Service of Dependability

January 3rd, 2011

Categories: Age, Assistant, Attitude, Dependability, Indifference, Jobs

I have mentored amazing college and grad students for years and have been impressed by hundreds of accomplished scholarship applicants since I’ve served on the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee. This is why I was distressed by the observation of a person I met over the holidays who described his experience hiring assistants.

When an applicant calls him, he’ll say, “Please call me next Wednesday between noon and 2 and I’ll be able to speak with you then,” [or whatever day and timeframe they agree is convenient for both]. He said that he never again hears from 75 percent of job seekers. He explained why he always does this. “I can teach almost anyone what they need to know to help me, but I require a dependable person.”

I mentioned this to a friend who wasn’t surprised. He said that an assistant he’d recently hired arrived late his first day at the ad agency. He immediately called the young man into his office and said: “This isn’t going to work. Goodbye,” and noted, “Can you imagine arriving late on your first day at a new job?”

I was almost late for my first day at a new magazine. I couldn’t find the building! [Interviews took place at a borrowed office elsewhere.] The address would have put it in the middle of Madison Avenue. This happened long before cell phones. Turns out the publisher had given everyone the wrong street number–and because I’d left home in plenty of time, I was on time after dashing into every building on either side of Madison Avenue until I found the right one.

We have a furnace contract with the company that sells us fuel for the house yet we are insecure every time we call the company in an emergency because while the repair people might seem to fix the immediate problem, they inevitably create other ones. Meanwhile, we’ve found a young man who knows his boilers and furnaces and we sleep well after he’s installed the correct valves and reversed some of the incomplete “fixes” that the oil company staffers have made.

You may wonder why we know that something’s wrong. Last week, after an emergency visit by the oil company repairman, the wall next to the furnace room shook violently when the furnace kicked in, something it had never before done, and we heard a new noise–that turned out to be air–that sounded like spitting water. We called in the specialist. He identified and fixed the problem in minutes and told us we can safely hold off on a major repair that the oil company person told us we must tend to ASAP.

Why doesn’t this articulate, knowledgeable and reliable young man have an assistant? None have worked out, he said. He hires his brothers or Dad when he needs a hand.

And it’s not just young people and assistants these days. When criticized for not returning to NJ after the late December blizzard snarled roads and highways, Governor Christie [whose Lt. Governor was out of state at the same time] said he’d promised to take his children to Disneyland and his children come first. He was in a rush to leave before the storm so he moved up his departure time. He could easily have sent his kids along with his wife and gone to be with them when the emergency was over. He obviously thinks it was an emergency–he requested Federal aid as a result of the storm. Think he’d fire an assistant or subordinate with an approach like his?

Has the Valley Girl-inspired “whateverrrrrr” word misled some people to think that any old how or any which way and/or time is acceptable? Is dependability perception or reality? Is dependability overrated? Please share some examples of reliable and dependable people and/or those who act less so.

10 Responses to “Service of Dependability”

  1. Simon Carr Said:


    I worked many years for large organizations ranging from the Federal government and the US Army, to Fortune 500 companies and even several small operations employing only 10 or less employees.

    Finding dependable help has always been a problem, and is probably an even bigger one today what with the growing lack of reliable, motivated, drug free, skilled labor available in the marketplace, but it can be found – the old fashioned way, by networking.

    Even in the government, if you ask someone that you know well, and more importantly, that you trust, you usually could get the name of a worker or two on whom you can depend. I’ll bet you didn’t find your great furnace man through the yellow pages?

    Of course, the government pokes its ugly nose into our affairs more and more these days. If you work for a big company, you soon learn that you must avoid personnel (and the government) when you want to hire somebody good. You do what the Dallas Cowboys just did when they needed a new coach. They found the man they wanted and then conducted a job search and interviewed enough “right category” people sent to them by personnel/human resources to satisfy the government. I’ve done the same thing successfully but for far smaller jobs. I’ll admit it’s a little hard on the “right category” people, though.

    If you are a smaller company, the government is less likely to bother you, but now that is changing too. Look at “Obamacare.”

