So my worst ever job…
My employment history has been at times humiliating, belittling and downright dirty, so it’s the title of ‘worst ever’ is surprisingly hard to give. But the out and out winner goes to the one that sucked my very soul dry.
I’d recently finished a long acting contract (aaaaaaaaaah what a lovely combination of words those are), and was too busy floating on the ‘I’m a professional actor now and I will never have to bore my days away in a call centre again’ cloud to notice my bank account depleting into the dangerously undernourished stakes. Thankfully I pulled myself out of my prideful nosedive just in time and started a frantic search for work, any work. The only real lead I found was an ominous notice in the back of ‘The Stage’ asking for actors in search of work to call a number and leave a message about themselves. It turned out to be a voice vetting process for a – you guessed it – call centre.
They called me in for an interview and to my distinct horror (given my previous post about the inglorious charity muggers) I discovered the centre was effectively a respite for weather weary chuggers. They were the people that interrupt a good episode of Corrie with a shrill ring then a story of death and despair to make you hand out promises of money to a charity whose name you can’t even remember by the time you’ve hung up (no cheery tabards here to remind you)
So I was forced with a dilemma. Did I become one of the people I’d spent a good proportion of my street walking life loathing, or did I face starvation/eviction/a journey back to live with my mother in the grim North at the age of 27. My scruples were dashed against the rock hard wall of the very real reality of an empty bank account. Of course.
At first it didn’t seem too bad. Lots of like minded souls rocked up to the training session – they all wore the same expression of looking like they’d plumped for a self ordered lobotomy rather than an eight hour shift in headphones. The glassy eyed supervisor running our initiation painted it like it was a worthy job – she threw out loads of impressive statistics about how successful this kind of fundraising had been for their charities. They wanted good success rates – but they didn’t offer bonuses as they didn’t think that was appropriate within a charity (hear hear) but if you did hit your targets you could go home early. Excellent.
Then there was a white board and lots of impressive diagrams and the ‘strategy talk’. The strategy this call centre used for all of its many charities that it worked for was a tried and tested three step sales techniques. But what does a charity sell? Well our trusty supervisor picked up her marker and wrote our main commodity in large caps bang in the middle of the board.
Though of course this isn’t entirely accurate – we were selling a relief from guilt – a guilt they weren’t aware they carried until five minutes ago when that telephone rang and their favourite soap was interrupted.
The strategy went like this:
ICEBREAKER – be hugely friendly and engaging – try and get a ‘in’ with the subject – find a common ground, ask about their day.
THE GUILT STORY – spin a yarn (all usefully written for you in a carefully constructed story arc that is engineered to have the greatest emotive impact) of great sadness, loss and inequality – all intricately underlaced with the strong insinuation that the person listening is downright evil for deigning to exist in such different and disgustingly over privileged circumstances.
THE FIRST ASK – go in with a request for ridiculous sum of money
‘Did you know that for fifty pounds a month you would save 50 wild pandas and a didgerdedoo… would you be help us out with that??????’
THE SECOND ASK – when they swallow their own tongue in shock at your audacity for asking for a guarentee of £600 a year in the worst recession in modern times for a charity they’d never heard of you seamlessly glide in with a significantly lower ask
‘Oh of course Mrs Jones – I quite understand that would seem like a large sum of money for some people, but did you know that for just £10 a month you could cure cancer and bring the dodo back from extinction????
THE THIRD ASK – you hear a pause – this is a much more manageable sum of money – why they could afford that – but hang on what do they care for extinct birds – and who is this creepy person asking them for money… before they hang up with a thanks but no thanks you grapple in with the most pathetically pleading voice that you could muster…
‘Oh Mrs Jones – I quite understand, these are hard times after all, but did you know that it is sometimes the smallest amounts that make the biggest difference [Note the sheer ridiculousness of this lie is astounding]… Did you know that for just three pounds a month – the price of magazine, or a coffee, or half a lager – you could give an amputated orphan the groundbreaking surgery he needs to regrow his limbs
And with that the sound of walls crumbling deafens you down your headset as your unsuspecting subject caves and rushes for her bank card.
