I keep a list of jobs at which I know I'd be awful. A portion of this list is derived from experience.
For example, I was a terrible waiter. I started as a busboy and dishwasher at the Rustler Steak House in St. Louis, where I had to wear a humiliating cowboy hat, apron, and bowtie. I smelled like grease at the end of every shift. Fortunately, my food-service career progressed and I got hired as a dishwasher at Denny's, with the promise of becoming a waiter.
Compared to dishwashing, waiting tables looked like a piece of cake. However, it was much harder than it seemed. To use an HR term, I was "inappropriately placed" as a waiter. I lacked the social skills, organizational acumen, and physical agility that the position required. Other than that, I was a perfect fit.
The only time I've ever been fired was from my job as a waiter at a trendy restaurant called The Tryst. While it's strictly a technicality, I was actually fired over my shirt. When I was hired, they told me that the "uniform" was khaki pants and a pink Oxford shirt. Only I thought they said an Izod shirt, so I bought a pink alligator logo shirt, which I was not happy about. To begin with, it cost $40 - a veritable fortune at the time. Plus, it was a pink alligator shirt, which means I wouldn't get caught dead in it outside of The Tryst.
When the owner fired me, she initially said there were customer complaints about my service. I pushed back and said there were no complaints of which I was aware. She then broke down and admitted that it was my Izod shirt. She said I could have my job back if I agreed to buy an Oxford shirt. When I suggested that she reimburse me for the Izod, the whole thing fell apart.
The other jobs at which I'd be awful are banquet manager at a hotel, a handyman, and anything related to medicine. I'm pretty much incompetent and fearful when it comes to blood, pain, and injury.
The good news is that there are some things, apparently, for which I'm well suited. About three weeks into my first internship at Ruder & Finn, I found that I was excited to go to work and write copy, pitch ideas on the phone, and be surrounded by a gaggle of other 20-somethings. I've come to learn that I was destined to have an office job. I'm someone who likes to schmooze, take meetings, write memos, and think big thoughts. But don't let me anywhere near a router, a lathe, a table saw, or even a hammer. I'm liable to hurt myself.
When I worked for Nissan, they sent me out for a three-week orientation training where I lived and worked in the Midwestern sales region. Each week, I'd ride with a district manager for sales, service, or parts and call on car dealers so I could literally learn the nuts and bolts of the business.
One of the most instructive moments of the orientation came during a dealer visit in suburban Chicago. We were touring his lot. We stopped in front of a remarkably ugly vehicle. It was a purple, fully- loaded 240SX coupe which, based on its price and appearance, looked totally unsellable.
"Who's ever gonna buy that?" I queried.
"Someone'll buy it," said the dealer knowingly.
"But it's God-awful ugly and overpriced," I pointed out.
"Son, if there's one thing I've learned after 40 years in the car business," he said, "there's an ass for every seat."
And so there is. Mine happens to be behind a desk.
Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International..