Thursday, June 22, 2006

Call Centre Hell

On Tuesday I got a text from one of the many agencies I am signed up with. It read ‘Inbound Call centre, £6.50p/h’. I have always specifically said I do not want to work in a call centre. I imagine them to be pretty decent simulacrums of hell. But the thing is, the BG household funds are perilously low. So I phoned the agency who told me where and when the interview was. Where was the interview? A 40 minute bus ride away that’s where. Worse and worse. So, yesterday morning I tog myself up some smart office-y clothes, and trot off to the interview.

I turn up at the company (let’s call it Kwik Kall) in plenty of time. Kwik Kall is headquartered in a distant suburb of Bristol in a large pre-fab building on an industrial estate. The building looks new and is smart and clean. There is a toothy American receptionist who directs me to take a seat with the other monkeys. I inspect the other monkeys. The other monkeys are much as I would expect: between 6-10 years younger than me. They are dressed in the synthetic office garb you can buy in Next and H&M which is the un-official uniform of low waged office slaves everywhere. I have always refused to buy it despite being a low-waged office slave and am therefore chicly dressed in red linen trousers, a striped white shirt and a tailored black jacket. I am the only one wearing a jacket. There are two pretty Muslim girls who are clearly friends, they giggle and whisper behind their hands whilst the rest of us covertly eye each other. I fish out a novel from my bag and start reading in order to pass the time.

Eventually a rep from the agency turns up and checks us off on her list. Then ‘Steve’ from the company appears. He’s young enough – early thirties with a fashionable spiky haircut of the type I loathe, although he obviously spends money on it – it suits him. He’s good looking and confident and makes cracks about the England – Sweden match from the night before to put us at our ease. We are herded up to a large room set up with rows of chairs and a projection screen. Steve introduces himself and some of the other staff members. They are all supervisors or managers of varying levels of seniority and Steve himself is the Ops Manager. A short presentation follows during which we are told that Kwik Kall is number 1 in its industry and we are given various statistics to do with sales and growth. The final slide is entitled ‘What Kwik Kall Can do for You’ Apparently we can have unlimited free parking and breakfast with the CEO. Goody Goody Gumdrops. We are told that free parking is one the top things requested by call centre staff. No doubt, but not much good to car-less moi. However it is interesting to see that some research has been done into the needs and desires of their staff. Cynically, this is because call centres have extremely high turnovers of people, as the job is both very stressful and very badly paid.

Once the presentation is over Steve asks us each to stand up and tell the room a little about ourselves and what we’d do if we won the lottery. Most people say they’d buy a house or go on holiday. One boy says he’d get the bank to convert his winnings into £5 notes so he could go and sit on top of a pile of money. A pretty, faintly punk rock girl says she is Swiss and is here to improve her English. When it’s my turn, I stand up and make something up about buying a house in New York. I say I’m from London and don’t mention my age.

Now it’s time for the one on one interviews. I am one of the last to be interviewed and I am led away by rotund, mildly smiling woman whom I judge to be about my own age. She tells me her name is Beth and takes me through the call centre which is a large cavernous room shared with the marketing and IT departments. There are workmen assembling more desks, and I comment that it looks like they are doing a big recruitment drive. Beth agrees but then says the Swindon lot are moving in soon as well. I immediately think of The Office and have to stifle a giggle. We go into a meeting room and Beth flutters about fiddling with the air conditioning and apologising for my long wait. She’s a lot more nervous than I am so I gently put her at ease by making a few mild jokes about interviews. I get a giggle and Beth finally relaxes and sits down. We speed through the interview which is a few very standard questions – where do you see yourself in 5 years time etc. I always answer this one differently depending on the interview. The truth is, I don’t really know. I suppose a somewhat truthful answer would be ‘earning a decent amount of money.’ We shall see. The answer to that question is one of the things I am supposed to work out this year.

Interview over, Beth walks me out and I make my way home. I’m supposed to find out today whether I’ve got the job or not. To be totally honest I would really much rather not have the job as it’s, well, shit. But the BG coffers are in dire need of replenishment and I can go on looking while I’m there.

I didn't get the job, much to my relief. Unfortunately I was a bit too honest in the interview and didn't say I would be able commit to working there forever and ever. I said I could commit to it for about 3 or 4 months and I think dear old Beth cottoned on to the fact that I'm massively overqualified and under interested. Phew. Over-riding sense of having dodged a bullet there. I mean really - commuting out to Warmley every day? For the choice of working 8am-4pm or 12pm-8pm? For £6.50 an hour? I don't fucking think so.
I normally get quite upset when I fail interviews. Especially as until I started looking this time round, I had never failed an interview. This is completely true I'm afraid. So when i first started getting rejection letters it was more upsetting than I expected it to be. But this time? Nah.


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