The Last Half Century · The Work World

How Someone Helped Me Get My First Job at Their Competitor

Retrospective: This post originally published March 18, 2020.

When I look back on my career I recognize that I owe a lot to the people who helped me along the way — people who took time to mentor or advocate for me when there was nothing for them to gain by helping me. One person in particular stands out to me.

A few decades ago, with college graduation a few months away, I began looking for a job by sending out a paper cover letter and resume through the mail to 50 targeted companies – yes in those days we used paper and the U.S. Postal Service. Many never responded, some sent rejection letters, but one person took the time to call me.

Dave from J.I. Case called to tell me he did not have any openings but he would be happy to meet with me. A few weeks later, during a spring break trip to visit relatives, I stopped to see him in Racine, Wisconsin. I remember sitting in his office and talking for almost an hour. I’m sure he had better ways to spend his time, but he told me before I left that he would watch for any potential job openings. I left thinking I would never hear from Dave again.

About a month later an envelope arrived from J.I. Case. I was surprised when I opened it to find an Advertising Age ad from Deere & Company seeking a copywriter in their advertising department. Scribbled on the copy of the ad was a note, “I know they’re my competitor, but I thought it would be worth a shot.” It was signed, “Dave.” I couldn’t believe he actually thought of me and took the time to copy the ad and send it to me. I was even more amazed that he sent me an ad from his competitor! I immediately sent my resume to Deere & Company.

A few weeks later I heard from Deere. They wanted me to go to a John Deere dealer, get a brochure for their hay equipment, and write an ad for their round balers. I secured the brochure, wrote the ad and sent it off. They liked the writing sample and flew me out to their headquarters in Moline, Illinois for an interview. That ultimately led to a job offer and my first job out of college as a writer in Deere & Company’s advertising department.

When I received the job offer, I immediately called Dave and thanked him for taking the time to meet with me and for sending the ad. I told him that I would not have gotten the job if he had not taken the time to send me the ad. He laughed and simply said, “You can thank me by doing the same for someone else.”

More than 30 years after Dave took time to help me land my first job out of college, I still have to be reminded to “do the same for someone else.” In the course of a busy work day, it can be hard to stop and think that there is a person at the other end of a request. Taking a few minutes to respond could change someone’s life.

© 2020, CGThelen

Below: The toy tractor and wagon that sat on my desk at my first job out of college.

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