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A Career Journey: John Misak
T’was a lovely Wednesday afternoon when I rolled into work and checked my emails to find that another NYIT staff member had replied to my request for an interview. Well, my follow-up request. Don’t take that the wrong way, I hold no grudges against the staff and faculty who do not respond to my emails. These are busy people, after all.
And busy people no doubt have lots to tell about their career journeys. This interviewee certainly did. I was able to get in touch with Professor Misak, who hails from New York Tech’s Long Island Campus. He’s worked in several courses, been a tutor in the writing center for 12 years, has a bachelor’s in English an M.A. in creative writing, and a doctorate in English as well.
Starting the interview, I asked the good professor to formally introduce himself: “John Misak. Associate professor of the humanities (English) and Director of the Technical Communication Program.”
For my first real question, I asked Misak how many jobs he’s had, to which he replied: “Too many to count. Over a dozen for sure. I have been working since I was 13.” He proceeded to give a list of some of his past careers: “I’ve delivered papers, bussed tables, bartended, sold a variety of things, worked for a marketing firm, worked in customer service, reviewed video games, ran two businesses, oh, and taught college.”
With all these jobs it was only natural of me to ask him which of them he considered his favorite, to which he gave an unexpected answer: “I’ve loved nearly all my jobs because they gave me insights into different elements of life and human behavior. They also provided different levels of interaction with my coworkers.” The professor elaborated: “I learned about marketing from someone at a job that had nothing to do with marketing. Things like that. But my current job is my favorite. It combines two of my passions, teaching and technology, so I’m happy. I didn’t have many bad jobs. Though, for the short time I did these jobs, I learned from each one.”
When I asked him which of his jobs paid him the most, he answered: “Being a manager at a car dealership or an email marketer paid the most.” He then went on to add: “Though, the car dealership job could have paid double and it still would not have been worth it in the long run. The grind in those jobs, particularly in the car business job, is around like 70 hours. I even worked there while I was going back to school. Customer service, great job but it’s a lot of emotional work. A lot of disagreeing with people and management. But it teaches you how to work with the environment and parameters you’re given.”
When I asked him which job was his least favorite he gave an understandable answer: “Telemarketing farm chemicals. Getting up at 4am to try to sell stuff that may not have worked to people who did not want it was not pleasant. Getting yelled at by other people at the end of the line wasn’t pleasant, either. They didn’t like that I was the 20th person to have called them this month. I switched to calling business instead, and that made the job easier.”
I questioned him on how he acquired his jobs, to which he said: “Usually the standard way. See an ad, respond. Interview, etc. Once or twice I got a job because I knew somebody. If I wanted to get back into the car business I would call somebody and I could get back in. But most of them were just through the standard means.” Professor Misak then gave some interesting advice on the subject of job interviews: “Personally, I think you gotta go through a lot of interviews before you interview for the job you want. Getting prepared for the interview at that job you want with interviews at others works better than practicing with your family or friend.”
I asked Professor Misak if there was anyone he was glad to have met in his career journey. He replied: “I’ve met many lifelong friends through my jobs. Two of my closest friends I met at work. I also had some bosses that taught me crucial life lessons. The car business taught me alot about how to deal with money and people. You become friendly with one person and that person introduces you to another person. Most likely, you’ll meet most of your lifelong friends through work.”
When I asked him what he believed the most important thing to look for in a job was, he said: “A sense of belonging if it’s long term. An appropriate atmosphere if short term. You should feel like you fit in at a long term job. There should also be a level of excitement about the company from the person interviewing you. For instance, I visited a company called Smart Devices that was looking for interns, and they just seemed like they had everything nailed down perfectly. It was a great company, they seemed excited and happy to be there.”
He proceeded to elaborate on what he said about short term jobs: “For a short term, the energy level should match the job. For instance, a sleepy atmosphere in a public-facing job would not work, at least for me. You don’t want a slow, boring, laid-back place, or I’d assume most people wouldn’t. If you’re gonna be in a job when you’re going for tenure, it should be your last job and you should feel like you belong there.”
When I asked him what he would add to his current job if he could, he said: “Don’t we all just want to get paid more? But seriously, I’d hesitate to ask for more when I am grateful for what I have. That said, maybe a pension. Like a real pension.” Due to my worldly ignorance, I asked him to clarify what exactly a pension was, to which he stated: “A guaranteed amount of money after retirement, as opposed to something based on the market. Like if the market tanks, my retirement money goes down and that’s trouble.”
