Thursday, 2 December 2010

Too rational for a Restaurant

You may have noticed a bit of a dearth of blog entries lately. If you have, this suggests that you have been checking regularly enough to notice a lack of regular updates. If this is the case, it implies to me that your life has even less going on in it than my own. In which case, kudos to you for not going stark-raving mad. Assuming you haven't. If you have, that's understandable. I probably would.

The reason for my lack of updating is that, during November, I swore I'd take a break from the online activities to concentrate on:

A) Things I'm being paid to do.

B) Finding more things that people will pay me to do.

I'm looking for regular work, essentially. I have several projects on the go that keep me active, but nothing concrete and reliable as of yet. So, as much as I enjoy my cynical waffling, skeptical networking, science satirising etc., I decided to put my virtual procrastination to one side and find some real work.

This provided some interesting results.

One of the things I've found when you apply for work in the scientific/academic fields is that they take quite a while to reply to you, if at all (this may be just me, admittedly). Once an application has been sent, I often find myself in some form of employment quantum superstate, in which I must keep applying for jobs because I don't have one, and must refrain from making too many applications as I might have an interview to worry about soon. If they don't bother telling you, being rejected instantly and being considered for interview feel exactly the same.

But one piece of advice I've been given is that if you're already working you're more likely to get a job than those who have been unemployed for a long period. This seems like a weird system to me, but I'm not in charge, so don't get to do anything about it. So, as a result, I've been applying for more 'mainstream' jobs in and around my local area.

So, I give you the story of why rational thinking meant that I'll never be a marketer

I recently applied for a role in a marketing company in the city centre. I saw the vacancies notice, sent off my CV, and thought no more of it. The ad read like some standard admin role, possibly with some events organising included (which I do definitely have experience in). I didn't have long to not think about it though, as I got a reply within 10 minutes. This struck me as odd, and it said something along the lines of 'can you come for a quick 10-15 minute interview next Monday?' The words 'cattle call' were at the forefront of my mind; this was obviously one of those occasions where they just invite everyone who included enough correctly spelled words on a CV which wasn't written in yellow crayon to turn up, and see if they're suitable face-to-face. Reading just takes time, doesn't it? And as for having to assess information...

I never enjoy this sort of thing, but I had Skeptics in the Pub that evening so needed to be in town anyway, so thought 'why not?'...

Why do I never attempt to answer the question 'why not?' I don't really know anything about marketing companies apart from what my Dad tells me and what I read in Dilbert.

Anyway, I went to the interview, suited and booted, with another copy of my CV as requested (I'd emailed it to them twice already, but I guess they were low on printer ribbons). After filling in a form with all my details which I had already emailed them (printer issues again, I guess) and waiting for about 30 minutes, I was ushered into an office, introduced to a guy who's name I instantly forgot (not deliberately, I'm bizarrely crap with names) and began the interview. It was basically a monologue about the company, how it's expanded 40,000% during the recession (not an exaggeration, that's what he said, which suggests that this company covers a decent fraction of the Earth's surface), how they were desperately looking for people to train up to management level within 6-10 months, as opposed to 3-5 years. It was lucky he had a copy of my CV, as he needed something to doodle rough diagrams on while he spoke, just in case I had trouble understanding what was being said. I'd have brought him a load of scrap paper if I'd known in advance that's what they wanted to do.

[by the way, it may seem like I'm being quite condescending towards the company and people involved, as if I'm some sort of superior being with my doctorate, mocking the intellectual proles who have to make a living in the commercial sector. I assure you that is not the case, my scorn is undeniably deserved, as will become clear]

He asked how I felt about the company and position they were offering. I felt 'OK', seeing as I was still unsure what they were on about. Asked how soon I could come back for a second interview/observation day, to 'see how the company operates and were you'd fit in', I told them the following week, already having prior commitments for the rest of that week. Apparently, this was too long, they were looking to hire people right away. I conceded this and apologised for wasting their time, and left.

When I got home, there was an email waiting for me, telling me that they had been very impressed with my interview and wanted to invite me to an observation day in 2 days time. This was followed by another email saying that they had rearranged the day to the following Monday in order to suit my schedule, but would be unable to change it again. Not bad for a 20 minute walk, I thought.

I was reluctant to go spend an entire day at this weird company, but as my wife said, "what have I got to lose?"

I really need to stop assuming questions like this are rhetorical.

The email explained that the day would be spent shadowing other members of the company as they go about a typical day, so I could learn the ropes, so to speak. I'd been assured that they didn't do cold-calling (something I could never do, I genuinely balk at the thought of it), they only deal with big corporations, and they operate at a number of levels. I assumed this day would be spent travelling round the various offices, seeing what's what and who goes where etc. I was advised to wear comfortable shoes as I'd be on my feet all day, which makes sense.

So, I arrived at the office again, in my suit and shoes. I had to fill in another form (I guess they lost the last one), and was eventually introduced to the manager on duty; Mitch.

