The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Employment agency’

THE SWEAT SHOP (PART THREE)

Allow me to introduce John Morse.  He was the owner of our employment agency.  He had pulled himself up by his bootstraps.  Mr. Morse rarely came in the office because he was now working on mergers and acquisitions and had turned over the day to day operations to his son Ray.  But when he did come in it was because he was displeased with either his son or his son’s staff’s performance – and ultimately that filtered down to us.

It was my fourth week with the agency when Mr. Morse made his first arrival.  He was in time for the morning degradation.  That day I got to be one of the degraded.  So after Bill Richards had chastised us in his usual manner, Mr. Morse took over the reins.  Mr. Richards was a pussycat by comparison to the rant that ensued.

I can’t say that my home environment was puritanical, but I don’t recall ever hearing my parents swear – and they taught me in that way as well.  Obviously, Mr. Morse’s background was different

As he began his diatribe I discovered that he would have been unable to speak had it not been for the word f*ck – in all its multiple forms.  The word appeared in every sentence he spoke – often a few times in the same sentence.  I figured he liked that word – a lot.

I didn’t like Mr. Morse very much.  What was worse – he scared me.

Apparently the reason for this visit was that Mr. Morse was not happy about the productivity of the firm’s employment counselors.  We were collectively behind on the amount of business that he had set forth in his business plan.  According to Mr. Morse, “We were low life f*cking scum and he was there to kick our asses.”  On hearing that statement I involuntarily put my hand on mine to guard it from his abuse.

Well, the rant ended after about ten minutes.  I’m still not sure if I breathed at all while it was going on.  I was too startled.  This was my introduction to what I presumed was the real world of business – and I thought to myself, “What in the name of all that is holy are you doing here?”

My employment agency was one of the largest in Chicago with over seventy personnel consultants.  To our minds large generally implies good.  So I couldn’t help thinking, “If this is the way that a good agency is run, what must it be like to work at a bad one?”  That thought also frightened me.

Well, as I’ve said earlier in this series, I was young and foolish.  After the rant ended I thought about how my father conducted his business and how he respected his employees.  The contrast between these two management styles was cosmic.

On the one hand you had a tyrant – on the other a compassionate soul.  I decided, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, I would try to emulate dad rather than Mr. Morse if I ever owned my own business.

I didn’t make any placements that week but I had a few things going which I hoped might close the following one.  I have to admit to a bit of childish confliction as I realized that three quarters of the revenue I would generate would go to Mr. Morse.

But then I thought that I was doing this to help people improve their careers – and I was doing this to make a living.  As I focused on those two things it made it all seem okay to me.  Well, at least it made it seem better.

About ten years later I had established my own firm and we were doing well.  I heard from one of my colleagues in the industry that Mr. Morse had died.  As he put it, “No one other than some of his immediate family came to the funeral.”

I didn’t like Mr. Morse.  But I felt sorry for him when I heard that.  What a sad and lonely way to live – and die.

THE SWEAT SHOP (PART TWO)

It was my second Friday at the employment agency.  Just before quitting time the head of the Administration Division came around and handed me my paycheck for the previous week.  I was ecstatic.  The check was for the net amount of $63.45.  I would deposit it the following day in my checking account, nearly doubling my balance.

I decided I would cash a small check, perhaps fifteen dollars to get me through the week to my next paycheck.  Let’s see, $3.50 for bus fare and $11.50 for food and everything else.  That would work.  One of the local supermarkets was running a special on Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup at ten cents a can.  I ate a lot of tomato soup in those days.  The soup was affordable.  It was the Saltines that put a bit of a crimp in my budget.

Together with my check Bill Richards, the Admin boss handed me a booklet.  It had been put together by the State of Illinois Department of Registration and Education.  Apparently the state regulated the industry of finding people jobs – and I would be required to take a test to make sure that I understood the rules.  This would cost me twenty dollars – nearly a third of my take home pay.  But if I were to continue with my firm beyond thirty days, I had no choice.

I read through the material on the bus on my way home.  (It was a small booklet).  And I took the practice exam.  Other than one question which covered the Illinois Statute which allowed the department to regulate those in my new industry, anyone with a third grade education and a little common sense could easily have passed this exam.  The passing grade was 70%.