It is inevitable to find roadblocks and other obstacles in one’s career journeys. That being said, we may also encounter some highly uncomfortable situations as well. When I asked the professor if he had ever been in any such situation, he had this to say: “Well, around 1995, I worked for a commercial mortgage broker that I found out was scamming customers. They would have customers pay for a letter of intent but they would never get the loan because the firm didn’t have the license.”
“I got the job by answering an ad and I figured I might want to get into mortgage broking.” He continued. “It seemed legit, the office was decent and had a nice desk. Everything seemed fine. But my job was to go to the library and get out of state numbers to call, and that made me raise my eyebrows immediately. Things got worse when I found a voice changer attached to his phone. I was gone. It all took about four days to figure out. Ah, what we do to get through college. They got out of business months after I left.”
To my surprise, Professor Misak had another career horror story in store for me: “The car business can be really shady. Especially when people don’t understand how leases work. Putting thousands of dollars on leases is inadvisable for reasons I can’t explain.” He began before getting into his story. “One time, this couple came in looking for a sedan at the dealership I worked at, and a lease manager convinced them to buy a sports car. The average profit on a car sale back then and even now is about $2,000. This deal was about $15,000. ”
“Everybody that went in the office with this lease manager came out looking dizzy and confused at his explanations, and sometimes ended up buying something they didn’t want.” He continued. “The couple came back the next morning right when we opened, looking to return the sports car, and the boss told me to send them to the lease manager. I refused, and when he told me to deal with it, I quit on the spot. I then went to the couple and outlined the steps they needed to take in case the dealership messed with them.” I asked him to elaborate a bit on what advice he gave the couple, to which he replied: “Car dealerships are agents of the dmv, so if they’re doing something unethical, you can tell them that you’ll contact the dmv. If the dealership is doing something wrong, they’ll push the brakes on whatever they’re trying to pull.”
I then moved on to a less dramatic subject, and asked the professor what the best thing to happen to him was, career-wise. He said: “Not to be cheesy, but my job at NYIT, mainly because it’s what I wanted to do. I try to remind myself to just be thankful that I got the job I wanted. But if you mean an event or something like that, getting tenure. Professors travel a long six-year road of uncertainty to get tenure. It hasn’t changed my approach but it makes me feel appreciated by the institution.”
When I asked him to name an important skill he acquired in his career journey, he answered: “Communication. Learning to share information with people of all backgrounds, interests, skills, etc. can help you grow. It’s amazing what you can learn from people when you can really talk with them. It requires dedication and patience, but it’s certainly worth it. Sometimes that means moving out of your comfort zone. Communication, on so many different levels, is the greatest skill to have. Unless you’re in a job where you’re not really talking to people. Otherwise I think it’s really important.”
Finally, I asked the professor if he had any advice for NYIT students who are currently on their own career journeys. Professor Misak would reply: “Take risks. Make promises to yourself that you likely won’t keep. Those are the things that push you. And when I say ‘risks’ I mean semi-calculated ones. Go for something a little out of your wheelhouse so you can truly identify what your wheelhouse is. Talk to people, even at bad jobs and even with someone you may initially think has little to teach. Learn at every stage. We may think we have a path but we really are tumbleweeds blowing in the universe’s wind. Another way to look at it is that it’s like a pinball game. You shoot out the ball and it hits one thing. After that it’s all randomness and luck. And wherever it falls might be the right spot.”
He then went on to say: “We can angle ourselves so that wind pushes us more in the direction we want but in the end it’s a lot of capitalizing on opportunities as they present themselves more than a predetermined outcome. Of course, this should be applied in varying degrees depending on your personality but yeah, ruffle your own feathers a bit. Find comfort in discomfort. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve when you push past your own preconceived limits.”
With that long and insightful piece of wisdom from the professor, I concluded the interview and parted ways with him. John Misak has had an interesting career journey, and throughout it he stuck to his principles, staying out of careers where some degree of shadiness was involved.
In addition, his career journey has proved the validity of his last piece of advice for NYIT students. In order for us to succeed on our career journey, it is important for us to take risks. Well, semi-calculated risks. But you get the idea.
This Article was contributed by Joe Tapia, CSEE Ambassador in the office of Career Success and Experiential Education.
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