I was thinking back to what I was going through nine years ago today. I had been out of work for about three weeks, and my savings--already decimated from being out of work for five weeks the previous summer--had taken a big hit. I was desperate for work.
Or, at least I thought I was desperate for work.
I responded to an ad on careerbuilder.com posted by a company called Infinity Marketing Group. They said they were hiring for positions in marketing, business-to-business deliveries, and customer service.
- Marketing, in the traditional sense of the word, has a number of different departments, one of which is research, and that's the kind of job I was looking for (which is why I responded to the ad in the first place).
- As for business-to-business deliveries, maybe it meant delivering products for test marketing to focus group facilities--that didn't sound like a skilled position, so it didn't interest me.
- Customer service was my second choice--I imagined that it might involve fielding calls from the business expecting deliveries. Although it isn't the greatest kind of job in the world, it does require being organized, and once you've been working there for a while, having a good memory can help, too; above all, it would at least keep food on my table and gas in my car.
Or, at least I thought it sounded promising.
The next day, I put on my best suit and shoes, thinking that this was a bona fide interview for a bona fide job. When I arrived at the office in Roseville, though, I found out what a load of bullcrap I had walked into. A "manager" (Nick) and a "manager trainee" (Brandon) met with me and another man who had responded to the ad (Chris). They asked us to help them load some stuff into the back of Brandon's old Chevy Blazer--crappy radio/calculator things I wouldn't even buy at a dollar store (similar to the one pictured here), fuzzy velvet coloring sets (kind of like this one), balloon animal kits, and Disney Pixar jigsaw puzzle books. The Blazer itself seemed like it would not be long for the world, judging by the faded paint, the sound of the engine, and the fact that the headliner was sagging and was held in place only by pins.
I could have sworn Nick said we would be delivering stuff to businesses, but we didn't stop anywhere until we arrived in Belleville--more than 40 miles away from Roseville. During the drive, Nick talked about the company--facts like how one of its biggest clients was The Walt Disney Company, or how one of the company's owners was also a part-owner of the NBA's Toronto Raptors.
When we arrived in Belleville, the first thing Brandon did was ask a pedestrian passing by, rather loudly, "Have you seen any of the new ones?" That struck a nerve with me. I was sure I heard something like that once, several years ago (I remember looking for a rummage sale in Canton or Wayne and had stopped to check the address), and it didn't make any sense--"new ones?" How the hell would I know what he meant by that? I certainly wouldn't know what the "old ones" were, that's for sure. Back then, I just got in my car and drove away, feeling so annoyed that I made no further effort to find the address I was looking for. Now, hearing Brandon ask that same question had me thinking that this situation was not what I had in mind.
Let's consider the types of jobs that Infinity claimed they were filling:
- "Business-to-business deliveries," as it turned out, was a euphemism for, "We're going to barge into various places where people work and interrupt them and their customers and try to sell this crap to them." That alone turned me off. I had imagined it meant delivering stuff to business that they had already ordered; for example, delivering copies of a CD to a music store, or delivering knife sets to cooking stores or restaurants. I was not looking for any kind of sales job, and I most certainly did not want to sell anything the way Brandon and Nick were doing it. That is called street peddling, a form of sales I thought the Internet would render extinct (along with TV shopping networks). With the Internet, people can decide what they want and how much they are willing to pay for it--that's how I prefer to sell stuff anytime I need to. I would not expect someone to sell me crap while getting my hair cut, yet that's what I saw Nick do, selling those cheap calculator radios at 3 for $5 to people who had come to a local barber shop to get their hair cut.
- Customer service? I didn't see anything like it--rather the opposite. At one point, I saw a piece fall out of one of the Disney Pixar puzzle books I was carrying, and I wanted to stop and find it and put it back. Nick didn't like that; he said it would slow everyone down. He said that not only did he not mind a piece being missing, but he could sell it like that, and furthermore, he even proceeded to throw one of his copies of the very same puzzle book into a nearby puddle and said that he could sell that as well. He asked if I wanted to bet him that he couldn't. I wisely did not--I would have lost. He had just established himself as one of the thickest-skinned sons of bitches I had ever met, and his ability to communicate and sell was unquestionable. He sold both the book with the missing puzzle piece and the one he threw in the puddle. His idea of customer service evidently wasn't anything like my idea of customer service.
- Marketing? Only if you don't know the difference between marketing and street peddling. In his sales speech, Nick would keep referring to "test marketing" that was being done for "one day only." Here's why I would never call it test marketing: Proper test marketing is done at a research facility, not on the street (and especially not by interrupting people who are running errands). Furthermore, in proper test marketing, the test subjects don't pay for anything--they may keep the item in exchange for completing a survey about it. I tried explaining to Nick about what I had in mind--that marketing includes a few different types of jobs, like package design, advertisement design and research, and marketing research was what I was interested in--but either he didn't want to listen to what I had to say, or he didn't understand it to begin with. Obviously, we were wasting each other's time.
At one point, I overheard Nick and Brandon bragging about making a killing on the cheap calculator radios. So much for Disney being such a big client--maybe their definition of "one of our biggest clients" was how big the client itself was, not how much business they did with them.
The job posting was absolutely underhanded. This so-called "job" wasn't even worth putting on a button-down shirt and Dockers, let alone my best suit and dress shoes. Chris did help Nick and Brandon sell stuff, but only because he didn't want to be cheated out of a free lunch (whereas when I admitted before lunch that I did not want to do this, I ended up having to pay for my own lunch. Towards the end of this wasted day, Chris asked me if anyone had ever told me what Infinity was really up to. "N friggin' O," I said. "N to the mother-friggin' O," Chris agreed. He was the one who hit the nail on the head--this was not marketing, it was street peddling. We also talked about how Infinity was set up as a pyramid scheme (in which people had to recruit other people to sell stuff, and those other people had to recruit still more people, similar to Vector and their Cutco knives).
When I got back home, after half a day walking through snow and mud carrying a bunch of crap and watching a thick-skinned man interrupt decent, mild-mannered people to sell it, and another half-day sitting in the back of a beat-up old SUV, I was tired as heck. But above all, I was relieved that I was done with them. Furthermore, I didn't get any mud on my suit or mess up my shoes.
It was back to the drawing board as far as searching for work was concerned--I had reached the point where I even resorted to applying for jobs in other states. Fortunately, the opportunity for my current job presented itself less than two weeks later, and I haven't been out of work since.
Looking back, there were signs that I should have taken to mean "get out before you waste any more of your time":
- Sitting in a room with 20 other people for a couple hours just to wait for an interview--that was something I had done once before, also with bad results (in 1992, when I was in college and looking for a summer job, and what sounded like educating people about the need for tougher recycling laws turned out to be door-to-door fundraising).
- The questions about being self-motivated and a go-getter--I'll remember that these are signs that the company is looking for thick-skinned salesmen, and that's not me.
- Ads that advertise for multiple types of positions--that's understandable for a chain of stores or restaurants that need people in multiple areas when they're opening a new location, but a marketing firm--a real marketing firm that understands words like "research" and "focus group" and "survey"--is more likely to advertise for one specific position. That is the one reason I should not have responded to that ad.