the product/service was for most of these interviews, since I’d mentally check out as soon as I realized what I had been bamboozled into. The first one I ever went to, though, I remember. What’s more, I even came back for the next round of interviewing.
Landline phone service.
Now, I was born in 1982 — so while I might be older than you, I’m not that damn old. I had a cell phone in 2004. Everybody had a cell phone in 2004. But this company, whose office building was right on the corner of City Line Avenue and Presidential Boulevard, was selling landline phone service to business customers.
In their defense, many businesses still have landline phones to this day. But the whole idea still seemed outdated to me.
After passing round one of “interviews,” I was introduced to Matt, a veteran salesperson who’d played lacrosse or hockey in college (the common-ground connection). Matt was about 6’5”, stocky and White. And I would be Matt’s shadow for the next week, to both learn the job, and, as I was told, for Matt to evaluate me and decide if I was fit for the sales position.
My first day as a shadow was a Friday.
I messed up in remembering the time to get to the office and was 45 minutes late. For this, Matt levied his first admonishment.
“So… you’re late, on your first day. This is not the way to start man. This is not an opportunity that you wanna miss out on.”
Before we were to hit the streets for me to observe Matt at work, Matt and his coworkers did what every sales team does, and had a morning meeting.
Unlike the calm, boring meetings I’d later experience at PSC, this one was straight out of a parody movie.
There were chants, loud cheering, and lots of clapping in this pep rally. If I had been more experienced in business with more work experience to my name, I would have laughed at the pure foolishness of it all. But the fresh-out-of-college me didn’t know any better. I just tried visualizing myself as one of these salespeople — who were all trying so hard to look like they were happy and successful and winning, I could almost see through them.
We finally left the building and everyone drove to their respective areas. Riding shotgun in Matt’s car, he pulled out a map — a paper map, the kind that folded up and doubled as a book — to decide what part of his sales area he’d be working today.
We made several stops that day, at local mom-and-pop shops and small, independently owned businesses (the service being sold didn’t target corporate buyers). Matt “worked” his leads, completing no sales that day, but I understood that landline phone service had a long sales cycle (I guess), and it was expected to be a process.
The second time Matt admonished me, I think I had been dozing off in his car while riding to another stop that day. He remainder me again of the opportunity I’d be losing if I didn’t get the sales job.
We finished the day; I found myself sitting in Matt’s car in the office building parking lot as Matt brought up old shit, like my lateness from earlier that morning and his (allegedly) catching me sleeping on the job shadow.
“Dre, let me tell you AGAIN. So many people have come and gone from where you are right now and they never make it. Then they go out there and find out that there’s NOT ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY OUT THERE LIKE THIS ONE, MAN. There’s NOT one! You can go and look for another opportunity like this and (pounding fist into palm) YOU WON’T FIND IT. Take this job seriously, man, I’m telling you.”
To this day, I don’t know why Matt tried so hard to sell me on this job. Would my presence make his job easier? Did he get a cut of my commission? Maybe he wanted a Black friend?
Anyway, we went back into the office and Matt shared one thing of good use.
He used a whiteboard to draw out an analogy for selling, of having a certain number of “bullets” in your clip for closing a sale; he explained that a good salesperson knew how to ration out those bullets and not shoot them all at the same time.
This was good advice. Thanks, Matt.
Matt asked what my plans were for the weekend. I told him I’d be getting my hair braided (I still had cornrows at the time). He offered to walk me out of the office to my car; I told him there was no need since I needed to go to the bathroom first.
This was a lie; I didn’t want Matt to walk with me to the lot because I’d taken the bus to the office — I didn’t have a car, even though a vehicle was a requirement for employment at this outside sales job. We said our goodbyes and Matt remainder me to be early for the next work day.
Matt called me Monday morning when I didn’t show up to shadow.
I didn’t answer.
He never called again.
I did eventually find a job — not the best job, but better than this shit — and finally got to the job I actually wanted a year-plus later. I’ll tell you about all of that in my book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life coming February 22. Here are all the preorder bonuses.