Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004


Jobs: Looking for work left me feeling worked over

By Wilson

Spring-cleaning this year, I noticed that my phonebooks were dusty and out-of-date, depressing in fact (the subway map in the Verizon yellow pages still showed the World Trade Center). And I never did like the Peter Max picture on the cover; his earlier stuff was so much better.

When my new phonebooks arrived, I reviewed/tabulated how much things had changed in the economy since 2001. In the old yellow pages, prostitutes and lawyers ranked second as the two largest “service” advertisers/providers in Manhattan; restaurants/healthcare tied for first. (Though “lawyers” took out 14 more actual pages, “escorts” ran costlier, full-page/color ads). But in the yellow pages I just received, advertising for prostitutes dropped by 50 percent — while lawyers barely changed.

Clearly, certain jobs that totally sucked to begin with had been downsized, while other contemptible services continued to prosper. Yet recent/conflicting reports in the news claim there is plenty of employment to be had in the “service” sector: nursing, grooming, cleaning, fixing things and/or taking care of other people’s detestable, often formerly unnecessary needs.

Apparently, not all of the less-than-desirable jobs (like telemarketing and customer service) were farmed out to India.…

In the year of our Lord 2004 (and Bush/Cheney Inc.), I pity those about to enter the job market. Unless today’s overqualified, human-resourced and debt-ridden graduate makes a killing in law, crime or politics, is able to fly a plane or gets an MD/PhD., they’re doomed. There won’t be any Social Security left for them when they retire due to spiraling life expectancy/life on Mars. And if they don’t work both full and part time, no way they can afford to have a normal/nuclear family.

Some time ago, I learned how painful it was trying to work both full and part time (and there wasn’t the unstable, gas-guzzling, war-time economy we have presently). I had dumbed-down my resume, ruled out establishments with toxic chemicals, food and/or women’s clothing and responded to interesting sounding part-time, help-wanted ads. I thought it would be cool to work at some Downtown gift shop or boutique, a place I myself would want to buy something using an employee discount.

My first interview was ... amazing. I’ll never forget how after the owner asked me to tell her about myself, and I did (for approximately 60 seconds, citing previous retail experience and related sales skills), and she excused herself to help a customer. Upon her return, she scowled at me and said, “You’ve done nothing but talk about yourself. Why should I be interested in you?”

I was stupefied. She so despised my experiences; her inferiority complex/rage was just so... textbook/astounding. You’d think I’d been acting like Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty,” when he was applying for a job at burger joint (asking for the least amount of responsibly/accountability possible, something like that).

Diligently, I stopped by another nearby shop and asked if they knew of “anything,” and in fact they did — it was a brand-new opening, right next door! It was closed that day, but I got the lady’s name and number, called her/had a great exchange, and was scheduled to meet with her later in the week. The next day, I went by to check the place out.

I loved this store, and immediately wanted to work there. It was an artistic, creative, almost romantic environment. The girl working there gave me details on the inventory and the customers, and told me all this neat/cool stuff about the owner. She told me she really liked this shop, that she used to work at another place around the corner, hated it, had an unhappy friend who still worked there...

Just then, a light bulb exploded (figuratively speaking) over her head — and I was practically spirited/ushered out the door. This girl, who should never play poker, was going to try to get her friend my job! I saw it in her eyes the millisecond the idea popped into her pea brain; lo and behold and later that evening, the owner called and canceled the interview, giving a totally lame excuse. In spite of a small amount of disappointment (shock and awe), I spent the rest of the night basking in the fact I had been so perceptive.

Finally, I got an interview at a jewelry store in Soho. Most everything they sold was ugly/cost a fortune, and they were having a Holiday Extravaganza. My first task however, was to meet with their security person in some creepy Midtown office building I could barely find. And they never said a word about a urine test.

I told the guy flat out and in no uncertain terms that my doctor (I even said her name) was the only person who’d ever get my urine. Later, I called the shop owner and gave him the same business — adding that I was for the legalization of marijuana, had done my internship at The Nation magazine, and that I might once have inhaled a non-controlled dangerous substance at an after-hours club (“it was the ’80s!”) — and got the job.

