1965: Worst Job Ever

Worst job ever: selling encyclopedias door to door. Or, in my case, not selling encyclopedias, door to door.

You may not be aware of what an encyclopedia is. Before the Internet, conscientious parents bought a set of encyclopedias for the home. Each was a matched set of 20 or so think leather-bound books. They presented a comprehensive summary of human knowledge in alphabetical order. Kids used them to do homework. Look up Thomas Jefferson, Pearl Harbor, lizards, Greek tragedies, and there was the summary. Like wikipedia today. I was supposed to be selling the Colliers.

They trained us. It was a culture of cynical deception. In sales meetings the good salespeople bragged about deceiving stupid customers. Selling to a childless household was a big achievement. They’d brag about how many times they got through the door promising they weren’t selling anything, then selling something, and getting their victims to bay.

First step, when the door opened, was tell them I was doing an educational survey. A lie. They taught us to answer objections (everyone always asked “what are you selling?”) with straight bold-faced lies (or bald-faced if you prefer). The goal was to get inside the house and into the living room.

Next step, in the living room, was the survey. How many kids? What grades? How much do you care about education? How far have you (parents) gone in school?

Then the hook: “Do you know that kids in homes that have encyclopedias have (some outrageous lie) percent more chance of going to college?”

And then, the fancy brochures come out. Pictures of encyclopedias. Sample pages. Payment plans.

If you know me, you’ll guess how successful I was. That’s right: zero. Not one sale. I spent two weeks in training, and four weeks trying, but not a single sale. I never even convinced anybody I was just doing a survey, much less getting into their living room. So I made no money. Not a penny. There was no base salary plus commission, no payment for training; it was all on commission and I sold nothing.

What I learned: I don’t like general sales. I especially don’t like selling stuff people don’t want or need. I am not a convincing liar. Also, I hate that culture: The book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill, and the people who brag about lying well and selling stuff people don’t need or want.

By the way, I did have an after-sch00l job while I was in high school. I’d walk from St. Francis High School to my Dad’s office. Dad had an optical store in one side of the office. He prescribed glasses, and they sold them. I worked after school five days a week. I liked the people, and it was a pleasant job.