I never babysat or washed cars for pocket money when I was a kid. My mother told me, “Be a little girl as long as you can. You’ve got a long time to be a grown-up lady.” So, I had the chance to experience the freedom of childhood.
The High School of Commerce, the school I chose while still in the eighth grade, offered programs in secretarial skills, retailing, and accounting. My thought was that, if being an office worker turned out not to be the career for me, I would at least be able to get a job to pay my way through college.
Commerce was known for its Co-op Program in which students worked at real jobs for half a day and attended classes during the other half. The first few years, I was too busy studying, working on the school paper, playing basketball, and being involved in the biology club to work. By senior year, I decided to participate.
The placement office set me up for an interview with the Detroit Edison Company. I remember the night before the job interview. I sat on the living room floor in front of Mom’s chair while she pin-curled my long hair. I’d already selected my outfit: a straight dark skirt and white blouse beneath my flared, lime green winter coat. I’d polished my black high-heeled pumps and laid out the feminine torture tools: garter belt and nylon stockings.
Detroit Edison hired me and a girl named Minerva to share the job. We didn’t know each other and never met since I worked the mornings and she worked the afternoon shift. We communicated by leaving notes that told each other where we’d left off in the day’s work.
Our duties spanned two offices on the first floor of the building, Employment and Employee Services. Sorting and delivering the mail, answering the phones, and cleaning and servicing the mimeograph were our main responsibilities.
All was good until the first payday. The interviewer had shown me a pay scale and pointed out what the job paid. Over the next two weeks, I spent the money in my head, dreaming of cute angora sweaters, the latest Elvis album, and a new purse. When I ripped open the pay envelope, my face and heart dropped to my kneecaps. The numbers on the check were only a fraction of what I’d expected.
Sitting down at my desk, I examined the paystub and began adding the payroll deductions to the amount of my check. They totaled exactly half of the number I’d expected. That’s when it dawned on me. The interviewer had shown me the amount the job paid a full-time employee. As part time workers, Minerva and I would split that figure. Not letting my disappointment show, I quickly adjusted my attitude. In later years, remembering this experience led to clear understanding of how and what I would be paid.
I enjoyed working at Detroit Edison. It was gratifying have adult co-workers and to be a responsible participant in the grown-up world of business. I gained valuable work experience and references to take to future job interviews. I made a little money, too.
Tell me about your first job.
~ xoA ~