How a Dumb Jock Escaped the Service Industry

I graduated with a 2.8 grade point average. My GPA for the last two years was 3.5. It took me two years to find a major. It was 1975, and the economy was in recession with an 8% unemployment rate. All my fellow graduates in the top 10% of my class already had jobs. Not me.

Service Industry Savvy

I worked my way through college doing service jobs. This included being a cabana boy at a swank condominium complex on Miami Beach. I had a boss who appreciated me. They fed me. Paid me 80 cents an hour. And the tips floated my lifestyle. I was in the service industry.

On the way to graduation, I started looking for jobs in earnest. Professional jobs. I did not want to remain in the service industry. I knew if the service industry was my fall back, I would never escape.

Finally, opportunities started to knock, I thought. I had interviews with a Big 8 accounting firm, Touche, Ross & Company. Then I had an interview with Laventhol & Horwath Touche, a number 9 accounting firm with a specialty in hospitality.

Big Accounting Firm Reject

The Touche partner was unimpressed with my GPA. But he kept talking to me because they needed a shortstop for their softball team. I didn’t get the job. I guess they found a smart jock.

Laventhol’s partners liked me. I had three interviews. But I knew I was on the bubble because of my GPA. The more I talked up my accounting GPA with the HR guy, the more expectation-setting he did with me. I didn’t get hired there either. The service industry experience didn’t help.

Now I was relegated to finding work with the great unwashed. Those of us who had played too much in college and now wanted to be taken seriously.

Our pitch was: We are smart, and we will work hard.

I’m sure the prospective employers thought as I would now, “Why the change in behavior? Next person.”

“Help Me!”

Back to the college career services offices I went. “Help me!” I pleaded. “I need to find an accounting job.”

Because I worked in service jobs in Miami Beach, I had no professional network. My dad was a blue collar worker in New Jersey, as were the rest of my family and friends.

It was a great network to find the next service job or hourly employment but was no help in finding my first professional job.

Finally, the career services office opened their network. This included placement firms and small accounting firms. I went to every interview. I was not discerning. I was determined to escape the service industry.

$10K Starting Salary

With no opportunity in sight, I called the head of the school’s accounting department. He said, “Funny you should call. I just received a job opening from a CPA firm in Hallandale Beach.” I jumped on it.

I still remember the interview. It was with Jack Goldstein. He asked me a few questions about my background. He was impressed with my accounting GPA. (Finally I had found someone.) Then he asked if I was good with numbers. I said, “I think so.”

He started throwing arithmetic problems my way. He wanted to see if I could do them in my head, no paper. I got them all. And then he said, “You are hired. When can you start?”

“What’s my starting salary?” I asked.

“Ten thousand a year,” he answered.

My Network Begins

I had my first professional job. Jack became a mentor. My new network was starting to build. When I began writing this blog a year-and-a-half ago, I heard from Jack. He is now retired but still took the time to write and encourage me. Great man.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten the job with that small CPA firm. But I know this, my whole life would have been different.

I know many college students who are facing their first professional job search. You may know them, as well. If so, encourage them to close the door on the service industry. Encourage them and help them land their first professional position.