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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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That’s Life: Looking for work can be another form of direct sales

It was clearly an interview outfit. Or dashing date attire. His quick grin could have matched either occasion.

I’d arrived home at just in time to see my recent high school graduate dressed to impress.

I wear mom goggles, of course, but it’s a universal truth that a pressed shirt and slacks with a tie is a timeless way to look sharp.

Though I’ll admit my double-take was also because I’m accustomed to the comfy, moisture-wicking wear that’s the defacto uniform of a college-bound athlete who runs twice a day.

“You look good,” I said.

“I’ll tell you about it after I change,” he said, flashing a smile before bounding down the stairs.

Since he was changing out of nice clothes rather than into them, I figured he must have had a job interview. Especially since he’d need a job to afford a fancy date.

My curiosity was piqued. His outfit was over-the-top for the entry-level, willing- to-work-hard-at-just-about-anything jobs I knew he’d been applying for left and right.

Finding summer work between high school and college is an industrious endeavor that may make actual work feel breezy by comparison. I don’t envy him the cold-calling task aimed at getting his first foot in the door.

When he came back upstairs in street clothes, he waved a brochure and filled me in on his afternoon interview.

His voice was filled with optimism as he explained the opportunity to utilize his network to make great money selling expensive kitchen cutlery. That is, until I cut in and punctured his proverbial bubble.

“That’s direct sales,” I said. “You need a real job.”

His deflation was visible as I explained I didn’t have a friends and family network I was willing to exploit so he could earn up to $18 pitching his wares.

Now, I know my stance isn’t as universal as the always-in-style essence of a shirt and tie. I’ve written about my direct sales distaste before.

While all but one reader response letter shared my sentiments, I did lose a Facebook friend (or maybe more) because selling to friends and family is a legitimate way a lot of people put bread, milk and meat on the table, whether or not they’re slicing and dicing dinner with cutlery not found in stores.

The list of direct-selling opportunities abounds, and I could name numerous people who’ve benefited their bottom line that way. I’ve also written quite a few checks to help support friends in those endeavors but must admit the structure of multilevel marketing has always left me unsettled.

I suspect this stems from my inability to see the sales pitch lurking beneath a dinner invite in my younger years.

I’m also not a salesman. It’s a skill set that exceeds my expertise and ambitions.

But when I watched my words of caution puncture my son’s post-interview hopefulness, I paused. Was my security-driven, risk-averse, old-school approach to summer employment putting a ceiling on his industrious ambition? Perhaps.

So I attempted to compromise my instinctive reaction and told him to go ahead, as long as he looked for “a real job” as well. Then I polled my social media network for reactions.

It was entertaining hearing about the successes and failures my friends had experienced at his age selling the same implements. Some quickly quit. Others enjoyed the kind of paycheck he aspires to earn. Some shared my aversion while others were enthusiastic in their support.

But before my post, my son and I had picked a number. If that many of my friends offered to purchase product, he’d pursue the direct sales summer job. If not, he’d go back to filling out applications, knocking on doors and beating bushes.

We weren’t surprised that, despite fond memories and go-get-em encouragement, no one requested a demonstration or indicated an interest in acquiring the mentioned merchandise.

Still, one friend shared an excellent lead to potential employment. That’s when it struck me that job hunting isn’t so different than direct sales.

Success isn’t just rooted in hard work and perseverance, though that’s the primary ingredient. It can also come from a caring network of friends and family who want to help, whether it’s by buying a product you have to sell or sharing a lead, making an introduction or offering an opportunity.

That’s how I got my first summer job as a high school student. I went to work for someone I knew who knew I needed a job. I’m still grateful. That opportunity led to many more open doors.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel discomfort with the networking that can help job hunting the way I do with direct sales. Or maybe it’s because I’m occasionally in the enjoyable position of paying it forward by sharing a job lead or giving a reference.

If only I was also in a position to hire. What fun that would be, saying yes to high school graduates who were dressed to impress.

Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at

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