Apr 12, 2012 (The News & Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As executive director of the Sales & Service Training Center in Durham, Karen Mortimer's job -- naw, her "mission" -- is supposed to be preparing people for jobs and helping them find one.
If that's so, did she really tell Christina Steward to turn down a perfectly good job?
"I did," Mortimer said this week, laughing at the memory of her seemingly counterintuitive advice. "That's one time I'm glad someone didn't listen to me."
Steward, one of the early graduates of the nonprofit organization's seven-year-old job-training program, wanted a job working at Duke University in customer service but lost out to another candidate, Mortimer recalled. "She really, really wanted that job but didn't get it. But she said there was a job at Hardee's on campus and she was going to apply for that one."
The mortified Mortimer told her "No, no," fearing that if Steward, 34, were seen slinging fries on campus, she'd never get the desk job there she really desired.
Steward, though, said she knew that if she got a job anywhere in the vicinity of where she wanted to be, she would make her own break by dint of her personality and by what she'd learned from the sales training center. Once people saw what a good worker she was and how she interacted with customers, Steward reasoned, they'd be wowed by her.
They did, and they were. "The person they hired over her didn't work out," Mortimer said, "and they called her. She's had one or two promotions since then. ... She's a wonderful example of someone who discovered she likes people and wants to be helpful."
Mortimer can thank -- or blame -- herself for Steward ignoring her advice. "I learned customer service skills" from the program, Steward said, along with how to present herself to a prospective employer.
The main thing she got, though, she said, was confidence. "I was really down; I had lost faith in myself" before going through it, she said. "They made me feel more encouraged."
That confidence paid off after about six months when a Duke employee, impressed by Steward's interaction with customers, "just came up one day and said, 'I may have a job for you.' She asked if I had a resume."
Steward got a job as a customer service representative in Duke's Employee Health department about five years ago and has since been promoted to drug-screening coordinator.
Steward said she now plans to go back to school to learn medical coding.
If she ends up after all that schooling as a big-ballin' shot-caller at Duke or elsewhere, she can take added pleasure knowing that it all started with her serving people their sausage biscuits with a smile.
Mortimer has been in the job-finding business for a while and said the training center has placed 537 employees -- many of whom for one reason or another could've been considered hardcore unemployable -- with companies since 2004. Most of them got those jobs, no doubt, by sharpening what Mortimer calls their "soft skills" and by following her expert advice.
At least one, we now know, got hers by not following it.
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