Friday, April 29, 2005

Jeopardy contestant test and audition!

Can you imagine the excitement I felt when I read the following words:

Congratulations! We are happy to confirm your appointment for our

Jeopardy! interviews (for our regular shows). To qualify for the show

you must take a written 50- question test. If you pass the test you

will then participate in a mock version of the game and you will be put in

our files to be considered for the upcoming season of Jeopardy! >>>>>>

This is it! Six months ago, I registered online at to be considered as a candidate for the show. Two weeks ago, they sent me an e-mail with a request to respond within 48 hours of receiveing the notice. That would qualify me for the San Francisco auditions. I didn't open the e-mail until 4 days after it was sent - well beyinfd the stated limit. I responded anyway. I remembered the date of the auditions as being May 8th.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know I've recently started a new career in the mortgage lending industry. As part of my training, I was to go to Boston for the week starting May 8th and continuing to the 13th. A week on the East Coast doing sales training. Even if the Jeopardy people had allowed for my delinquency in their stated time restictions, I would be out of town, and unable to attend.

We found out yesterday that the training has been moved for those of us on the West Coast. I'm guessing that when they looked at the airfare and everything else, it just seemed more logical to have a West Coast training week seperate from the East Coast one. Its something they should have had already figured out, in my opinion. I told everyone that I had given up an oppurtunity to be on Jeopardy for these meetings, and what horrible irony it was that now, I could have attended, but do to corporate confusion, my life long goal would be thwarted. Make no mistake, I've pictured myself as a Jeopardy contestant from the very first time I saw the show. Ever been with one of those people who know all the answers on Jeopardy and shout them out before the contestants? I'm that person. Still, it made for good office positioning, particularly in retrospect. Allen just took this info and started running with it. He told the branch manager the whole story about how I had forgone my dream of being on Jeopardy to attend the corporate training in 2 weeks. Sue then went on to tell the regional vice president that one of her recruits was being considered for Jeopardy, but missed his chance because of the change of schedule.

Today I got the e-mail I quoted at the top. As it turns out, I had remembered the date wrong from the get go. Its actually for May 18th. My Countrywide Full Spectrum Lending training will not interfere with my opportunity to try out for Jeopardy. I wil be at that hotel on May 18th. I will pass the test. I will do well on my screen test. Alex will pick me, and I will be on Jeopardy some time in the Fall of 2005.


The training

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A New Industry

***Names have been changed to protect anonymity***

I landed at the office with the nice desks. Seeing those warm burgundy desks comforted me as I stood outside the glass doors. The locked doors. I had arrived 5 minutes early at 8:10 AM. Four minutes later, another guy walked up, tried the door, found it locked then looked at his watch. I walked up and introduced myself. His name is Derek (his fake name), and like me, he was starting a new job that Monday morning. The boss showed up at 8:15 as scheduled.

Its now 4 days later, and things are going well in my new position learning how to succeed as Account Executive with Countrywide Home Loan's Full Spectrum Lending division. I've been challenged mentally, mathematicaly and technologicaly. I think I'm going to like this new career. Remember, I'm not only changing jobs, I have to learn a whole new industry and job description. I'm going to be a loan officer. Having been a big ticket salesman or retail sales manager for 12 years, my comfort level with talking to people on the phone is pretty high. My impression so far is that phone skills are likely the most important part of the job.

More to come...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sears & RoeBye Bye!!

I remember the human resources lady looking at my job application. It was 1991, and I had sold through much of my inventory of handicrafts that I had brought back from Indonesia the summer before. "Oh," the lady behind the desk said, "you sold at the flea market, you must know how to sell. We can put you in the shoe department."

That was how I became a commission salesperson. Fourteen years later, twelve of which at Sears, I'm finally done riding the cash register. Good Life. Great Price. Decent Job. Today is the first Sunday I've had off that I haven't had to specially request or call in sick on. No more weekend work. The irony there is that I've got some errands to run, and I'm not sure these places are open today. Never had that problem on a Tuesday.

