14 July 2006

Call Centre Hell

Today stared with a surprise call from E.ON - could this finally be the feedback that I was after? I fumbled around to set up my audio recording equipment, only to find that it was only Helen Weaver (the woman who had written to me initially). She said that she had finally got permission to give me the mobile phone number of Andy Chamberlain, the man who had actually interviewed me almost two-and-a-half weeks ago.

I called him around lunchtime to be told that he was 'driving without hands free' and couldn't have a long conversation. He asked me to call him back in the morning of Monday 17 July when he would definitely be able to give me my feedback. At least I finally had a clear answer out of them, this feedback sure better live up to the expectation.

I began to get ready for my interviews. At 13:20 Belinda from Endeva Advertising called to check that I was still set for the interview. This was the second time she had called to check up on me - she must be very well organised. I was secretly beginning to look forward to working with her if I was successful.

But first I had to get through my visit to Unicom, which I was most definitely not looking forward to. It was a really hot day; I walked through town in my new red shirt and black trousers (smart clothes) in the blazing sunshine. The office was on Friar Lane, just off Old Market Square. I couldn't remember the exact address so I spent around 10 minutes walking up and down, looking at intercom buttons and signs above doors.

It was then that I began to notice all the employment agencies on that road, there must have been at least six within a stone's throw - god they were everywhere! Thorn Baker, DK Associates, Premiere People, Harper Recruitment etc

It was so strange that I had never noticed them before, but suddenly they were everywhere I looked - what a massive industry job seeking must be. Eventually I found Unicom on the Second floor of Vernon House. I rang the intercom and was buzzed in.

As soon as I walked into the office, I was gob-smacked by how horrible it was - it is amazing to think that places like this exist all around the city, above street level, without anybody knowing a thing about it. It was a large open plan space with a series of drab tables in the centre. It was grotty and had the feel of a run down oversized class room. On the tables, all facing towards the centre, sat around 25 young men and women, frantically picking up their receivers, dialling, speaking and putting them down again.

Standing up and pacing about were several older men in shirts and ties over-seeing the operation - like ringmasters in a circus. One was marking a large white board which was attached to the end wall - crossing off 'targets' or some such, while the other moved around casting a watchful eye over proceedings.

Norman Peck was there, but he didn't interview me. He gave me and application form to complete and sat me at a desk at the other side of the room. The form was only two sides, but I really struggled with it. I just could not muster any enthusiasm. After I finally finished, a funny looking mulleted guy called Steve came over and sat in front of me, ready to start the interview. Norman sat behind us at another desk simultaneously interviewing a young boy for the same job.

Steve was a remarkable man, certainly well versed in 'talking the talk'. He explained to me about the work (this was similar to what Norman had told me on the phone) and drew me a diagram of the 'payment structure' - explaining how much I 'could earn' if I made enough appointments. The actual job involved make appointments with people at the business you called, for the field representatives to go out and clinch the deal. If you made an appointment, yet they couldn't clinch it you didn't get paid your commission.

A little way into the interview Steve went for the jugular - he ask me whether I thought I'd be up for it and whether I'd be able to do it. To which I answered, obviously not as convincingly as I could have, 'I'm sure I could give it a go - everyone here seems to be really psyched up and I'm sure I would get into it too'.

At this point my ears drifted over to the conversation going on behind between Norman and the young boy. Norman had pulled a generic letter off the desk in front of us - an offer of employment - and was now completing it ready to present to the young boy. Meanwhile Steve was explaining to me a very different procedure for following up after interviews.

On my application form, in the column dubbed 'For Office Use Only' he wrote the words 'we'll call you' and then said them to me. He then began to awkwardly underline these words over and over like a nervous doodle. As if they would be calling me next week to offer me a job.

He suggested I look at the website in the meantime and gave it a little more thought. He then got up and left. He allowed me to sit at the desk for a few minutes as I read through the Unicom reference file I had been given. During this time I checked the coast was clear and reached forward and snaffled 'the letter' (published above). I got up to leave and went over to Steve to say goodbye. We shook hands and looked each other in the eye, at that point we both knew full well that we would never see or hear from each other again.

I walked from Unicom straight to Endeva Advertising photographing employment agencies as I went. I noticed a large 'Recruiting Now' poster on the side of the new Primark store, opening in September - much too late for me. My interview with Endeva Advertising is recounted in detail in The Cobra Group entry on this blog.

That night I chatted to Joanna on Skype. She had drafted our letter of unionisation, a union logo, website and had bought the URL for the Union of Undercover Artists. We made plans about how to get the letter to Steven and Prime as soon as possible. I would print the PDF and take it to the sorting office to catch the Sunday collection - Steven should have it by Monday morning.