Monday, September 21, 2009

How to Misread the Job Description - An Interview's Escape from Scrutiny

If you are a Baby of the Eighties like myself, you may remember your elders scolding your effortless connection to all encyclopedia articles (real and fake) for that science fair project, or countless hours on the Internet and cell phone catching up with friends you saw a mere three hours ago at school. Or, you're not a Baby of the Eighties, but may remember how "easy" this generation had it--not having experienced any major disaster, war, or relative difficulty compared to Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" as well as its predecessors and subsequent conflicts. Surely, we had to be too young to have any investment in the Internet Bubble Burst that skimmed our heads, and certainly no one was drafted--but it seems we're in for our first hard knocks now.

During my ongoing search for a full-time position, job descriptions highlighting "Entry-level opportunities - New grads wanted!" drew my eager application. Their multiple postings searched for "sports-minded individuals" to be trained for their business of "customer acquisition campaigns for Fortune 500 companies" to "earn above average incomes" with "pay for performance," mentioning direct, face-to-face outsourced customer service. I am thinking to myself, sure, must be a sales-related job with some form of commission--customer service? Well, I am great with people; sports-related? Maybe we'll work with the Red Sox at some point, and with health coverage...can't hurt to check it out. Perhaps someone reading this is already thinking, Totally owned! However, let's not ruin the ending. I received a call asking I come into the office for a 15-minute interview. Sure, at that moment, I was hoping I was hearing things! A 15-minute interview? Either way, I was ready to put my best foot forward and do all I could to turn that into a 30-minute interview.

I arrived to their office, filled out the paperwork, and promptly met with the manager, who asked me basic interview questions; but followed up with a description of the position, and gave me the heads up that he would give people a call back by the end of business that day to come in for a second interview the next day. Sure enough, this manager gave me a call asking me to come the next morning for a second interview--which consisted of shadowing one of the reps to see the type of process they use and be able to ask any questions. He reminded me the second interview is similar in requirements, with business formal attire. I assured him I would be available.

The next day I made the hour-long hike again, to the same lobby where three other hopefuls waited--two men in full suits just as I was, except I wore high heels, with one young woman wearing flats, slacks, and a blouse--didn't she get the memo this was business formal? I followed my rep to his car, and we made a short trip to a nearby town where we arrived at a commercial building with small businesses--optometrists, psychiatrists, salons, etc. My rep was kind enough to suggest I leave my purse in the car--it wasn't necessary to carry it in addition to my folder of notes. In my mind, I'm thinking--Superb, we are on a schedule and have appointments and meetings to attend; we'll meet with these customers and verify their service is to their specifications, we are kind souls...

By the second or third office building, I realized we were unexpected visitors. Yes, sometimes my rep was ensuring this customer didn't have extra charges for their bill, or meeting with an office interested in new business; however, we were often visiting companies that had no prior contact, and (inevitably saw this coming) unwelcome. My suspicions were quickly confirmed, after having noted the small sign declaring: "No Soliciting," as we entered, and my rep gave his usual introduction while the receptionist eagerly interrupted him--"Sorry, there's no soliciting in this building--no, no, you need a permit from town hall to do any soliciting to businesses--right, I understand, however, we've been advised to call the police if we find people soliciting in this building." Yikes! This was at Hour #1 of my 6-hour day.

My rep merely closed his binder and said, "Thank you very much, have a great day," completely unfazed. At first impression, it seems this company has a tight training program and culture, which is probably the biggest advantage to its sustainability; especially judging from the repetitive, canned responses from my rep during his visits. For a moment, imagine with me the session during rep training where the proctor will describe the moment a potential client threatens to call the cops, and your appropriate response. A comparison with a fellow recent marketing grad in a similar interview process revealed that yes; the cops were called during his session. I'm sure hilarity ensued.

