One summer in my college years I got a job as a telemarketer. The base pay was pretty high, which I guess is used to lure people into doing this heinous job. My first day there I was assigned a cubicle that pretty much only had a phone in it and some pencils. My bosses explained that I would be calling people and asking them to take short surveys (they were never as short as we were supposed to claim they were!). Huge companies had hired them to get a certain number of responses. So, for example, we called moms and asked them questions about what baby products they bought. The survey might have been sponsored by Pampers or Gerber but the person we called didn’t know that. The big companies wanted honest answers about how people felt about their products and their competitor’s products. Once we got the required number of respondents, we’d move on to the next company’s needs. As we got surveys completed, we would mark it on a whiteboard so we’d know where we stood.
As you can imagine, my first few calls were dismal. I wasn’t practiced with my script and fumbled a lot. People hung up on me right quick. But in time I started to do better. I remember being so excited to get someone on the phone willing to do the survey. When I was done, I proudly added a tick mark on the white board. Our bosses kept track of how many surveys we all completed. I was the new kid so no one expected much. There were some people that had been there for years. They looked like zombies to be honest. No light in them at all. It was like the life had been sucked out of them. I started to be concerned but figured I’d only be there for the summer and I would endure.
After my first week I was accustomed to making over a hundred phone calls per day, and I was lucky to get 20 surveys done in a week. I felt like a total failure but I was assured it was par for the course. Then I decided to change my strategy. I went completely off-script initially in order to get the customer interested in taking the survey. I just decided to be 100% completely honest with them instead of going through a canned spiel.
“Hello, my name is Erin and I work for a telemarketing company. Yep, it’s a horrible job but I’m a student and it’s the only way I can afford school. If it isn’t too much trouble, would you be willing to take a short survey with me? I want to look good in front of my bosses and if you stay on the phone with me I won’t have to make another 10 calls. I would really be grateful.” I can’t tell you how many people relented and sympathized with me. Before I knew it, my survey completion record had doubled. People who had been there for years started noticing and some of them got angry with me. There was a definite competition vibe there. Apparently the plum jobs went to the best people. I was inordinately pleased with myself though, and the job was more bearable. My specialty has always been connecting with people easily, so I used that skill to make headway in this job.
Of course, my bosses began to notice. One day they called me in and said they needed to have a talk with me. I was nervous as I thought they were going to fire me for going off script. One of my competitors, I mean co-workers, was particularly annoyed that I was going off script, and I know she told on me. As it turned out, though, my bosses were not only okay with it, but impressed. They asked if I was willing to be put on a special project that wasn’t sponsored by another company but was actually their own private project. It came with a pay raise and my own private office with a door, no more cubicle! I jumped at the chance!
My new job was to call people and ask them if they wanted to buy a book called Dianetics written by L. Ron Hubbard. I thought that was sort of a strange thing to be doing, but I didn’t care. So I called people and asked them if they wanted to buy this book which was supposedly all about self improvement and making yourself happier. The list I was calling from was surprisingly sympathetic to this request. Good list, I thought! Whether people were willing or unwilling to buy the book, I was also told to ask them if they wanted to make a donation to some L. Ron Hubbard charity fund. I had no idea what this was all about, but that didn’t matter to me. I was doing very well and making a lot of money for this L. Ron Hubbard fellow. I was proud of my skill and my bosses were over the moon about me. They gave me another raise. I was rockin’!
Then the co-worker who ratted me out took me aside one day and told me that our bosses were Scientologists. I’m like, “What’s a Scientologist?” She told me it was a religious cult, and she said some really nasty things about it. I became very concerned. I felt duped, deceived, and used. I didn’t want to be a religious cult fundraiser! Without doing much research on my own (no internet in those days) I decided I had to stop and go back to doing the lame surveys. I went to my bosses and told them I felt uncomfortable. They were so incredibly nice and understanding. In fact, these guys were so gentle and kind, I found it hard to believe they were part of any cult. They asked if I wanted to know more about Scientology. So I sat and listened to them explain the whole thing to me. I thought it sounded really weird but not as cult-like as co-worker chick made it out to be. I was still uncomfortable with the job they were having me perform, though, so I told them I couldn’t do it anymore. They understood and then they let me go. They had already hired someone to take my place doing the surveys.
I wasn’t overly upset. I wanted to get out of there badly. So I left with little huff. But I learned something from that job. I learned that who you work for is just as important as the work you’re doing. If your personal beliefs aren’t in alignment with the goals your company is trying to achieve, why are you working for them? I often think about people who work for the big tobacco companies, or the people who work in the slaughterhouses. Is it just a job to them? Or are they going against their own ideals in order to earn a paycheck? I mean, we all have our limits and it’s up to you to choose them, but do you know who you’re working for? Which of their goals are you achieving for them and are these goals you’d work on yourself if you could? If I were to ever be in a position where I was working for someone else again, I’d try to find a job with a company whose goals and ideals were closely aligned with mine, because then all the work I did for them would contribute to what I perceived as the greater good.
Who do you work for?