Monday, April 28, 2008

Bad jobs

My benchmark for how bad a job can be is when I worked at Gallup. (An odd number of people have never heard of them. They're the world's most famous polling organization.) In hindsight it should have been obvious that I'd hate the job—I don't like talking on the phone, and that's all you do at Gallup. But that wasn't even why.

It's not that the work itself was hard. I was pretty good at the technical aspects of the job. I could stick to the script without improvising, I knew what I could say to coerce people into answering questions properly without tainting the results, and so on. It was air conditioned, and it paid pretty well. I didn't have to lift heavy vats of oil or stick my hands into 400-degree fryers or mop floors. But it was kind of emotionally traumatizing. It didn't take long to realize that I would never be good at the job. I never even did well enough at the job to get paid on what I did; I always had to be bumped up to minimum wage, as we were paid on commission for surveys completed, and I never completed enough to make more than the minimum.

It's not that I was bad; it's that I wasn't being paid based on how hard I tried. I was paid based on how many people liked the sound of my voice. You could tell that the women who worked there were far more successful in terms of pay than the men. If you sound like a hot young girl, you can make a pretty decent amount of money at Gallup; almost everyone is willing to talk to a hot young girl for a few minutes. It's like phone sex that calls you. Sadly, one or two of the surveys I'd complete each night would be with people who apparently didn't hear when I said my name was Travis, and then would start hitting on me, assuming me to be a hot young girl. I actually had someone hang up on me once when they found out I was a guy.

Now, there were ways that I could have gotten more money. I could have lied to people, or bent the truth, to get them to take the survey. Or, I could have completed surveys with people who didn't actually meet the qualifications of the survey. For example, often our criteria for who we could talk to would be something like "the youngest male over the age of 18 who lives at the house." I imagine that there were people who would accept a survey response from a different guy in the household, or someone who was almost 18, or something similar. The chances of being caught are pretty low (they did randomly listen in on our calls to try to prevent that sort of thing), and as long as you played it off as a mistake it probably would end up being fine. You'd probably get a lot more survey completions if you were dishonest.

But mostly I think it was my inability to sound like a hot young girl. And that feeling that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to improve much; that most men who worked there were doomed—that was really depressing and crushing. The women were all more experienced because turnover was lower, and they just did better. I imagine that a lot of women and minorities must feel that at some point in their life, that they were pretty much just screwed. I had to get out of that job. I stuck with it for the summer because I needed the money and didn't want to start someplace and then work there for just a month, but it depressed me more and more. They spend a solid week training their interviewers (phone grunts), and because of this everyone signs a contract promising to work for them for at least six months.

But I couldn't do it. At the end of the summer I said I was going to transfer to the downtown call center so I could work during school. Once school started and I first walked into the call center to meet my new boss, the feelings of doom and gloom were stronger than they'd ever been. I walked up to the manager, introduced myself, and said that he didn't know me, but I wanted to resign effective immediately. He was understanding and wished me well. I handed him my security badge and walked out.

The feeling I got when I walked out of that call center was one of the best shifts in morale I'd ever experienced. That was the only time I'd ever really quit a job.

Currently listening: Bill Brown—Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour, USA theme


Andy Misle said...

So, is it safe to assume by your statement that 1,000,001 people have NOT heard of Gallup... but not 1,000,002 people?

Seriously, though, good story. I always wondered what it was like to work there.

G√ľnter said...

Beca works at Gallup, and yes, she does very well, but it seems to me that men and women are pretty evenly distributed across the "Top 10" board. And a lot of the guys Beca sits with have been there for several years. I wouldn't be surprised if men had to work a little harder than women to sound ingratiating, or whatever, but I think it depends at least in part on which polling project you're working on; you might sound more natural on Gallup's more natural-sounding scripts.

For my part, I'm good at phone work - I've done a lot of it, including at Gallup - but I find it too emotionally exhausting to deal cheerfully with stupid people for several-hour stretches.

Travis said...

It seemed to me when I worked there that the guys who did the best were more... conniving... than the ones who didn't do very well. They seemed like the sort of people who would make good salesmen. But then again, I didn't intentionally listen to them do their jobs.

I feel like I have ample experience working with stupid people for many hours in a row... thanks, Russ's Market.

Anonymous said...

My friend worked part time at this one company (I've already forgotten what they did). He couldn't make it one day and got me to show up for half a day to work instead of him. It was all data entry in a system at least 10 years out of date. Each entry required 8 keystrokes with about 10% of the entries having a single different keystroke among the 8. I would hit all 8 keys and then wait 20 seconds for the system to catch up. Needless to say, they wanted me back but I took my first paycheck and ran. That's the story of the only job I've ever quit.