3 professionals share the weirdest assignments they received at work

By The Motley Fool

July 30, 2018

Many of us go to work and do the same old thing day in and day out. But every so often, a unique assignment might pop up to make things just a bit more stressful, or interesting, depending on how you look at it. Here are some of the craziest things we Fools have been asked to tackle at our former jobs–and how we got through them.


Selling the unsellable

For four years, I worked for my family’s ladder and scaffolding company running a factory/wholesale/rental/retail operation in New Haven, Connecticut. Sales was a big piece of the job, and I was tasked with selling scaffolding and stages that were made in the United States.

The problem with selling American-made steel scaffolding and aluminum stages was that they cost a lot more–sometimes twice as much–as the same products imported from China, Mexico, and other countries. On the surface, I had an impossible task. I was knocking on doors offering goods that were dramatically more expensive than those being sold by my rivals.

To sell the unsellable, I had to change my sales pitch. I could not compete on price, so I had to find other ways to make sales.

Instead of approaching a potential customer and offering my pricey merchandise, I instead sold flexibility. Since our factories were in Connecticut and New Hampshire, I could produce goods as needed, while companies that were importing were limited by ordering cycles that could take two months.

By having flexibility and the ability to deliver quickly, we managed to get work when timing was important. That comes up more often than you might think in the construction industry, and we were able to thrive by maintaining good relationships with lots of potential customers.

We were almost never a customer’s main supplier. Instead, we were the company that could deliver in an emergency situation, and there was enough work doing that to keep our factories busy.–Daniel B. Kline


Preemptively stopping a shopping riot

Years ago, I was a sales manager for now-defunct electronics giant Circuit City. As anyone who has worked in retail knows, Black Friday–the Friday after Thanksgiving that marks the “official” start of the holiday shopping season–is a hugely important day to physical retailers. It’s also an “all-hands-on-deck” day for managers.

For a couple of years, I worked at a location that had to call the police not once, but twice when customers got into physical fights over items on the Black Friday before I came to that store. One item was a $80 DVD player (this was before Blu-ray was even a thing), and the other was a $39 portable CD player (seriously!).

In an effort to preempt this kind of idiotic behavior, I was “voluntold” the week before to police the line of customers who would inevitably start showing up a couple of hours before opening to make sure they understood that bad behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. I came up with what I thought was a novel idea: making copies of the police reports from the year before and handing them out to people waiting in line.

We took it two steps further, too. I walked up and down the line with a bullhorn, making the occasional joke about last year’s bad actors, and asking people to remember that it was just shopping. I also stationed two of our largest employees– two guys who played college football worked for me–at the front door like bouncers.

I don’t know if it made a difference or not, but we didn’t have any altercations in the two years I was assigned to that store and took the aforementioned actions. “Keeping customers from fighting over DVD players” isn’t a skill I ever expected to put on a resume, but I guess now I can.–Jason Hall



Carrying millions in physical bond certificates across Manhattan

As tends to be the case with entry-level jobs, before I worked my way up at the hedge fund that hired me straight out of college, I was tasked with some unusual assignments in my first few months on the job. One such request from my boss involved transporting millions of dollars in bond certificates from our midtown offices to a bank in lower Manhattan, where they’d be processed and applied to one of our accounts.

This was obviously an unusual task. When my company traded bonds, everything was done electronically. There was no such thing as getting physical certificates. I’m not sure what the circumstances were that led to the firm receiving these very valuable pieces of paper, but I was the one entrusted to make the deposit, and frankly, it was pretty nerve-wracking. There I was, carrying millions of dollars in my hands, clutching that envelope of certificates tightly as I navigated the subway ride downtown and the walk from the nearby station to the bank. (That’s right–my company refused to pay for a cab and sent me down on the subway instead.)

At the end of the day, I made the drop and it all worked out just fine. Still, it was a pretty stressful experience for me, and one that I frankly wouldn’t want to repeat. That said, if I am ever in that situation again, I’ll be sure to spring for a taxi.–Maurie Backman