I wasn’t concerned about being able to pass the test.  I was a little miffed at the cost of doing so.  At the time, as I understood it, the generally accepted amount to bribe an Illinois Inspector for the DMV so that a person would get a passing grade on the actual driving test behind the wheel of a car was only two dollars.

But I rationalized, this was an investment in a career – not just the ability legally to sit behind the wheel of a vehicle wreaking who knows what damage on fellow motorists and unsuspecting pedestrians.  So I spent the money and became a “licensed personnel consultant”.

Week three was the week I made my first placement.  She was a young Filipino lady who had several years of experience in general accounting with a lumber company in her home land.  The fee came to $420 and I was entitled, as my commission, to a whopping 22% of that amount.  This would cover my draw for a week.

Of course, that commission would only be paid after my firm had received the check and after the 30 day guarantee we offered had expired.  Naturally,  by that time I would have accrued many more weeks of draw so I would never see a dime of the commission.  It was obvious to me that I needed to pick up the pace if I were ever to get beyond my minimum wage.

I also discovered that the best time to recruit new applicants was at night when they could speak freely from home.  Most of the recruiters set aside two or three nights a week to do just that.  And although the agency allowed us to work late, they didn’t pay us for the time we spent beyond our official hours.  But it was the only way to succeed at the business.

This created a bit of a conflict with my home schedule.  My Irish Setter, Finney needed to be walked and fed.  So to accommodate him I left the office exactly at five o’clock, grabbed the bus home which took about thirty minutes.  Then I took Finney out and gave him his supper.  Then I drove back to the office which only took me fifteen minutes.

By the time I returned it was about six thirty and the meters no longer had to be fed so I could find a spot on the street to park.  Then I would work until about nine thirty calling new applicants and confirming interviews for the next day with people whom I had arranged to be “Sent Out”.

I began to develop a nice backlog of people who were either being interviewed or for whom I had scheduled interviews over the next few days.  In fact I even had hopes of hitting “bonus territory”.  The firm would increase my commission to 27% if I were successful in bringing $2000 or more “cash in” during any given month.  That would mean another $21 in commission for my first placement.  And you can buy a lot of cream of tomato soup with that at ten cents a can.

One of the fellows I recruited was working for Arthur Andersen on their audit staff.  Having a candidate from AA was like having a line of credit at Continental Bank – as good as gold.  Of course, that was before Continental Bank went bankrupt and Arthur Andersen went out of business.  This applicant was the crème de la crème of accountants – and we had a job opening which he both fit and in which he was interested.

It was protocol that the person who had listed a position be the contact between our agency and the firm that was doing the hiring.  So I had to present my applicant to Manny Carver, the guy who had secured the job listing.  That put me back just a moment.

Manny was a little gruff and somewhat rough around the edges, befitting his background as a man who had served a number of years in jail for armed robbery.  Apparently the State of Illinois didn’t care so much about your felony record as they did about being able to pass their exam and pay them the twenty dollars.

Since most of our positions were listed with multiple employment agencies, time was always of the essence.  We had a lot of competition.  So the first thing after our “morning meeting” (my numbers were all white so I didn’t have to stand up that day and be humiliated), I went over to Manny with my applicant’s information and the Job Order that Manny had secured.

I started to tell Manny about him.  He looked at me with the look of a man who was sizing up a store for a heist.  Then he interrupted me and used his favorite expression, “Look, let’s get the BS out of the business.  Can this turkey do the job?”  Manny used the elongated form of BS in employing this sentence.

I said, “Yes he can.”

“Alright,” Manny said.  “Leave his card with me and I’ll pitch him.  When can he go?”

As it happened my applicant got the job.  I was happy for him because it was a great career move with a lot of opportunity.  And I admit to being bedazzled as I calculated my 22% (perhaps 27%) commission of the $1,020 fee.

The best part of the story is that this applicant and I hit it off on a personal level.  When I started my executive search firm four years later he became one of my firm’s best clients.  We maintained that business relationship for over twenty years and our personal relationship until today.

THE SWEAT SHOP (PART ONE)

One summer while in college I decided to stay in Chicago rather than go back to the Big Apple.  I was looking for a job to pay my way for the next quarter in school and happened upon an ad in The Chicago Tribune.  I called, made an appointment for an interview and was delighted that I was hired.