On my first day, I was told that while on duty all salespeople had to share wearing one of four rotating (no-doubt-pus-contaminated) pairs of expensive yet cheap-looking earrings. The shop’s sales literature and printed brochures were as awful/gaudy as the jewelry; there were hardly any customers/I didn’t make one sale; and a blond named Skip, who needed to clip, had an enormous and distracting overgrowth of dark brown nasal hair.

Later that day, they said they wanted me and another unfortunate clerk to go on a five-day trip to a faraway mid-Atlantic state for an arts fair expo near an airport. We were to travel by car and stay in a hotel. I started to get a rash.

Towards the end of my shift, their leading, obese saleswoman with unruly facial hair/whiskers and stubby, unkempt, chewed-upon and cigarette stained fingers, literally threatened to kill me (in a discreet, hushed and face-to-face manner). She didn’t like it when I volunteered to try on a $3,000 ring for a man when he asked to see (but didn’t buy) it. I had been thinking no way would it look good and/or sell on her dirty, pudgy hand.

Nervously, I laughed, “Oh please!” at her, and made believe I wasn’t scared. And when the owner came out from the back office (where there are security/video monitors) and asked me if something bad had just happened, I courageously played down what this grotesque monster had said, and wondered if bad things had happened there before.…

According to the vulgar and dishonest sales literature we had to follow, the jewelry was called “wearable sculpture.” Each piece in the “collection” had a “title.” You were to refer to museums when discussing the “work,” and when customers came in, you were to say “Have you ever been to X’s gallery before?” And their sickening sales tips were more fascinating/educational than anything I ever learned in school:

Schmoozing/Overco-ming Objections: Try to get the customer thinking in terms of owning and enjoying the piece rather than parting with money (never use the word “buy” in the conversation)! Speak in the command form, but in a friendly manner... “Go for it!” “Don’t pass these up, you know you’ll regret it!” “These really work for you!” Never ask the customer a question that would result in a “NO” answer, e.g., “May I help you”? If you get them to think of you as a human being first instead of a salesperson you’re 90 percent there.

The Take-away Line: If the customer says, “I’m just looking,” smile and say, “Well, great! What kinds of things are you looking for?” Think about it for a moment. If the customer isn’t even aware of saying it, or is using it to get rid of you, by “taking the phrase away” from them, they are defenseless. The “take-away” is a terrific tool that should become as much a habit for salespeople as “I’m just looking” is for customers...

Not all customers use “I’m just looking,” but whatever the phrase, you must take it away, verbatim. For example, if the customer says, “I’m just getting ideas,” you’d say, “Terrific! This is a great idea-getting place! or “Well, that’s fun — what type of ideas are you trying to get?” By taking away the customer’s favorite defense, you are taking away their only defense. Why? Because customers never switch phrases. Remember: the phrase is a habit, and habits are hard to break!

The 180-degree Pass-By: At the gallery, a non-confrontational approach is to have something “else” going on when the customers first enters. Rather than walking up to the customer with a neon sign announcing, “Salesperson Coming,” if the customer enters with some hesitation or seems uncomfortable, we sometimes use an approach called the “180 pass-by.”

Instead of walking right up to the customer to begin schmoozing, walk right past them (not at them!) and offer a greeting, “Hello. How are you?” on your way past. Having something in your hand is a plus. Or, go to an adjacent wall case and “adjust” something for a second. The customer perceives that you are “busy” and not breathing down their neck to “sell” them something.

Walk quickly past them — it adds to their perception that you are, in fact, already busy, and lowers their resistance. When you are “done” with your busy mission you can re-approach the customer casually and start things off more comfortably. Remember, the goal is to reduce resistance, get your customer to lighten up and relax and have fun shopping. You’re just being a friendly human being….

Opting not to press charges, I quit the job overnight via eloquently written fax. To date, I am pleased to report that this store has been taking out help-wanted ads on a regular basis ever since. Their horrendous part-time position is still available — there was an ad* for it in a last Sunday’s New York Times.

Ultimately, I sought part-time seasonal work in an ancillary gift shop of a well-known/respected museum. There was a math test, I failed it….

So — Hats Off to The Bright Young Graduates of 2004! Best Wishes and Congratulations From Verizon Yellow Pages — And All Your Local “Service” Providers!

*Beware: Paragon and Strawberry constantly run help-wanted ads, and every week the Village Voice (another large advertiser of prostitute services) runs this really scary sounding ad that says “WACKY” in bold caps.


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