Saturday, April 13, 2013

No. 418 – Runnin’ Down a Dream

Performer: Tom Petty
Songwriters: Mike Campbell, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty
Original Release: Full Moon Fever
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: none

Have you ever been in a position to possibly work at your dream company but actually passed on the opportunity? I have—twice.

The first time was in Flint. While I sent out cold-call resumes to newspapers in cities where I wanted to work in 1993, a thought occurred to me: Why not do the same with STATS Inc.?

STATS Inc., of course, provides statistical information to just about everyone.
But in the early Nineties, STATS Inc., was just getting started and was just in baseball. It quickly was expanding its baseball book publishing, so I thought there might be work in the editorial department.

I sent off my resume, and within a week, I got a call from a guy whose name I have forgotten but whose name I recognized from the acknowledgements in the Bill James Handbook. He said STATS in fact DID have a job opening at the moment. I couldn’t believe it!

However, my excitement was tempered when he said the job was in promotions. I was a writer and editor, not a promotional guy. Sure, there was writing and editing work to be done there, but I still was new to the journalism game. I had a bit of an attitude about not wanting to cross the line into p.r. or sales.

I also thought, based on what he said, that I’d be taking a big cut in pay. I wasn’t making a ton at this point, but after finally getting on top of my finances, I didn’t want to have to go back to Square One. So I said—respectfully—I wasn’t interested in the promotions gig, but if STATS had an editorial job open … He thanked me, and that was that.

As STATS continued to grow and broaden its base, I came to see that my decision might have been short-sighted. If I got my foot in the door and showed them what I could do, perhaps later I would have been in line for an editorial job. I’ll never know, but I learned a lesson: Don’t let your ego get in the way of a good opportunity.

In summer 2001, I got a second chance to run down a dream job. Soon after Debbie and I broke up, I had an incident at work that I’ll discuss later and was ready to leave The Dispatch. I contacted Elida.

Elida had been the assistant news editor at the Daily Herald, and you might recall I stuck up for her when she got passed over for promotion. She hadn’t forgotten that, and we stayed in touch after she left for Milwaukee. Fast-forward a decade, and Elida now was a producer at … ESPN. (Go figure that I might want to work there, right?)

A day or two later, Elida wrote and said she was chatting with someone in the research department, and he said he had an opening for a researcher. Are you freaking kidding me? My job would be to look up sports records and trivia all day? When do I start? She gave that person my name, and I sent my stuff pronto.

A few days later, Debbie came over to visit for lunch—I don’t remember the specifics—when my phone rang. It was Craig Wax, who was second in command in research at ESPN. He got my stuff and of course my name from Elida and said he wanted to interview me over the phone. Did I have time to chat? Hell yeah, uh, er, no problem Mr. Wax, sir.

He started by telling me a bit about the job, and it was as I thought—I’d be looking up stats, lists, history, etc. for SportsCenter and pretty much every other studio show on ESPN. It was hard work (pshaw!), and I’d be plenty busy (and I’m not at a daily paper?). The kicker: it was for almost half what I was making at The Dispatch.

Well, times change. I had learned my lesson from the STATS experience, and all I needed to do was get my foot in the door. After I showed ESPN my value, they’d recompense me accordingly in due time. This time the timing was perfect: I was ready to downsize my life and try something different from newspapers.

Craig seemed dubious that I would take such a severe cut in pay, but he said, all right, I want to ask you some questions, and then he delivered the single greatest interview question: How many players can you name who have 3,000 career hits? I swear to God.

My answer belied an arrogance as my smile went from ear to ear: All of them. Do you want them in order or chronologically? He laughed, and I peeled them off in order. Next question: Who’s won the last 10 Super Bowls?

This wasn’t an interview; it was a BW-3 sports trivia game. All that seemingly useless information I had committed to memory over the years was proving valuable. For the next 30 minutes, he fired sports-related questions at me, and I fired back the answers.

By the end there was no question—none whatsoever—that I knew sports facts, but Craig said he still wasn’t sure I would be happy taking such a big cut in pay. I again tried to assure him that I was looking firmly at my future. He said he’d talk to his superiors and get back to me ASAP. I mentally began to prepare for a flight to Bristol, Conn., in my near future.

There was one major drawback: I’d have to give up my website. At the time, was my baby, and I worked hard at the writing and editing for it over the past year. But if I were to join the ESPN universe, I couldn’t have an independent voice. I didn’t like it, but, to work at ESPN …

A day later, I got a call from the head research guy, whose first question was whether I was certain about taking such a big cut in pay. He said he could bump up my pay about 60 percent of my Dispatch pay. Hey, you want to pay me more, that’s fine; I’m not going to complain.

But then he threw me a brushback pitch: ESPN didn’t have enough money to fly me to Bristol for an interview unless they were certain I was going to accept the job. Excuse me? The Worldwide Leader doesn’t have enough money to do what The Flint Journal did 12 years earlier? Really?

So, I have to give up my website, take a cut in pay AND accept the job, coworkers unmet, job not fully explained, benefits undiscussed, before you even interview me for the job? That was the situation.

So I gave the only response I could under the circumstances: I can’t in good faith say I’m going to take the job if I haven’t actually met anyone with whom I would be working. What if it weren’t a good fit personality-wise? I had no choice: I withdrew my application.

I told Elida what happened, because I didn’t want to burn that bridge. She voiced surprise, but, even better, she agreed with my decision.

Although the situation had similarities to what happened with STATS Inc., it wasn’t the same. In the time since, I’ve learned that ESPN actually is a pretty crappy place to work unless you’re a star. I’m doing fine now, and last Christmas, Elida said she was forced to take a major demotion in what could only be an ageist move but without the grounds for a lawsuit. I have absolutely NO regrets about turning down ESPN.

No comments:

Post a Comment