By the 20th office or so, my rep realized I locked the manual locks for the car doors before each visit, while he left his unlocked, and therefore had to reach and unlock my side following each departure. He noted, "Wow you like to lock doors often, huh?"
Not as if my purse containing my whole life in plastic debit cards, credit cards, license, and conveniently--birth certificate--is stowed in your car at your suggestion...
"Yes," is all I said.
He went on to explain how normally he might lock the doors, but since we were visiting such a nice neighborhood, he didn't bother.
During our break for lunch, we were trying to decide what to eat, and lunch would be used as a point for him to describe the typical path of a rep, rules and processes to live by, and I would be taking notes. He ordered his sandwich, and the cashier asked, is that all? Expecting him to indicate my time to step in and make my order, he said, "Yes, that's it." Feeling foolish, as most interviews, internships, and informational sessions where lunch is on the schedule--my interest as a potential candidate comes with my food expensed or paid for. Silly me, "I'm sorry, I left my purse in the car--I'll be right back," I tell the rep, filing this expenditure for future reference as I leave to walk back to the unlocked car to fish out my purse and rummage around for my dignity.

Triumphantly, I completed their company quiz on the ideal aspects and processes of the rep position, and answered the manager's questions in his exit interview for all the candidates, and I asked my own. He brought my rep in after conferring with him, and told me they were equally impressed, he thought I would do well in management one day with the company, and would be delighted to extend an offer for the job to me.

I felt vindicated after my full day of walking through gas stations and traipsing up to offices in heels with my can-do attitude and no complaints. I also felt like this was all happening too fast, as the manager explained I would exchange contact information with my rep, and to return to the office for a routine drug test and to fill out my new-hire paperwork. I exited with my rep victorious, but before the surreal haze overtook me, confusion set in. I asked--Would I receive an offer letter--for any consideration? How does the commission amount even work? Did I need to bring identification or my birth certificate to fill out W-2s on the following Monday? The rep assured me that someone from the firm would call me and email an offer letter. I received no call, and no email with any details, and pressured by the quick turnaround to come back after the weekend, I had to decline the offer.

Let me decode this position, to prevent other enthusiastic graduates from participating in a similar precarious situation;
  • Sports-minded/former athlete = Great aspect, as you will be visiting upwards of 30 locations each day, many of which have stairs to each level--and little place to sit before you are asked to leave.

  • Customer acquisition campaigns = You will sell this service door-to-door, be it massage spas or auto-repair garages...something like face-to-face cold-calling.

  • Outsourced direct customer service = This big company is outsourcing to reps in the same country as their customers. Perhaps the most dignified aspect or original idea of this firm--provided you are helping customers who actually have current business.

  • Above average income/pay for performance = 100% commission, AKA not enough for me to pay rent in my first 1-2 years of employment--especially if I can hold an admin position (no disrespect) for better pay, with a 401(k) plan, and a higher degree of personal safety.

  • Potential bonuses? = Since you're in the glamorous profession of traveling sales, you can expense mileage, some clothing to look professional, meals.

Nevertheless, recounting my interview to a former roommate who was in the marketing job search as I am, she continued by iterating from memory, all points and processes I was quizzed on at the conclusion of my second interview. My enthusiasm for women in business as well as recognition of advantages and disadvantages is a story for another time, but I was impressed that not only this firm, but several other companies that use the same system could sustain with often-unwelcoming atmosphere of those reception desks.

From my point of view, as a young woman with the opportunity to embark as a traveling sales-person, what kind of contingency does this firm have for emergencies or my personal safety? Do reps visit buildings in pairs? It seemed my rep's strategy was to hit every road and neighborhood in search of any establishment that remotely seemed like a business. What insurance do they have to mitigate my fear from uncertain personalities, from escalated tempers and frustration, from threats, and from bodily harm? I understand telemarketing, cold-calling, and indirect methods of rejection, from which a person would be protected against any harm. However, once you begin unexpectedly invading businesses and hoping to hold face-to-face transactions--you might invite more trouble than just an unsatisfied customer.

No comments:

Post a Comment