    As to Governor Christie, I have one question: Would the snow in New Jersey have gone away any faster if Christie had been shoveling? Obviously not. Then again, if he had been there, given how fat he is, he probably would have had a heart attack. That would have made the democrats happy, but New Jersey would have lost the best governor it has had in 40 years!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    We didn’t turn to the Yellow Pages [do they exist anymore?] to find the wonderful furnace man. He’s our neighbor’s friend. Our neighbor for a year now, he has lived in the community all his life.

    As for Gov. Christie, I would not have expected him to shovel one snowflake. That’s not the point. I would expect him to be there for symbolic reasons and to be as inconvenienced as all the others in the state. At my first job in PR at Manning, Selvage & Lee, I was told that just before I joined the company the president had stayed at the office until 1 in the morning helping assemble and review/edit an entry to the Silver Anvil Awards. [They won.] He didn’t leave until every soul in the department was out the door. No doubt there were details he knew nothing about and maybe he wasn’t the most efficient person to put at the copier, so someone else was there. This anecdote has stayed with me all these years and I subscribe to this kind of dependability from top to bottom. It’s the opposite of “do as I say, not as I do” and is comfortable for me.

  3. ASK Said:

    Like Simon, I feel the same way about Gov. Christie…the snow would not have been cleaned up any faster if he had been in New Jersey. As to unreliable people, we recently hired an student/assistant who was also late her first day on the job, and…the second…and the third. She was stunned when we had to tell her “bye-bye.” We had the same problem with her predecessor, a young woman who was unbelievably over-scheduled, but still went on to re-apply for a position in another of our departments. She did not get the second position. Did she think no one would call us for a reference? Is this typical of 20-somethings today?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I obviously have a different point of view than both you and Simon re. Gov. Christie.

    I am dismayed that something as basic as being on time to a job or for an appointment isn’t obvious to everyone. Wonder how these people slipped through the system for so long. Instructors and professors should lock the door so that latecomers miss lectures and classroom time. Regardless of test results, grades should reflect a student that is consistently MIA. That would be a start.

  5. ASK Said:

    No disrepect intended, but what we no doubt needed in Jersey an Alexander Haig-type announcing that he was in charge!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Haw haw…but no, just someone who takes on a responsibility, doesn’t shrug it off [sending his Lt. gov off to Mexico, further illustrating his whateverrrr approach] brushing his hands of an annoying mess. True, he’s not a surgeon, nor the only capable parachute folder in town. But in his role as the head of that state, I think he owed his presence to his constituency in what he later called an emergency. But I’ve always been accused of over servicing my accounts, so what do I know. I’m out voted here, that’s for sure!

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Every clock watcher will insist that dependability equals timeliness, and when it comes to most of the workforce, it does. A business could hardly function if everyone wandered in at his own pace.

    Now what about colleagues one can count on versus those whose interests center only upon themselves with total disregard to the wellbeing of others? Consider the town crier, who has been given information in strict confidence, then races to the phone to spread the news? Such behavior is not only despicable, but can easily bring down a business, and in some cases, an entire society.

    Emphasis on timeliness is what permits society to run well, but when it comes to dependability, it is only a fraction of the story.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You make valid points about time, running a business and the town crier.

    But at the assistant level, coming in at an agreed upon time is essential because others are counting on this person to answer phones, open up, make appointments, purchase supplies, take instructions for a project and so forth. The others may miss their deadlines due to an assistant’s tardiness. Even if the assistant has the brains to do more than they’ve been given to do, they are hired to support, not to keep people waiting and can do extra work that puts them in line for promotion on their own time. There’s also the stress component. An assistant not being on time causes stress while this person is to alleviate it.

  9. ASK Said:

    And just this morning, it was suggested that Mayor Bloomberg was at his Bermuda home during the blizzard. According to the radio broadcast I heard, he has refused to say where he was…!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I also heard that about the Mayor, ASK. He attended Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s and was available for a press conference I think on Monday afternoon….There is no doubt that NYC’s sanitation dept messed up and the buck stops with the Mayor.

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