A mentor is someone who stands out in your mind as a model for your own behavior. If you find yourself thinking “What Would Sally Do?” then Sally is a mentor. Here is the story of my Sally.
In 1979, my boss asked for my help in replacing a secretary. Rather than pay a fee to an agency, Ted hired a temp and then advertised in the New York Times. We were flooded with resumes and some of these candidates had amazing credentials. He asked for my help in organizing the interviews so that he could make sure of hiring the best person.
One could type 130 words per minute. Another couldn’t type quite that fast but took dictation. Many had Bachelors degrees and a few had their Masters. I created a standardized form on which to record each candidate’s skills.
One day Sally rang our bell. She told our temp she wanted to drop off her resume in person.
“While I’m here, may I introduce myself to the hiring manager?”
Ted agreed to see her and asked me to attend. I’m glad he did.
“Tell me about your education.”
“I graduated from high school last year and I’ve had six months at secretarial school.”
Ted was unimpressed. “How fast can you type?”
“I’m not sure; perhaps 40 words per minute.”
“Hmmm. We have candidates with graduate degrees in English who can type over 100 words per minute.”
“Do you need me to have a degree and type that fast?”
“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt. Can you take dictation?”
“No. Do you give dictation?”
Ted stroked his chin. “Not yet, but some of these women can take dictation so I’m thinking about learning how to do it.”
“OK. If you want to learn how to give dictation, I’ll learn how to take it.”
Ted rose to say goodbye. I could tell that since he had not bothered to write anything in the skills survey he had no interest in her.
Sally stood, shook his hand and said, “May I ask a question?”
“That girl who let me in; is she the one who is leaving or is she a temp?”
“She’s a temp. My previous secretary has already left.”
Sally looked directly at Ted, “I can do what she is doing and that is the kind of work I want to do. Tell her not to come in tomorrow and I will do her job for free while we both continue our search.”
Ted pulled me aside, “Can you think of a reason I should not take her up on this?”
Sally arrived the next day. She helped organize all the candidates and found typing and dictation tests for Ted to administer. Perhaps a dozen candidates made it into Ted’s final round and every one of them was better educated with stronger skills than Sally. Even with so many choices, Ted still couldn’t decide.
In the meantime Sally did everything that Ted wanted done. She couldn’t type very fast but fast enough. She made plenty of mistakes but she recognized them herself and corrected them. If asked for something at quitting time she didn’t do it first thing in the morning; she stayed late and did it.
After Sally had been working for two weeks, Ted pulled me into his office. “Can you think of a reason I should not give this job to Sally. After all, she’s already doing it.”
Ted hired her and gave her back pay from the day she first walked through our door.
I think that young woman taught me more about how to find work than anyone else.
Things I learned from Sally:
Don’t do the interview; do the job.
If you don’t like rejection, make offers that are hard to refuse.
Attitude trumps skill.
The best person for a job is the appropriate person for the job.
Work first and you shall receive.