Shortly after I graduated college and moved to Boston, I began looking for my first real job. A few weeks into my search, I came across a temp agency that was willing to take a chance on a newly minted graduate. I met with the agency’s owner for an interview and typing test and a few days later she called me with a gig. My first assignment was with a well known hospital’s billing department. I worked there for a few months before applying to Americorps. When I was accepted into a year-long Americorps program at a Legal Services office, I graciously declined a full-time offer with the hospital.
After I finished my volunteer year with Americorps, I was again without work. Because I’d had such a good experience with the temp agency the first time, I gave the agency another call to see if they had any other temporary jobs. Fortunately for me, they remembered what a good job I did at the hospital. The next day they sent me to the downtown offices of a large corporation. My only instructions? Wear something professional and show up at 9am.
When I arrived at the building, I showed security my ID and was escorted to the 10th floor. I was greeted by the CEO’s secretary who told me I’d be filling in for the receptionist who was away on vacation. She showed me how to use the company’s multi-line phone, gave me a staff telephone list and told me to call her if I had any questions. She also showed me the office gym and the kitchen (filled to the brim with soda, beer, salads, sandwiches, granola bars and other goodies) and told me to “make yourself at home.” Truthfully I was pretty shocked, as I’d never been in a office so chichi. I got myself a water and went back to my desk.
Throughout the day people introduced themselves and let me know when they’d be in and out of the office. I accepted packages, let the maintenance guys into the service elevator, and called the CEO’s secretary when important visitors arrived. Everything was going great until the end of the day. Around 4:30pm a delivery man came with a cake. He asked me if there was a “Cindy” in the office. I quickly searched the office directory and did not see a Cindy listed. I explained that I didn’t have a staff member by that name and he said something I can’t remember and left with the cake.
About 20 minutes later the CEO’s secretary came out of her office in a panic. She’d ordered a cake for the CEO’s wife, Cindy (OMG!), for her birthday dinner (OMG!) and the CEO was about to to leave for dinner and it hadn’t arrived (double OMG). “A cake you say?” I stammered as I immediately beginning to sweat. “Yeah” she said. “I told them it HAD to be here by 5pm, are you sure they didn’t deliver it?”
I was so embarrassed and ashamed my eyes welled up with tears. I wanted to die, or at least crawl through the floor. I immediately because to curse myself for not calling her when the cake arrived. It never even occurred to me that the cake was a gift for the CEO’s wife (and why would it?-but that’s exactly why I should have called her). I immediately fessed up that the cake was delivered but the delivery man took it back because I couldn’t find a “Cindy” on the staff list.
I’m sure she wanted to slap me, but she didn’t. Instead she swore loudly, sighed and rushed to her office to get the bakery’s number. She instructed me to call the bakery and tell them to return said cake ASAP. Thankfully, the delivery driver returned about 10 minutes later. Annoyed by my apparent incompetence, he practically threw the cake in my face and left before I could say a word. The secretary picked up the cake, brought it to the CEO, and pretended like nothing had happened. He wished me a good evening and was on his way.
I was so horrified I went home and cried. I called the temp agency that night and told them that I didn’t think the job was suited to me and I wouldn’t be returning the next day. They never asked what happened and I never went back. The secretary should have fired me on the spot, but I probably looked so pathetic, she didn’t have the heart. Thanks to that day, I now have a great answer to the “Tell me about a mistake you’ve made at work and how you fixed it” question. A big thank you CEO’s secretary for not firing me that day! That horrible day has taught me a very important lesson about being successful in the the work world: If you don’t know, ask!
Have you ever made a big mistake when you were new to a job? Should have been fired? Quit a job because you were too embarrassed to go back? Tell me I’m not alone!