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Customer Service Isn’t For Everyone

, , , | Working | June 7, 2021

I apply for a restaurant job through a temp agency. The agency invites me to come to an application session in Rotterdam, so I take public transport there from my hometown.

As it turns out, the job is not entirely suitable. The agent, however, does not simply want to give up on me.

Agent: “Maybe you could do work in customer service?”

Me: “Like, over the phone, you mean?”

Agent: “Yes, I do. Might suit you?”

Last year, I did some work at a telemarketing company. From that, I learned two things. First, I couldn’t cope with all the negative energy people fired at me. Second, I wasn’t very good at convincing people. So, obviously, customer service is not a field where I want to go. But I decide to be tactful.

Me: “I don’t know. I doubt that I have talent for that.”

Agent: “Well, I thought, you have a university degree, so you won’t let people talk you down easily.”

Me: *Short silence* “No, I’m actually not very good at that.”

So, having a degree automatically makes me steadfast and convincing?

“Just Go Get A Job,” They Say

, , , , | Working | May 18, 2021

During eighteen months of unemployment, I try to figure out new ways to increase my chances. I get a lot of generic advice from people around me, like, “Look beyond the qualification list!” and “Try every possibility!’” and “Why don’t you just do [something that doesn’t make money at all]?” You get it. Getting desperate, I try some of this advice after all, only to find out that they are completely useless.

One piece of advice I see on several websites and hear from several people is, “Making a phone call still is the best way!” This seems a bit outdated to me, but it also isn’t a good combination with my shy personality and autism. At some point, I decide to try it anyway. In the case of a few vacancies, I try to call the person who is mentioned as a contact for questions. The problem is that I am not very good at finding real questions about the jobs, so the phone calls feel forced. After some time, I realise it isn’t working and I quit making forced phone calls in the hope of making more personal contact.

There is, however, one very interesting case. I call the contact person for a vacancy at a museum.

Me: “Good afternoon, this is [My Name]. I want to ask you some questions about the vacancy for [job].”

Contact: *Somewhat mockingly* “Really? That’s a bit strange. The text is quite clear.”

Me: “Well, I still have some questions. For instance, it’s a bit vague on salary. It says—”

Contact: “Right, hang on. For questions like that, you’d better contact our financial department.” *Gives contact information* “Anything else?”

Me: “Ehm… No.”

Contact: “Okay. Goodbye, then.”

Me: “Yes, goodbye.”

I felt baffled. Why is there a phone number for questions if you don’t want to answer them in the first place? At least I learned two things from this phone call. First of all, I need to have real spontaneous questions instead of calling in for the sake of contact. Secondly, I learned that I didn’t want to work at a place where a stranger is treated so rudely. I became unemployed after years of working for a rude, ungrateful man-child, and I was not about to make the same mistake again.

So, to some extent, the phone call served its purpose after all. I came into personal contact with the people there and might have dodged a bullet by doing that.

Selling Themselves Short — Or Not At All

, , , , | Working | May 18, 2021

While job-hunting, I read about many kinds of vacancies. There are a few things that make me critical about them. Many of them seem deliberately vague about the salary, for instance, by calling it “in line with the market,” as if that means anything. They don’t realise that this makes them seem unreliable.

Others try to overcome their fear of not being professional enough by using typical poor buzzwords like “early adapter,” “career tiger,” etcetera. They don’t realise that a good professional doesn’t need this over-the-top language.

The worst offenders, however, are the ones that try to be cool and hip in the hopes of attracting young people. They do this by describing the job in a very joking fashion in the hope of making their workplace seem funny and exciting. In the end, they make themselves come over as some kind of David Brent; i.e. someone who desperately tries to be funny in order to hide their lack of professionalism, while actually coming off more unprofessional.

One of these I will never forget. It started with a typical, “What you are going to tell about your job when you’re at a party?” as if I am not capable of deciding what I tell myself, followed by, “What your job is actually going to be.” Right… And of course, there was a description of the typical workday, filled with clichés like, “In the morning, you join the team for a talk about today’s business, while enjoying a great cappuccino!”

This was followed by a list titled, “What do we offer you?

– Every week a Friday afternoon drink

– In December there’s Ugly Xmas Sweater Day!

– A salary – not too unimportant, either!”

There was more, but I stopped reading. While a Friday afternoon drink is nice, it’s not a reason for me to apply or not, let alone an Ugly Xmas Sweater Day. I decide based upon hours, distance, required qualifications, and… salary! It’s bad enough that you put salary after two quite unnecessary items. But if you’re not mentioning any amount and try to hide that behind a weak joke, you seem worse than a little bit unprofessional. It makes you seem unreliable. Good luck finding someone who is unwise enough to fall for it.

Pulled That Cake Out Of The Oven Way Too Early

, , , , | Working | May 7, 2021

I work as a decorator at a bakery. It isn’t a chain place but it turns out to be a great place to exercise my decorating skills. Eventually, I plan to go back to school for more advanced decorating classes. I have been helping my boss interview for my replacement.

