There are many mundane and horrid jobs about there. Burger flipping at Maccas. Cleaning the toilets in the Valley. Thrusting leaflets onto the unsuspecting public at shopping centres. Serving beverages to wine snobs and drunkards.
Danny, a 4ZZZ announcer, briefly held a job as a telemarketer. He now works in a call centre where he appears to receive endless calls about where to find the nearest brothel. Hannah, a journalism and media student, is on the job hunt at the moment and was somewhat insulted to be offered a job in telesales.
Telesales is one of the many buzzwords that employers use to make telemarketing sound more attractive, like “outbound call centre work”. Just when you think you’ve landed yourself a nice corporate office job, BAM! It’s telemarketing.
I was a telemarketer once. It happened purely by accident and the vile trickery I mentioned above.
A few years ago, I was bored of being the checkout chick at the newsagency and decided to get a real proper office job, like a real proper grown up.
I found a job ad looking for an “appointment setter”. I envisioned the role would involve me sitting in a nice, air-conditioned office, pencilling in luncheons between the business elite. Much nicer than dealing with cranky housewives and their losing Crossword scratch-it tickets and bratty offspring drooling chocolate all over the magazine stands.
It seemed like a glorious challenge to me, as I regarded the professional office world with warped perceptions and anxiety. What can I talk about? Am I allowed to have a personality? Will my creative endeavours to write cynical literature such as this blog post be frowned upon? Will I have to start listening to Coldplay and go to the gym? Will I be cast aside, categorised with drunks, junkies and vagrants?
To my surprise, I was invited to an interview.
I assembled my office best which consisted of a white blouse, a faded black pencil skirt and the sorts of shoes middle-aged women buy from the chemist. No idea why I owned them – preparation for situations such as these, I guess. I figured I looked boring enough for the job.
It was confusing from the start. I made my way to an address in Dutton Park, thinking this was the site of my prospective new workplace. It was a Centre for the Deaf, which proved to be pretty damn ironic later on.
A bored-looking woman ushered me into a spare office. I thought she was the boss. She wasn’t – she was from a recruitment agency, which was odd because I hadn’t applied through one. The interview was unmemorable – it consisted of bullshit questions and my own bullshit answers. The only thing I clearly remember was the interviewer repeatedly mentioning “There’ll be no cold calling.”
Er, of course there won’t be. People are ringing me to book appointments… right?
My bullshit must have been particularly fragrant that day because I scored a trial shift. It was all happening! Soon I’d be able to do all those important and exciting things office people do, like fill the pages of one-day-a-page leather bound diaries with fancy gold pens.
I caught a bus to the second mysterious address at West End on a Monday morning and approached the cold, marble altar of reception just a bit before 8 o’clock
“Oh, over there,” the receptionist said, pointing to a little grey office around the corner.
I spotted two other nervous-looking girls and assumed they were on the same ride to entry-level office stardom.
Then the boss arrived. My anxieties about professionalism vanished. She wore a short-sleeved shirt with several Chinese symbols tattooed on her arms and spoke in a piercing nasal bark.
I diligently paid attention as she told us about the company and gave us a tour of the office. I may have even taken notes. It sounded impressive – a telecommunications wholesaler for small businesses, providing phones, modems and faxes (we’re talking pre-Facebook days here, people). And we’d get paid a bonus if we booked more than a certain number of appointments.
But suddenly it was morning tea time. I wandered over to a nearby cafe and nibbled on a brownie. It was delicious and the highlight of that ridiculous day. When I came back to the office, one of the girls seemed distressed. I asked if she was okay. She pointed to a man bustling around the office.
“He said there was a bit of fluff on me, and brushed his hand down my arse!” she whispered, horrified.
Yuck! I made a mental note to stay away from that guy and ignore any practical advice he may give on my personal grooming.
The second part of the training began. We were shown how to access the company e-mail account and how to use the headsets on the phones.
“We’ve got phone numbers of all the small businesses in town on this database,” said the boss. “And here is your script…”
Script? Phone number database? I still wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but went along with it anyway.
“Hello, this is Ellie from Com-u-Tel*. Are you interested in our telecommunications package for your small business? We’ve got a great deal on phones!”
After a few bemused replies of “Sorry, we’re not interested” it finally hit me. I was telemarketing!
I put down the headset and mumbled something about going for a cigarette, even though I don’t smoke.
Telemarketing! They sure fooled me. Appointment setting, eh? No cold calling? Damn you to hell, you lying recruitment agency she-demon! And using telephones to sell telephones – genius in its pure evil. It was a scam! They knew it was a scam! I had been scammed! I’d become what my parents hated, especially around dinnertime! But it was a high-paying job in an office, away from the dings and beeps of cash registers. The only little obstacle was that this job revolved around annoying the shit out of people and selling off bits of my soul until there’d be nothing left of me but a cyborg in a pencil skirt. Oh god! My head spun as ethics and self-loathing exploded in my brain.
I rang my then-boyfriend in tears.
“It’s… it’s… telemarketing!” I sobbed.
He was as horrified as I was, like I had somehow got roped into being a dung-shovelling child murderer.
“Well, do you want to be a telemarketer?” he asked.
“You should quit.”
I marched back into the office, watching the other girls sigh despondently at another rejection.
This could be your life! screamed a voice in my head which suspiciously sounded like Mike Munroe presenting an evil version of This is Your Life.
“Sorry,” I said to the boss. “This isn’t for me.”
I looked at the clock as I walked out. 12pm. For 4 confusing hours, I had been a telemarketer without even knowing it.
I sucked it up and got a job at another newsagency, before moving into the glamorous world of barwenching. I am actually looking for a “real job” nowadays. Something writing or communications-related (not telecommunications though). So if you’re impressed by my tale of telemarketing terror (or just feel sorry for me) and want me to write for you, let me know.
* Name changed