Then came the hard nosed part of the training session – this ain’t no easy street of employement. Don’t make your targets that week and you’re out. Fired. Shot down. Back under poverty’s cold shadow. Well that seems fair, I thought, it’s the charity’s money that’s paying my wages after all, and why should they bank roll freeloaders – I’ll be fine – it can’t be that hard.
I was right. It wasn’t hard. It was impossible.
I’ve always been rubbish asking people for money. I’ve left numerous jobs underpaid or unpaid over the years as I get too embarrassed to chase and demand remuneration. Its ridiculous and frightfully English of me but its a character attribute i’ve come to recognise and accept. I don’t have any money balls.
So why on earth I thought I could hack it at this job is beyond me.
I was totally shit. The people on the other end of the phone could hear the apology in my smiling voice, could smell the self loathing creeping down their phone wire. I couldn’t ensnare the buggers for love nor money. I stared in wonder as around me all my fellow phone chuggers swept in for the kill on the third ask and captured bank details and left work early – while I was left getting progressively more panicky that I wouldn’t have a job at the end of the week which just added an extra unattractive smear of desperation to my voice. The supervisors – who would routinely and slightly sinisterly listen in on your phone calls were full of advice at first, but their patience rapidly depleated:
You didn’t sound pleading enough in the third ask
You’ve got to make them feel more guilty
How can you be so bad at this? Anyone can do it?
Now, without sounding like an arrogant bugger, I’m not used to being really crap at something. Well apart from my ability to have a successful acting career and love life – but those are hardly important things now are they? But in all those really important, life affirming filler jobs I would took pride in doing them odiously well. The fact I just out and out couldn’t do this was strangely alarming. Every hour I spent plugged into my phone, hating the sound of my own voice and dreading a telling off from some eavesdropping jobs worth was a living hell.
But the crowning glory of this job – and why it became the worst job EVER was in its final moments.
I was on a phone to an ancient sounding Scottish granny by the name of Mrs McNuir. It was an ‘upgrade’ call for a cancer charity – which meant that dear Mrs McNuir was already giving £5 a month but we were phoning to see if I could guilt her out of just that little bit more… I’d been having a fairly shocking session and so far all I’d managed was to have five people revoke their previous donations (which they’d totally forgotten they’d ever agreed to). Now Mrs McNuir was a old darling – and I’m not going to lie – I thought I was on to a winner. There were lots of concillatory sighs and even a ‘och the poor thing’ at a crucial moment in my story telling. I was getting excited – I could almost see the magical bank account digits in front of me… then I got to my first ask – which was a increase of £20 a month. There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.
“Och my dear, you’re breakin’ my heart. I wish I could gi’ more, I do. I dearly wish I could. But I can barely afford what I do give. You see my husband died last year so money’s a wee bit tight, and I’ve been havin’ a bad time of it meself recently, I’ve just had a double masectomy but I’ve been told they’ve not got all the cancer so it looks like I won’t be around for too much longer, and I’m in a wheelchair now, and its just a state pension I’m on and I’m needing every last penny. I’m so sorry – you sound like such a lovely lass and I wish I could help out more…”
It was my turn to pause.
What the fuck did I say to that?
“Oh Mrs McNuir. Of course – of course you can’t give any more – you’re amazing for giving anything at all. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through…”
and with various mumbled thank yous and sorrys I rung off the phone.
Thirty seconds later and an icy sounding voice cut over my shoulder… the dreaded supervisor.
Her: “What was that?”
Her: “You only did one ask – you know it’s policy to go through all three – you could have got an extra £3 a week from her.”
Me: (a look of total disbelief plastered on my face)” She. was. dying.”
Her: “Well then there was the perfect opportunity to talk about legacies.”
And that was it. I was done. No witty retorts or proud exits that time, my soul felt too tired and used out. Without a word I reached down grabbed my bag and slumped towards the door, head bowed.
Her: “Where are you going?”
And I did. And yes they were a very scary few weeks that followed and I practically packed a bag in preparation for a forced move back home at the age of 27, but I didn’t care. Some parts of yourself shouldn’t be sold off for a paltry paycheck.