NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON – Marilyn Armstrong

It was Samuel Goldwyn who supposedly said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point. Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages.

Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothing.

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.
It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviews or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew and the overnight backup guy.

And there really was a job, unlike now where they interview people for jobs that don’t exist just to find out if there’s a workforce to fill it — should it ever come up. You were qualified to do the job or not. The person who interviewed you actually had the authority to hire you. Which was why he or she was conducting interviews.

Unlike today where you can be certain the first person you talk to is someone from HR trying to ascertain whether or not you are a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for really important jobs. Getting in the door was relatively easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen. If you were a woman, knowing how to type was your entry card.

So the company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two-weeks notice. On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know or care. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job. I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:


GET IT IN WRITING.


Whatever it is, if it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Sometimes, that’s fine, but it’s not something you can show to a judge or for that matter, the unemployment department yo-yos. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, means it is not worth the paper it’s written on.

12 thoughts on “NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. It’s quite the dilemma these days with so much done on line. YOu can sign on the dotted line and it will hold up, but not everyone has that option available and it’s still tried and true paperwork.

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  2. Goldwyn was quite a character.One of my favorite quotes of his was when one of his directors wanted to go on location to shoot some scenes. Always one with an eye on expenses, Goldwyn told him, ” A tree’s a tree, a rock’s a rock. Shoot it in Griffith Park.” That park, of course,was in Los Angeles.

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    • I can’t even count the number of movies I’ve seen where you can see the patio and people having a barbecue in the blurry background. For that matter how many hanging boom mike in the middle of major battles. And when they shoot in your own city and you can look and say “Hey, isn’t that the Government Center telephone building? And have you noticed that the detective ALWAYS finds a parking space in mid-town?

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