My last day was a mix of sadness, elation and trepidation. I'll truly miss my coworkers and the laid back atmosphere we (mostly) had with one another. The commissioned sales associates at Sears Oakland aren't the cutthroat, highly competitive, uncooperative teams you find in many other stores. At times though, I did get frustrated when it seemed I was the only one willing to go the "extra mile" to make things right, even if it cost me my own sales. In any case, they'll do fine without me, and I will definitely miss them.

Yesterday was also my last day to get my employee discount. The TV I've been considering was on sale. It's a Samsung 42" HDTV-compatible (4x3) PTV . Yesterday, it was only $999 with free delivery and 1 year 0% financing. I woulda saved another 10% with my discount. Without a doubt, a really great deal. I almost bought it, thinking to myself, a year from now, I'll be making enough that I'll be able to pay it off with ease, even if I can't afford it right now. Then I thought, a year from now, I'll be making enough that I'll be able to afford an even better television. Much better to wait until I can afford the 54" DLP 16x9 Sony Vega I really covet. If my current TV was broke, I woulda bought the Samsung yesterday, but given that this is a luxury not a necessity, its best to wait for what I really want.

Tomorrow begins my new job.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Beginning of the Last Week

Today I went into work knowing that this would be the last Sunday I'll ever have to work at Sears Oakland. It was a strange feeling. Like the monday of the last week of school. A countdown to major change is underway. Today may in fact be the very last Sunday I'll ever work ever. Retail is the only industry outside of vital infrastructure jobs where people even work on Sundays, and since I don't expect to be back in retail anytime soon, I think I'm done with Sundays.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Major Career Change

Major change is never easy, and professionally, I am embarking on would could be the biggest change I'll ever make. For twelve years, I've worked for Sears Roebuck and Co., an entity which technically no longer exists (it got bought by K-Mart). For the last five of those years, I've been in the appliance business, selling washers and dryers for the last four. It's been the best job I've ever had. Where else can you make nearly $30/hr teaching people about interesting aspects of what they thought was a dull thing coming in? There's the thrill of making the sale. There is the confidence and fulfillment that comes from knowing that one is a real expert in your field. I know more about washers and dryers than any other salesman I've come across, and I'm really good at selling them too. The hours are great. The environment is not too stressful (provided you make your numbers). Sears gives great benefits, and with so many years under my belt, I got 4 weeks of paid vacation a year. Why would I want to leave that?

After doing my taxes, I got to thinking about how I had made less in 2004 than in 2003. It was just a few thousand, but its ominous for someone in their thirties to have a decreasing income. Commission rates have eroded over the years; store management goes on these hiring spurts where they flood the floor with too many people. A smaller pie cut into more pieces means less food on the Joko Londo family table. Now, the top management is talking about how Sears will have to reduce fixed costs to remain competitive. To me, this means commission rates are going to be cut even further. The handwriting is on the wall. The glory days of appliance sales at Sears are over.

At least once a week, someone would tell me I'm a darn good salesman. Occasionally, one would inquire as to why I was even working at Sears. Surely, someone of my talents could do better somewhere else. I'm not boasting, I'm just reporting what others said. As the K-Mart/Sears merger approached, I started looking. I interviewed with Verizon for a corporate sales job. As I chronicled in this blog, I visited job fairs. One company that I got a really good feeling about at the last fair was Countrywide Lending, the largest mortgage lender in the USA. I went through the process, got a second interview and effective April 25th, I will be the newest loan officer at their full-spectrum lending branch here in the East Bay.

I gave notice at Sears today. Everyone is sad to see me leaving. Again, Sears has treated me very well. If things don't work out as a loan officer, I know I'm one of the best washer/dryer salesman in the whole company, and I could always go back (losing seniority would suck though).

My biggest concern is finances during the transition period. My training salary will be roughly half what I average at Sears. I won't be closing loans during the first few weeks; heck, I may not close one during the first month. They're expecting me to close 7 loans a month. With about a 1% commission going to the loan officer, and the average mortgage in the Bay Area being nearly $400K, I'll likely be more than doubling my current income. That could be months away, however.

