Thursday, May 27, 2010

My First Job Story

This is the season of graduations and oratory about pursuing one’s dream and first full-time job. For the fortunate, those two objectives merge. For most of the rest of humanity...

Countless commencement addresses and articles are exhorting the newly liberated from the halls of academia to be persistent. Katherine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas in Austin and author of a career guide called ‘You Majored in What?”, was quoted in the NY Times last Sunday advising, “That means you can’t be casual about your job search, and your résumé, cover letter and interviewing skills must be top notch.” (

It also doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of luck, fortuitous timing and shared background with the person who hires you. Take my first job, for example. Murray Farber, managing editor administration of The New Haven Register, hired me. Murray grew up in Brooklyn, as I did. Though he attended BTA High School, rival of my alma mater, Flatbush, Murray didn’t hold that against me. Much as blood is thicker than water, Murraydom trumps any reservations.

Yet, if it weren’t for Donna Doherty I would never have met Murray Farber.

Donna Doherty was the quintessential shiksa (Gentile woman) of every Jewish man’s dreams. Tall, lithe, beautiful and blonde—really blonde—, Donna Doherty (woman like her should always be referred to by their full names) entered my life as a fellow graduate student at Syracuse University. My friend Steve Kreinberg and I drooled over her, from afar mind you, considering that Steve was married and I was engaged. Donna Doherty hardly knew we existed. She left Syracuse before graduation in 1972 and headed back home to Branford, Conn., just east of New Haven.

A few months later, armed with a master’s degree in newspaper journalism, I started visiting newspapers in search of that first job. I’d cold call managing editors of papers from northern Virginia through northern Massachusetts. They lauded my moxie. They all told me they had no job openings.

July 14, 1972, I arranged a day trip from Brooklyn to five papers in southwest Connecticut. At each stop the same result—the managing editor was away attending a publishing conference in Arizona. Around noon I found myself in Ansonia, at the proverbial fork in the road. Right headed toward Bridgeport, left toward New Haven. Ah, New Haven. Wasn’t that close to Donna Doherty’s home town?, I thought. It would mean a longer ride home, but there was no question in my mind which direction I’d head.

Thirty minutes later I was inside the Register building at 367 Orange Street. Depressed with my earlier failures to meet any managing editors, I sheepishly allowed the receptionist to steer me to the head of personnel without even trying to see if the ME was present. Robert E. Lee (yes, that really was his name) gave me the standard response. No, there weren’t any openings. Yes, I’ll take your résumé just in case something happens. After all, you never know.

And then his phone rang. Yes, I have someone sitting across my desk this very moment, he said into the handset. I perked up. He sent me up to the third floor newsroom. Just my luck, the Register had two managing editors, one for news, one for administration. The ME-News was in Arizona, but the ME-Administration, Murray Farber, was in New Haven looking after the business and having to deal with a sudden resignation. I started the job two months later, September 14, 1972, thanks in no small measure to persistence, luck, timing, Donna Doherty and Murray Farber.

(PS: Two years later Donna Doherty joined the Register’s sister publication, the Journal-Courier, as a sports reporter. She eventually left to become editor of Tennis magazine. I believe she currently is arts editor of the New Haven Register.

After posting an entry on Passover Wonders in early April (, I received this short email, “I loved your Passover blog. Did all Jewish mothers come out of the same mold?” It came from a Murray Farber. Email exchanges confirmed it was my Murray Farber, who somehow found my musings on the Internet. Murray is now retired after a career that included stints as managing editor of the news department of WTNH-TV, the New Haven television station, and as head of PR of Fairfield University.)