My first job out of college: Sarah tries a pyramid scheme.

I had a great time in college, like… a great time. Many times I questioned if I was going to graduate and a couple times I voluntarily tried to drop out. Once to move to South Africa to help raise big cats in captivity, teaching them to hunt and fend for themselves so they could later be released into the wild and reproduce. Basically, I wanted to swim with tigers. But my complete lack in anything related to training animals, veterinary skills, and cat anatomy really put the bullet in that dog, pun intended, before it woke from its nap.

So with this very serious and scholarly outlook on college, let’s just say I wasn’t wearing any special tassels or sashes as I got my diploma. More like, I was hugging my guidance counselor for getting me into my last 400-level marketing class well past the drop dead date so I could graduate on time. I remember breaking the single file diploma line to give that woman a hug. She was girl power before it became a trend.

As I left my school with a degree in Marketing, a GPA below a 3.0, and absolutely no real life experience, naturally I thought companies would be pining over me, hoping to snatch up this next great marketing talent. You know, I could really turn their business around with my deep knowledge of customer acquisition and margins. I mean, I did know a keg of Ice House had a much better return on drunk rate than Natural Light, so while a couple bucks more, the cost per drunk student was lower. See? How could they not want me?!?!

The job hunt was difficult. To my surprise and dismay, I found no jobs called Marketing 101. No job description read, ‘Experience: Less than none. Education: Graduate by the skin of their teeth.’ And all the executive and vice president positions required, like, experience. Until one day, as I’m sifting through, I find a position for a Marketing & Sales Account Executive in Boston. And it was for a marketing agency! I had always wanted to live in Boston, and at the time my sister lived there, so it seemed perfect. After receiving a phone call that I got a first interview, with a $1000 in graduation money to my name, I subtracted $300 for a plane ticket, flew my ass from Pittsburgh to Boston and moved onto my sisters couch.

Borrowing my sisters car, I head to the interview. Thinking back to it, this ‘agency’ definitely rented a space for this. I show up in an Old Navy pencil skirt with a zipper that snagged my tights. Oh, and tights. And some Forever 21 black heels that were so poorly made I looked like Betty Boop walking in – pleather just engulfing my feet. I was faced with 25 or so other candidates in the waiting room, and one at a time, we got called in for a 5 minute interview. My heart was pounding. Failure was not an option. I got summoned by the panel of interviewers and when I sat down, they said to me:

We have 25 other people out there just as qualified as you, so you have 5 minutes to tell us why we should hire you.

Hoooooly shit! Okay, show time. Put your best foot forward Sarah.

Well, I just graduated from Penn State with a degree in Marketing. During my time, I worked two jobs while going to school full time. My time as a Miller Lite promotional specialist…

(PAUSE. Yes, I actually thought at the time they wouldn’t know I was actually a Miller Lite girl.)

…I helped execute many marketing campaigns.

(Second PAUSE. Seriously most shameful job of my life. Executing marketing campaign = Sarah talks to drunk dudes asking them to submit ‘Man Laws’ in effort to add them to an email database.)

Also, ummm… did I say already I have a degree in Marketing? Is 5 minutes up?

And with no indication of my performance, I was told I’d get a call if I was one of the five people who made it to Round 2. Walking away quite defeated, I headed back to my sisters couch to assume my main job, cuddling her roommates cats. Then later that night, I got a call saying I was selected as one of the five to make it to Round 2! Again, looking back, I was probably just one of five idiots who didn’t go running for the hills during this process, because in no way was I actually qualified for a true title like that. So we were both lying to each other: the Miller Lite promotional specialist and the legitimate marketing agency. We were dancing a scam tango.

So I show up for Round 2 – a day in the field. Me and four other suckers show up and quickly get split up into five separate cars with ‘Marketing Executives’, much like you would split up a group of people who all witnessed a murder. Separate them, they are weaker apart. Make them break.

And off we go! The agency ‘marketed’ local struggling businesses for free. They would package the product and solicit it to the public, street soliciting. That day we were selling, I mean, marketing a local spa package to the general public. We were literally walking up to someone on the street and asking if they wanted to buy a spa package for $75. If you read my st-st-stutter post a couple weeks back, you’d know I was completely out of my element. Of that $75, $10 would go to the Marketing Executive who works 100% off commission. The rest rolled up to the CEO of the agency. And that, my friends, is a pyramid scheme. The spa gave us their products for free, we sold them and kept all the profit, and in turn, the spa gets the marketing exposure, which was basically an equivalent strategy to just screaming about the product from a rooftop. Very strategic.

As we drove back to the office at the end of the day, I sat in the back seat doing the math of how many spa packages I’d have to sell in a month to make rent. My sister wasn’t going to let me cat sit on her couch forever. I thought, ‘hmmm.. this is going to be difficult. And horrible! And is this really what marketing is? Why wasn’t there a class on soul selling?’

When we arrive back at the office, I notice only myself and one other was dumb enough to stick the day out. The other three called a spade a fucking scam and got the hell out of there mid-day. Got themselves back some prime cat snuggling time.

So here I am, one of two last men standing out of 25. What an accomplishment. The CEO calls me in and says he heard I did a fantastic job today (whaaaa?) and he wants to offer me the job. He feels so confident in me that one day, I too can have my own marketing agency. This could all be mine. Ew, chills. I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I don’t want my own company. I just want to work for somebody. And when I asked for the night to think it through and talk with my family, he says, ‘I thought you were someone who could make decisions on her own, so if you have to talk with your family, then this isn’t the right fit.’

Ok! Ok! I’ll take it!

Whew, thank God I didn’t blow that, I almost lost a quality job.

Man he was good. I drove back to my sisters, walked in, and started crying. Is this the real world? It sucks. People aren’t nice. I called my dad and told him the whole situation and in his very calm and clear way, he says:


What? I can’t quit dad. I just took the job.

Sarah, QUIT. It’s a pyramid scheme. Call up your boss, and quit.

I don’t know how he made sense of the situation in a matter of 10 words or less, but he did. So with a quivering hand, I dial up my boss of two hours on my razor flip phone and quit. And like any business professional with great emotional intelligence and sophisticated business acumen, he respected my decision and….

ERRRRR!!!! Not in this story. He was an incredible asshole. Literally yelled at me for 10 minutes, telling me how unsuccessful I’ll be in life. How he dodged a bullet not employing me. How much trouble I’m going to run into in life because I can’t commit or make a decision.

And for the first couple years while I figured out life, it probably seemed like he was right. But now, over a decade later, with an MBA under my belt (with good grades might I add!), an overwhelming ability to adapt, and pretty good creative and business sense, I’d like to find him and tell him he was wrong. I just, you know, can’t find his company in any directory.

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