I would be working as a counselor in an employment agency – working on commission finding people jobs.  I liked the idea that my earnings were only limited by my ability – and I liked the idea that I would be helping people.  I was also overly impressed with myself that on my first job interview I had been selected.  I was young and foolish.

So the next Monday I showed up bright and early, eager to begin my new career – only to discover that I was one of ten people the firm had hired.  Apparently, breathing and being able to dial a telephone were the primary requirements for employment.  But undaunted, I listened to the man who was in charge of training give his stimulating introductory message.

He pointed to an extensive series of filing cabinets and said, “Those are the dead files.  Those people were contacted in the past and were looking for jobs.  Call them up and find out if any of them are still looking.  Now get to work.”

I was a little dazzled at the brevity of the introduction to the business and I felt an emptiness inside my stomach as I, together with my other nine colleagues proceeded to march over to the “dead files” and begin our work.

The firm placed people in three categories.  The first, the one to which I had been assigned, was called “Administration.”  Our focus was on accounting personnel.  Then there was a Technical Division which dealt with engineers and finally, a Computer Division, dealing with people who were in IT – although that acronym had not yet been invented.  We were still at a stage where punch cards were state of the art.

So I took my very large pile of former applicants to my assigned desk where I introduced myself to the other three people who occupied our group of four desks.  None of them seemed too impressed to meet me.

I began reviewing the applications to get some sense of the person’s background and buying time to consider what I would say to them that would sound half-way intelligent and professional.  I thought I would listen to my three more experienced co-workers to hear their presentations.  But as I was doing that, the training manager came by and instructed me to get to work with the words, “Get on the phone.  We’re not paying you to do nothing.”  (I should add that I was on minimum wage draw versus my commissions).

So I got on the phone and called the first twenty applicants.  None of them was interested in making a job change.  Of course, the fact that I had called them at work and they might not have had the privacy to discuss their true feelings might have been the reason for their responses.

Well, as the week went on I got a little smoother in my presentation and more comfortable asking total strangers if I could change their lives.  Of course, I hadn’t earned a cent beyond my minimum wage draw which I would receive the following Friday but I felt I was making progress.  My desk mates actually talked to me – a little.   That ended my first week.

On Monday I went back to work – only to discover that seven of my classmates who had started the previous week had quit.  The three of us remaining had the opportunity to watch the “training manager” introduce the business to a brand new class of recruits.

During week two I realized that the agency had added a new requirement to my responsibilities – as I was now thoroughly grounded in the business.  I had a daily responsibility both to arrange three interviews (we called them “Send Outs”) and to pick up two new jobs (Job Orders) on which my fellow recruiters in administration and I could work.

There were three large boards on the wall, one for each division and all of our names were there.  The boards contained columns labeled SO JO (daily) SO JO (cumulative monthly) and Placements (the amount of money that a recruiter had been able to bill that month for putting people to work).

My discovery this second week was that the boards were updated daily.  If you had made your quota for the day in one of the categories your number was posted with a white plastic number.  If you were behind for the day, the color of the plastic was red.  The same applied to the cumulative monthly figures.

If it happened that you were behind in any category (that is to say posted in red) your day started with the manager of the division telling you to rise and would deliver a brief oration explaining that, “You are worthless and can be replaced at the drop of a hat.”  This was called motivation.  It motivated a lot of the recruiters.

I learned that rather than experience the humiliation of being the subject of the morning meeting a lot of the recruiters fabricated either the “send outs” or “job orders” they had picked up the previous day, hoping to make up for them the next day.  This is called “betting on the come.”

Well, I learned to steel myself for the morning shellacking on those days when I was behind quota.  I hated it but I realized that it was going to be a brief experience and I would get over it.  I kept my eye on the prize and actually did very well, once I got the hang of it.

My third month I was the top biller for my division and won the monthly “Best In Sales Award”.  This entitled me to having my name posted on a plaque and getting a free pass to the three dollar luncheon buffet at the restaurant in our building.  (It was actually pretty decent).

Although I had accepted the position as a summer job, this experience later caused me to open my own executive search business which occupied twenty-one years of my life.

I ran it a little differently.

Tag Cloud