The other day, I asked Rob Delaney a question on Reddit. If you don’t know who Rob Delaney is, he’s a comedian I follow on Twitter. If you don’t know what Twitter is, don’t worry about it. If you don’t know what Reddit is, me neither. As far I’ve been able to tell it’s an unattractive place where information happens.
The question I asked (and one of my favorite things to know about people) is “Worst job you ever had?” It says a lot about you, and it’s almost always a good story. If you don’t have one, we may as well end the conversation now because I am already bored. It’s like my theory about key rings. The more interesting the person, the more keys on the key ring. If you carry only a Mercedes key, I probably can’t be your friend. Unless I need a ride because my Ford Escort is out of commission.
Mr. Delaney’s answer (telemarketing for a stock newspaper) delighted me, because it is essentially my answer to the same question (telemarketing for a family entertainment company). This tells me we’re pretty much soulmates, or maybe Twitter BFFs or, more likely, we had the same experience as any decent human being who has ever worked in telemarketing and we’ll probably never actually bond over it in any way, aside from this blog post. Nevertheless:
The Worst Job I Ever Had (Spoiler Alert: It Was Telemarketing):
Some of these details are hazy because this was more than a decade ago, back when you could still walk to the gate at airports and
steal share songs on Napster with reckless abandon. But I’m pretty sure this entire situation is Darien’s fault and that it was his idea to get a job at a telemarketing company. These are the facts.
- The company sold family entertainment in the form of G-rated movies on VHS. Yes, VHS. It was 2001, and DVD players were finally affordable, but we were expected to sell overpriced VHS tapes, preferably in packages of three because they needed to get rid of the stock before VHS was totally worthless. Which was, like, six months later.
- The pitch for the company was deliberately phrased to make people think it was a non-profit. We asked people to “take a stand” and “show Hollywood that you don’t approve of violence and promiscuity.” By purchasing some VHS tapes. It remains unclear who in “Hollywood” was getting a copy of your receipt, thereby being made aware of your support for traditional family values.
- If people didn’t want to buy the tapes (which could only truly be determined by them saying no at least FIVE times), we would ask is there anyone else you think would support our fight for family entertainment, and could you please give us their name and phone number, thank you very much. Then we’d sell them out to their friends and relatives by saying “Aunt Marge said you’d be interested…” It was all very McCarthy-esque.
- We weren’t even allowed to make the pitch ourselves. We’d start by asking for the person whose name appeared on our list. When we got the right person on the phone, we’d switch over to a recorded voice. Which was disconcerting, to say the least, since the woman’s voice sounded absolutely nothing like me. The recording was actually controlled by keystrokes - each letter corresponded to a phrase or word. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. There were even interjections, like “uh huh” and “I’m sorry.” And there was a laughter button. So it was just like having a conversation with a real human being, except the real human being was reading a complicated list of keyboard commands while trying to listen to your list of reasons you couldn’t buy any VHS tapes. This whole setup was meant to capitalize on the fact that the recorded voices were the two best salespeople in the company, and obviously the sound of their voice was the key to their success. In reality, the recordings led to some uncomfortable moments when a person would say “We’ve just got a lot of medical bills right now. My husband has cancer.” And Darien would inadvertently respond with “That’s great! Yeah. You know what? I’m sorry. (Cue laughter)” You think I am kidding.
- Sometimes, okay a lot of times, there weren’t any buttons for the direction the sales pitch would suddenly take. In the middle of a recording explaining the plot of Franklin and the Green Knight (Franklin the turtle goes on a quest to end winter because he’s told he’s going to get a baby brother in the spring), an elderly gentleman interrupted with “Why would I need a green knight when I have the White Knight? The White Knight of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Cue silence.)
- My favorite button was the response for the inevitable question, “Is this a recording?” Any time someone asked this, we pressed a key and the creepy salesperson voice would say “Ha ha ha. Do I sound that bad?”
- On my third day of telemarketing, I was given a certificate that read “A Star on Your Forehead!” for exceeding the sales goals of the day. No recognition has ever shamed me more than that piece of paper.
- On my fourth day of telemarketing, an elderly woman told me she didn’t even own a VCR, and she lived on her Social Security, which was never enough, but she wanted to give us some money anyway because she supported our cause. I disconnected the phone call and quit.
When I say this is the worst job I ever had, I don’t say it lightly. I took political surveys over the phone. I worked fast food. I was a bra specialist at Victoria’s Secret (not nearly as sexy as it sounds). I made fried chicken at a deli. I waited tables. I worked at Jesus camp. I was a secret shopper. But telemarketing was the worst job I ever had, because I was selling a worthless product, to people who didn’t want to buy it, by any means necessary. Darien lasted maybe two days longer than I did. And anyone who lasts much longer than that probably starts to die a little inside with every star on their forehead.
For those of you currently experiencing your brief stint as a telemarketer: it gets better. You will quit. You will work other crappy jobs, but none as bad. And you will never be the boring person at the party with no keys on your key chain and no work experience you intentionally omit from your resume. Let’s be friends.