I also have to deal with the anxiety of a turbulent economy. If the real estate market collapses, no one's going to be buying or refinancing. So much more rides on the economy and interest rates, whereas people will always need washers and dryers.

Ideally, I want to make enough so that my wife can devote herself to her writing full time. She is somewhat of a vicarious outlet for my own creativity. If I'm not going to write the great American novel, at least I can support her while she does. I got my job at Sears when I was in college and I never really left. I think its about time I got a grown-up job.

A Crack in the Sky

I spliced together this image out of two pics...

It was a very weird cloud phenomenon, and although atmospheric effects never seen to turn out all that well using the middle-of-the-line cameras I've always used, this one turned out okay.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pics from California

Ione, California. Its a small town, 100 miles or so east of Stockton. We went up there to do some research and take some pictures. I'm sharing a few on the blog. The pic below (sorry the foreground is out of focus) juxtaposes an empty vineyard against one of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Here's the story and a pic of the Preston Castle.

The one image I'll remember most from the return home via Highway 104 was the sight of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. The plant was closed 20 years ago, but the cooling towers are still standing. Standing in the shadow of those 200-foot tall stacks in the middle of nowhere filled me with a feeling of dread. Just their shape has an iconic power. The news from Chernobyl and 3-Mile Island were accompanied with pictures like the one below. Its a very weird feeling to see one up close.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My interview with the lending company went much better, despite my best efforts to sabotage myself. The office was beautiful. It took up half the ground floor of a suburban skyscraper in Walnut Creek. Behind the glass walls stood 30 or so of the most impressive desks I've ever seen. These weren't cubicles; these we eight-floor long, beautifully polished brand new desks, each with a matching flat-panel monitor and computer and state-of-the-art phone. This is the kind of place one could do some real "officin"!

The place seemed completely deserted. Not a soul at any of the workstations. Of course, the very reason there were positions available is that this place was a brand new branch. The manager, was in her office in the back, and she sat me down at one of the terminals were I began a battery of personality tests. Standard types of questions. I followed the manager's advice and didn't try to "maximize" my results; I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the ideal answer was. I went with my gut. After all, I do think I'm very good salesman, and if after all these years, my personality is not suited to my profession, I've done pretty well in spite of that.

During the interview itself, I was surprised to see that she didn't take any notes nor have any type of interview guide in front of her. She asked me one question, and then we just sort of launched into a conversation In fact, I've never been to an interview where the interviewer spoke far more than the interviewee. I could barely get a word in edgewise! This lady could talk! She told me a lot about the company and what "sub-prime" lending is all about. Fortunately, the next guy arrived a bit early, and she left my interview to go set up the next guy on his personality test. This gave me an opportunity to collect my thoughts and mentally prepare my "pitch." When she came back into the room, I thanked her for telling me about her office, and then began describing why my skill set and experience would fit in well with the environment she had described. I sold myself.

On completing my missive, she noted that based on my verbiage, she was definitely going to recommend me to the next level of the interview process, a phone call with the regional manager. She said this was DESPITE the results of my personality test. Huh?! Despite??? Apparently, I scored poorly in relation to what they think makes a good loan officer.

I mentioned my self-sabotaging efforts. They weren't conscious efforts; I want this job. The first was the computer test. The second was the onions I had with lunch. I thought brushing my teeth and mints would take care of it, but when I got home, my wife noted my breath smelled bad. I did have to lean accross the manager's desk at one point to explain the values in the sales reports I had brought. I think she noticed. My third error was in not bringing the phone numbers of my references with me. I didn't think that in today's litigious business climate that anyone even checked references anymore. With law suits being filed for unflattering recommendations, most companies do not allow their managers to speak positively or negatively about current or past employees. I did call the next morning with the phone numbers.

We'll see if my experience and persuasiveness can overcome the stinky breath, bad test scores and lack of attention to detail. I can see myself sitting in one of those desks.