The expression “When one door closes, another one opens,” perfectly sums up the journey Melissa Joseph has taken from TV meteorologist to now celebrating 30 years of running her own staffing business.
Joseph was a television reporter and weather forecaster for WBOC in 1986. A graduate of the University of Delaware with degrees in communications and psychology, she was being courted for an anchor position with the nascent Weather Channel. She wanted to be like her journalism heroes, Barbara Walters and Jim O’Brien, a Philadelphia weatherman.
“The Weather Channel was pretty new 30 years ago, and someone saw me doing the weather in Ocean City. They flew me to Atlanta - I only had one year’s experience in television - to be an anchor,” she said.
In the week before for her interview, she used a hairspray that she had not used before. The spray contained trichloroethane, a chemical commonly used in Wite-Out that, at a time when cosmetics were not regulated by the FDA, was used as an aerosol propellant. And that is where things began to go wrong.
After using the spray, Joseph said, she began having bad reactions. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t laugh for a year. Even to this day I can’t take a deep breath,” she said. “I lost my career. I lost my health. I started from ground zero.”
Ever the one to look on the bright side of things, she added, “It looked great on my hair, though!”
Joseph pulls out a newspaper article of her story titled “Let the consumer beware.” She spent a year recuperating, and when she was ready, she began looking for work outside of TV journalism.
“I went to an employment agency in Dover to see if they could get me a job in public relations. They said, ‘We don’t have anything in public relations, but would you work for us?’ I can interview; I don’t get winded if I just interview people,” Joseph said.
She worked in Dover for five years, at the same time studying employment law. In 1990, she decided to strike out on her own and open a temporary staffing firm. That company, Delmarva Temporary Staffing, is now located in Lewes and has become one of the largest employers in the state.
Spending time around Joseph, it’s clear why her company has lasted as long as it has. Her personality is upbeat and infectious, even when she’s recounting the end of her TV career. She smiles easily, and it is obvious the company’s success gives her a tremendous sense of pride.
Companies all over Delaware contact Delmarva Temporary Staffing when they have job openings. Joseph said the company interviews thousands of potential employees and is able to quickly find candidates for specific jobs. On a given job, she said, Delmarva Temporary Staffing will provide three candidates and one of those candidates will get the job. Often, those temporary jobs lead to permanent positions. Over the company’s 25 years, Joseph said she has placed 12,000 people in jobs that became permanent. The company staffs both government contracts and private corporations.
“When I opened, I opened with four pharmaceutical temps in 1990,” Joseph said. “I started with seasonal staffing in Rehoboth Beach.”
She said her TV experience helps in running her company as she can relate to people who have either lost their jobs or who are looking to start a new career. “I know what it is like to lose everything and start over,” Joseph said.
She said Delmarva Temporary Staffing helps prepare job seekers through resume building and interview skills. “I think what I project to people is to be positive. Project a positive attitude no matter what. If you’ve lost your job, don’t talk about that, talk about what you can do to be successful. Because of that, we’ve helped many, many people,” Joseph said.
Speaking of dealing with adversity, she said, “You could wallow in it or you can find a way to change your life and move forward.”
A native of Milford, Joseph has spent most of her adult life in Rehoboth. Beyond her cheery demeanor, Joseph is also a worker; since starting Delmarva Temporary Staffing, she said she’s only ever taken two weeks off, which came after giving birth.
Joseph said she got her work ethic from her father. “My father worked for General Foods for 45 years. He moved to Delaware from Massachusetts. I don’t think he missed work in 45 years,” she said.
Joseph said she gets some of her can-do attitude from the late Tom Draper, the former owner of WBOC, who served as a mentor to Joseph during her time at the station. She said Draper had a way of being a mentor, without being obvious about it. Joseph said long after she left TV, she would think about a piece of advice Draper gave her and use it in her business life.
However, what Joseph is most proud of is the fact that Delmarva Temporary Staffing rarely markets, relying instead on word-of-mouth. At this point, Joseph pulls out a binder full of thank you notes from clients who have found work through the company.
“It’s fabulous,” she said. “Our company is successful because of our reputation. I keep this book and say, ‘Ladies, if you’re having a bad day…’ This book means more to me than anything. You change people’s lives when you get people a job.