The candidates are two ladies around twenty-five and an older woman. The two younger ladies are lovely and make a really good impression, while the older lady acts really arrogant. At the end of the interview, she seems to be convinced that she has already gotten the job. My boss, sensing the same vibes, makes it very clear that no decisions will be made right away.

A few days later, before the boss man has made a decision about who to hire, the older woman calls back. She manages to speak to one of my coworkers, who was not part of the interview process. 

Coworker: “Hello?”

Older Woman: “Hi! I’m phoning to talk to your boss. He hired me a few days ago and I want to know when he wants me to come in.”

Coworker: *Oblivious* “Well, he’s not here right now. I’ll take a message so he can call you back.”

Older Woman: “Okay!”

[Boss] comes in, gets the message, and tells [Coworker] that he hasn’t hired anyone yet. [Older Woman] phones back before [Boss] gets a chance to call her.

Boss: “I’m sorry for the confusion, but you have only been in for an interview—”

Older Woman: *Interrupting* “Oh, no, I’m not confused at all. You hired me. Just tell me my starting date.”

Boss: “There is no starting date yet. I haven’t decided to hire anyone yet.”

Older Woman: “Don’t you remember me? I was here with my fiancée and you hired me.”

Boss: “Um, no, I didn’t.”

Older Woman: “Yes, you did. You shook my hand and told me that you would call me with my starting date, but you seem to have forgotten. Just tell me when to come in on my first day of work.”

Boss: “Ma’am, no one has been hired yet. Not you and not any of the other candidates. You’ve only had an interview. You still have to demonstrate your decorating abilities before you can even be considered for hiring.”

[Older Woman] gets very irate and hangs up. The boss puts NAGF (Not A Good Fit) in red ink on the woman’s resume and puts it away.

Later in the day, the woman’s fiancé calls. He’s basically screaming with rage, and it takes [Boss] a bit to get the guy calmed down enough to even understand who the heck he is and why he’s so peeved.

Fiancé: “You know you can’t do that, right?! You know it’s bad business practice to tell someone they’re hired and then not hire them!”

Boss: “No one has been hired. Your fiancé hasn’t gotten far enough in the hiring process to join the team yet.”

Fiancé: “Oh, I get it! You’re discriminating against her! You know it’s illegal to refuse to hire someone based on age! Let me lay it out for you: either you hold up your end of the bargain and tell my fiancé what her starting date is or we’re going straight to the labor board to report you!”

Boss: *Coldly* “You go ahead and try that.”

He hung up on the fiancé. Nothing came of their threats, and in the end, we hired both of the younger ladies, who passed the decorating tests with flying colors. I went back to school feeling glad that we had made the right choices for the bakery.

What A Load Of Bull

, , , , , | Working | May 6, 2021

I’m a biologist at a small startup biotech company, small enough that we don’t have a human resources department, only an HR consultant who shows up once a week. As such, in addition to our regular jobs, the scientists are in charge of reading resumes, interviewing candidates, etc. Frankly, it’s kind of a fun break from our lab work, and it’s helpful for us to have a hand in identifying the candidates who would be easiest to work with.

My lab work involves the cryopreservation of an experimental vaccine, which means finding ways to keep it stable at extremely cold temperatures. (No, it’s not one of the vaccines for the current health crisis.)

One of my colleagues has just finished interviewing a candidate for a Research Associate — entry-level — position. It’s my turn to interview him next, even though the candidate wouldn’t be working in my department. My colleague smiles at me in the hall and hands me his information.

Colleague: “This will be interesting.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Colleague: “You’ll see.”

I enter the interview room. The candidate is a typical guy just out of college, wearing a nice suit, and he has the most smug look on his face I’ve ever seen. I introduce myself, tell him a little about my department’s goal of cryopreserving a particular vaccine, and start to ask questions about his experience. After a while, he interrupts himself.

Candidate: “By the way, I know how to solve your problem.”

Me: “What problem?”

Candidate: “Cryopreservation.”

This is essentially the primary research goal of my whole department, so I’m curious to hear what someone who just walked in our doors might think is the way to “solve our problem.”

Candidate: “Bull semen.”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Candidate: “Bull semen. It helps with cryopreservation.”

Me: “Are you saying… we should add bull semen to our vaccine?”

Candidate: “Yup!”

He sits back, smiles, and crosses his hands behind his head, and then he says something I’ll never forget.

Candidate: “But I’m not going to give you all my good ideas today. First, you have to hire me.”

I was somehow able to keep a straight face through the rest of the interview. Discussing it with colleagues later, we concluded that he must have Googled “cryopreservation” before arriving and read that cryopreservation is often used in the cattle industry with bull semen. He then decided that this tangentially related thing he just learned must be the solution to our problems and that he could use this as a bargaining chip to get hired.

We did not hire him. And we did not add bull semen to our vaccine. But “I’m not going to give you all my good ideas today” became an inside joke around the lab for a while.