2013 Winning Essay

By Matt Grogan

On May 11th, I graduated from Christopher Newport University with a degree in economics. My first graduate school class was only two months away and I could not wait to begin working towards my masters in economics at George Mason University. My excitement faded however when I received my first tuition bill for my summer class. I was only taking one class, but I was still blown away by the cost of tuition. It became apparent that I was going to need to find a way to earn money while in graduate school. It was after paying this bill that I began my job search. Some of my friends who had graduated the previous year were still looking for jobs and having a very difficult time even getting an interview. I expected my search to be just as difficult. Thanks to TRAK, it wasn’t.

One afternoon in late June, a friend and I were leaving the gym when I noticed a voicemail on my phone. I listened to the message, which was my first contact with TRAK. A recruiter, who introduced herself as Jessica, told me she had found my resume on and was interested in talking to me about my job search and career goals. I was skeptical. I had never heard of TRAK and was only vaguely aware that placement companies even existed. I also knew that at the time, unemployment was very high, especially for recent graduates. I thought it was strange that someone was calling me, a recent college grad with limited business experience, rather than just waiting for the thousands of unemployed grads with similar resumes to contact them. That night, I met up with a friend for drinks and asked if he had ever heard of TRAK. He told me that temp agencies were a great way to start a career or earn money for school and that TRAK was respected in the field. After hearing this endorsement, I called Jessica back and scheduled an interview. After interviewing and meeting the TRAK staff, who are delightful people by the way, I was ready to get started on my first assignment.

Just three hours after leaving the TRAK offices, I was offered an assignment. The job was at United Way, an organization I had never heard of but now know is a big deal in the nonprofit sector. I had never given much thought to the day to day workings of a charitable organization, but I was given a crash course in finances and human resources over the course of the week. My first day was spent looking through a spreadsheet with hundreds of records of donations people had given during a recent telethon. The telephone operators had apparently made a few mistakes and had either messed up a donor’s name, credit card information, or the amount of the donation, and this mistake had resulted in the credit card being declined. My job was to look at the list of people with declined credit cards and remove those names from the spreadsheet of donations. It was slow work but United Way gave me free coffee so I had no complaints. The job was certainly entertaining, I noticed that some of the telephone operators had found some creative ways to misspell common names and had occasionally forgotten decimals that turned $10 donations into $10,000 donations. I can only imagine the conversation those donors had with their credit card companies.

My next five days at United Way were spent working on a massive filing project. Over the previous few months, United Way had produced an incredible number of documents related to benefits for current and retired employees that needed to be filed. At first, the task looked daunting. I would be working in a windowless room full of file cabinets and searching for files belonging to people who hadn’t worked at United Way for decades. After the human resources manager told me it would be fine if I listened to music, and that the free coffee was still available, I happily set about filing. Over the course of this week, I downloaded and listened to about two months of episodes of the NPR show "Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me," which is an excellent show if you enjoy comedy, news, and current events.

My time at United Way was extremely beneficial. First, I learned what people in the human resources field do on any given day. Secondly, I had the chance to meet a lot of people who had worked in the private sector and had chosen to go to work at United Way to pursue a humanitarian goal that was important to them. I was very impressed by the people I met who had made helping others their career.

My next assignment was a couple of weeks later at Immix Group, a government contracting organization. It was my job to work at the front desk answering and redirecting phone calls. The staff spent a few minutes helping me get familiar with their systems and after that I worked independently. The highlight of the day started as a routine phone call. A man called and asked to be transferred to someone’s office. This presented a problem as the employee he asked for no longer worked at Immix Group and was not in their directory. I transferred him to the other administrative assistant, who was working in the office in the next building. She had told me to transfer any calls for employees who weren’t on the list to her. Unfortunately for me, and the man on the phone, she was not at her desk. A few minutes later, he called back and was irate. He asked me if he could please speak to a human rather than someone’s voicemail. Personally, I thought his criticism of my call transferring was unfounded, as I couldn’t know whether an employee was at their desk at any given moment. I apologized politely and offered to take down his contact information, find the relevant information, and call him back. He told me he couldn't as he was calling on a satellite phone from Guantanamo Bay. Now I understood why he was so angry, this call was costing him a considerable amount of money. I told him to call back in 15 minutes, and that when he called back I’d have someone standing by who knew what they were doing. My solution was invasive and probably annoyed one of the Immix Group employees, but for all I knew national security was at stake! I knocked on the door of an official looking office and explained the situation to the person inside. Luckily for me, the employee I had picked at random knew the person the man on the satellite phone was asking for and resolved the situation for me. I learned a very valuable lesson from this experience. In the event that you do not know what you are doing, there is no shame in asking for help. It is better to be slightly embarrassed than to do a mediocre job.

My most recent assignment was at an architecture firm called Cooper Carry. They needed help with an inter-office move and I was glad to take the job. Cooper Carry had rented out a secondary office in their building to turn into a display room to help sell a project they were proposing. Some of the offices had been modified to look like bedrooms and a kitchen. The rest of the space housed tons of unused computer equipment as well as an entire room of brick and stone samples. My job was organizing the stone and brick samples and placing them in boxes. This was fairly simple work and I passed the time by listening to music on my phone. At the end of the day, the manager at Cooper Carry mentioned that she was trying to dispose of the extra computer equipment but hadn’t found a company to do the job. Conveniently, I have a friend who interned at a PC recycling company and gave her that company’s contact information. Last I heard, she was in contact with the company I recommended and had received a quote from them. This experience brought into focus a valuable lesson for me. Even though I was a temp and technically my only job was to put bricks into boxes, I still did my best to help Cooper Carry solve problems and be successful. A temporary employee’s job is not only to do the specific job they were assigned, but provide any assistance necessary to help their employer succeed.

Working with TRAK this summer has been a fantastic experience. In addition to making money to help cover my graduate school expenses, I had the opportunity to learn about different industries and jobs in the northern Virginia area and meet interesting new people. Working with TRAK has benefited my education and career by providing me with valuable experience and life lessons. I would like to thank Jessica, and everyone else at TRAK for giving me these amazing opportunities.

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