A Sad Story of Unemployment

Friday February 14 2014
by Meaghan

So I thought finding a job in Wellington would be easy. Feel free to scoff at my naivety at this point - its all downhill from here- "I'm an intelligent1, well-presented2, friendly3 student, with free time on my hands. Who wouldn't want that?" is sort of what I assume I was thinking.

It turns out the answer was  "Everybody". I was spurred on initially by the ads on Trademe that, somewhat suspiciously, didn't care about any lack of experience and promised a summer "outside in the sun" in Wellington, with a "great team of people". The thing that should have really ignited my suspicion, however, was the amount of exclamation marks in the advertisements. Two separate companies, who both saw fit, apparently independently, to put ads up with more than three exclamation marks next to each other should have made me question the sanity of the people working in sales.

Sadly it didn't.

Before I knew it, I was sitting upstairs in a flash office trying to sell the idea that I would be good at sales. Not to spoil the ending; but that was my first and only convincing sale.

A few days later, myself and 3 other girls - all with slightly desperate looks still showing through our best approximations of 'sales make-up' were inducted into the thrilling and dynamic world of being 'human commercials TM'. (As much as I wish I did, I didn't actually make this bit up.)

"It's face to face marketing! We approach people where they are comfortable- in their own homes- and provide them with the opportunity to receive a better deal on their product!! Who wouldn't want that?! Right?! Right guys?!"

I was forced to agree. Obviously, people would be surprised and grateful that the possibility to pay less on their power-bill had quite literally, come knocking. We'd probably be run off our feet making all the calls to confirm that yes, we have made another sale, and by the way, yes we would be going to after-work drinks.

1 Not yet failing
2 Sort of presentable
3 Not TOO socially awkward

My boss was a slick looking ex-poker player who was humiliatingly slightly younger than me, with a taste in suits that emphasized that he was also an ex-footballer with 'buns of steel'. (he had a sales move which basically involved turning his back on people which he claimed confused them and made them more likely to change power companies, but I'm pretty sure what it really did was dazzle old women with his glutes...)

We all had to practice sales in the morning in pairs. I sort of realized it was going wrong when I would get past the introduction and then find nothing else in my brain to say that wasn't either confused ('um, so I-we're looking for people who we can change, I mean sell , I mean... um, are you the person who pays the bills?') vaguely aggressive, ('we're looking for people who qualify, run and get me a power bill! Now!'), inane ('nice shoes') Or far too honest ('Hi. Yes, I do hate my job as much as it looks like I do. Please buy my stuff anyway. Also don't hurt me. )

After what may have been a few years, or possibly just half an hour, my boss was foolishly confident enough that we would be able to go out and do some sales with them. The first day we trailed over to Lower Hutt and drove round a confusing profusion of back streets which I realized with a sinking heart that I would never find my way out of by myself. I cursed myself for not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs or at least bringing my running shoes.

(I also spotted the dingy flat over a pet store where I once stayed the weekend and experienced my first ever bacon and eggs in an oven tray breakfast, on a shirt-dried plate, but that's a completely different tale of social awkwardness.)

My boss bounced enthusiastically out of the car and I tripped over myself and out onto the pavement in what I hoped merely looked like a paroxysm of extreme enthusiasm. For the rest of the day I trailed his bouncy, butt-shaping stride round Lower Hutt and knocked what I thought must have been all the doors in a 5 kilometre radius, but turned out to be just the doors of all the angriest people in a 5 kilometre radius. In an attempt to relieve the tediousness of standing behind him at every door with nothing more to do than try my best to NOT look like a serial killer (The more you think about it, the harder it seems to get) I asked if I could 'pitch' a few. He was delighted with what he perceived to be keenness to get to the customers and a 'good sales attitude' and let me do the talking. At least up 'til the point at which it became clear that while I could introduce myself, I was slightly worse at introducing the subject of cut price electricity. From there on it was all a bit of a steep, steep, blurry downhill.

For a short while they were still all delusional that I might actually have some ability to sell things. This was based mainly on the fact that they hadn't actually raised the bar beyond requiring me to talk to people without running away or urinating on myself. Possibly at the same time. Around this time, to prove that they were serious, I was invited to a 'pre-management meeting'. This mainly consisted of them explaining the power structure organization of the company. I kind of tuned out at this point, but from what I gathered, the aim was to spawn as many miniature sales companies as possible, employing hundreds of thousands of henchmen salespeople in a herculean effort to cover the globe with tiny (but dynamic!) minion sales teams so that no door would ever go un-knocked and evil would once again reign..... Or something along those lines.

"So." said my boss.
"Pardon?" I replied. I was busy imaging the eventual sales apocalypse.
"So." Clearly he wasn't listening, "if you look at the structure of ACME*, what does it look like to you?"
"Uh. A pyramid?"
"Exactly! But its not. It's really not a pyramid scheme."
"Okay, why?"
"I know it looks like a pyramid scheme, but it's not."
"That doesn't really explain anything."
"It's not a pyramid scheme, okay."

It was definitely a pyramid scheme.

Some time passed. Years possibly. For simplicity, I have included selected excerpts from my diary.

Day 3: Freezing cold. Doors knocked on: 80, rejections: 60. Fifty cent mixtures: 2. Sales: none.
Day 5: Freezing cold. Number of jackets forgotten: 1. Rejections :73. Dog bites: 1. Sales: none.
Day 6: Boiling hot. Sweat stained shirts: 1. Numbers of bus shelters hidden in to avoid work: 2. Sales: almost one.
Day 8: Boiling hot. Number of times wished to faint in order to get a free ambulance ride back to Wellington: 3. Actual faints: zero. Number of people I have pissed off: At least 4. (On the plus side, dog bites: none) Sales: also none. Rejections: too many to count.

By this point, the only thing that kept me shuffling , zombie-like between people's houses was the tantalizing vision of walking into the boss's office, tearing off my sweaty grey shirt with its weirdly jaunty logo, tossing it on his desk and striding off majestically into the night. (Yes, with somewhat less clothes than socially and legally acceptable, but you can't put a price on my dignity, officer...)

*name not really changed that much at all

The real tragedy, one that continues to haunt me, is that I never managed. I was just composing a pithy quitting speech- something that contained the essence of "screw you" while somehow not actually saying those exact words - when I was called into the bosses office.

"So. It's the end of your 6 day evaluation-"
"Was that really only 6 days?"
"-um, yes. So anyway, how have you liked sales?"
"It's kind of like a slow death, isn't it, really?"
" ..right..."
"Or being mauled by a pack of small dogs. Metaphorically, of course. But sometimes also literally."

There was a long silence.

He took a deep and somewhat pained breath.
"Right, well it's this, and the fact that you haven't actually, um, made any sales that must make you realize that, well frankly, this isn't profitable for you, and it's not profitable for us either..."

I watched the opportunity for a dramatic quit scene whistle past my ears.

"So. If you could just sign here... right where it says termination of contract... that's it, there..."

I signed. And in my head I strode off majestically into the night, unemployed but unbowed.


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