Today, I was great at my job.
When I was an IT consultant in Columbus, my supervisor Joe told me that all of his good technicians leave as soon as they are getting good. While it took most of his technicians a year to get really good, it took me nearly three. What I lacked in technical competency, I made up for with hard work, reliability and by being that IT guy chocked full of personality. At Data Resolutions, Inc., I was immersed in sales, several computer disciplines, remote support, IT training, prioritizing, negotiating, urban navigation, convincing third party providers that they were responsible for my clients’ problems, saying no to bosses at client offices, critical thinking, arguing with thieving insurance agents, deduction and best IT business practices across many sectors. Data Resolutions, Inc. treated me exceptionally well and I will always be grateful for the professional development that came from the sink-or-swim, work well and be independent mentality.
I was a recent college graduate with no money and success was the only option. I put in long hours and I studied after work. I remember that one time that Janelle, the boss’s wife, got a flat tire on the way to the airport. Business casual and all, I grabbed my own tire iron out of my truck, we got in in his care and went to get Janelle, I sent them ahead so that she wouldn’t miss her flight and then left the car in long term parking. I don’t know if that helped me get taken on full time. It didn’t hurt. Useful employees aren’t limited to the parameters of their job descriptions.
Peace Corps is like any other job in that it takes a bit of time before you really know what you are doing. I will pat myself on the back and say that yesterday, I was in the sweet-spot.
Before starting a new A Ganar (vocational training course) in a community, the team of teachers goes out and conducts market surveys with business owners and managers. We do this to identify career paths that pertain to the area and the subjects that we teach. Yesterday we were not in a tourist zone, so it wouldn’t make sense to teach hotel reception. We were in an area that has a lot of construction, motorcycle sales and a new 90,000 sq. ft. greenhouse project. It sounds obvious, but many do-gooder-service-minded-groups set out to SAVE THE PEOPLE without even trying to understand them. Believe me. This happens more than not. I say trying because I know that I will not fully understand the local situation.
I will say that people avoid doing this type of research because like sales, people are apprehensive and say NO frequently.
Regardless, yesterday, I was on. I warmed up by interviewing owners in a few small shops. There is the straightforward approach. Enter the store, ask for the boss, explain the program, get the phone number and go down the bulleted survey questions furiously scribbling answers. This is not how I went about it when I went to a rather large appliance and hardware store.
Instead, I went to the corner store, bought some gum and asked the name of the boss across the street. I arrived at the giant hardware store, approached the clerk and said, “My name is licenciado (meaning I am a college educated professional, it is a cultural thing) Daniel Wendt and I teach customer service. I am here to speak with (boss’s name).”
No further explaining necessary. They sent me right upstairs. When I got there, the big boss wasn’t there so I asked if there was a human resources manager. There was. I asked her to excuse the interruption. She was happy to handle something for her boss and patiently smiled. I explained that I teach customer service/sales and that I was trying to start a vocational training program in the community and simultaneously figure out how to improve my curriculum by identifying characteristics of good and bad employees.
I asked her about the good and by the time we got to the bad, we were both laughing and telling stories. Nonchalantly, I asked her how many employees she had. 107 employees! ¡Cónchale, anda diache! AND they come from the town and surrounding villages. Perfect.
The next strategy is to get her to say yes before arriving at the true objective. I get her to say yes by asking her if she likes her job and if she studied business in school. Next she tells me that she is getting ready to do her master’s. Me too! Common ground established.
I smile and tell her that as part of our vocational training program, we conduct interview tests with local managers. I explain that the students really work hard to prepare for the interviews, that we have a rubric and that the interviews provide valuable experience for poor students that may have never had a professional interview. She is impressed and smiles. Keep in mind, that I am not lying or misleading my new professional friend. I am telling the truth, persuading, trying to help Dominican students get jobs and also, I am attempting to win her over. In the Peace Corps, I have learned to adapt to win.
I will never forget my first day in Peace Corps in Washington DC when they told us about village elders resisting water treatment because they were sure that people were getting sick from evil spirits, not the water. So a Peace Corps Volunteer got a microscope, hauled it in for hours, showed the elders the water and said, “You are right, I can see them right there!” She then ran the water through a filter and took out the spirits. No one lost face. Spirits eradicated. Mission accomplished.
“Many of our students are single mothers that haven’t really had a professional female example to follow. As the HR manager at a large business, we could really use your experience, do you think that you could help us out during the next round of interview tests?” Another yes. Perfect.
Finally, I arrive at the true objective. I explain that in our program we teach reading, writing, mathematics, English, teamwork through sports, HIV/AIDS prevention, sales, healthy lifestyle decision making skills and customer service for 4 months. After that, in order to graduate, our students have to complete 80 hour internships with the goal of gaining experience, converting that internship to a job and earning a positive professional recommendation.
Using the information from our conversation about worker tendencies, I ask, “If I train some of the poorest students from the area and address the problems that you have had with previous employees, if I teach them good habits like I have done with over 200 other students, if they learn to speak some English and have a customer service/sales strategy, would you accept a few as interns?”
What do you think she said?
Only then did I ask for her last name and phone number.
It was one of those days that made me feel like I have come to master my job. The point of all of this, is now that I am getting good, it is time to fish in another pond. Bittersweet.
(Pictured above are my current students and some of the other A Ganar teachers.)