Mitch was as Mitch sounds; every cliché of the slick marketing manager you could think of. Custom made suit, highlights, false tan, overbearing bonhomie, a tendency to speak very loudly in corporate jargon. Needless to say, I did not take an instant liking to him. My friend Dave puts it best, when he says you just known Mitch is the sort of guy who uses his own name as a verb. As in "You just got Mitch-slapped!" when he beats someone in a drinking game or pissing contest, or some other meaningless display of macho prowess. Mitch introduced me to the guy who would be showing me around all day, who wasn't objectionable enough to warrant naming here, so let's call him Phil. Mitch said the following.

MITCH: "Hi Dean mate, this is Phil, he'll be showing you around today. The good news is, we're looking to employ 3 people by the end of the day. The bad news is, we already have 15 guys out in the field, so you'll have to pull all the stops out if you want to impress me today"

Unfortunately, I didn't really feel the need to impress Mitch. I'd met him 30 seconds previous, and had already thought of about a dozen ways in which he could meet his untimely demise. Arguably, this is impressive, but I doubt he'd have seen it that way.

So, Phil leads me out of Mitch's office, out of the reception area, toward a nearby bus stop where we're picked up in a car by 3 other marketers, then driven out of Cardiff for a 40 minute journey, and dropped off somewhere. Where? No idea, somewhere I've never been at any rate. Apparently, this is the territory Phil has to cover. And I have to follow him.

Remember when they said they didn't do cold calling? They don't. They do cold-knocking. My observation day was basically following a guy as he went door to door, trying to get complete strangers (in their own homes) to sign up to a different internet provider. I won't say which provider, but it rhymes with 'balk balk' (appropriately enough).

This was unpleasant for many reasons. I hate bothering people, I hate invading the privacy of others, I loathe the whole pressure sales thing, I hate the thought of having to talk about the merits of a major corporation as if I genuinely believe them, I resent wandering around unknown housing estates in winter in the freezing cold for 6 hours (I found out what we were doing and how long we'd spend there once we arrived, of course, they didn't think I needed to know beforehand so didn't have a coat). These were all negatives about the situation as I saw it.

However, this came to a head when, faced with a disabled man in his own home who claimed he hadn't heard of 'Balk balk', Phil says 'you must have, they sponsor the X Factor". Disabled man said he didn't watch that sort of thing. Phil told him he should because 'it's really good'. He then turned to me and said 'isn't it!', expecting confirmation.

As someone who has handled corpses for a living, I can say with certainty that there are many things I'm willing to do for money. Lying to the face of an innocent disabled man in his own home on behalf of Simon Cowell is not one of them. Poor disabled man jumped on this clear break in the ranks and pointed out that I didn't like it, so it must be no good. Phil responded by saying it's worth watching for the early rounds, where they show all the 'mental people' who can't sing, and it's a big laugh.

I'm not a sales expert myself, but even overlooking the major ethical concerns of that view, is bragging about how you like to mock the possibly-handicapped really a good way to win over a disabled person? Disabled person felt the same, and we were eventually ordered to leave his property. Rightly so.

At this point, Phil must have realised that my heart really wasn't in this job which I didn't have and was deceived into doing. He must have assumed it was because I felt it was beneath me (a fair assessment, I feel it's beneath anyone with a conscience). He decides to explain to me why it was a necessary task, through the medium of what he called 'the restaurant story'. Here is the genuine conversation that ensued.

PHIL: You know why everyone has to start at the bottom level, don't you?

ME: I can guess...

PHIL: It's because of the restaurant story.

ME: The restaurant story?

PHIL: OK, so, I own a restaurant.

ME: Really? OK... well done.

PHIL: No, in the story. I own a restaurant.

ME: Ah.

PHIL: I own a restaurant. It's really successful, it makes a million pounds a month.

ME: Wow. You ever think about franchising that out?

PHIL: No, it's just one restaurant, it makes millions.

ME: ...OK Heston, go on.

PHIL: SO, I make so much money, I realise I don't need to work there any more, I decide to go on holiday and hire a manager to run it for me, which is you. I give you the job of manager, how much do you think I'm paying you?

ME: Well, a first time manager, but in a high profit business, I'd guess £30,000 to start off with?

PHIL: No, £100,000!

ME: ...well, if you insist. I must be a good negotiator, yeah?

PHIL: Anyway, I go away on holiday, it's your first day. First thing, one of the kitchen staff comes in and says they can't find the washing powder. What do you do?

ME: Well, look for it I suppose. It'll probably be under the sink, or maybe in one of the stock rooms. Is it delivered in the middle of the day? I mean if it's first thing, we can't have got many dishes yet.

PHIL: ... no. See, thing is, you don't know. You haven't worked in the kitchens, so you don't know where things are.

ME: Well... if I'm managing the place I'd probably have a good look around before I start, I can't just turn up and wing it.

PHIL: Yeah, but, you don't know. And then people are coming in asking you where the washing powder is and the dishes are piling up. There's nothing you could do.

ME: Well, if I'm on £100,000 I'd send someone out to buy some. They could get two lots, I won't mind, I can afford it.

PHIL: No, you can't do that.

ME: Why not?

PHIL: Because you don't do that.

ME: Um...

PHIL: So then later on, a waiter comes in and says a customer has a complaint. What do you do?

ME: Depends, what's the complaint?

PHIL: No, it's just a complaint, it's not about anything.

ME: How can you have a complaint that isn't about something? I don't think you can logically have a generic complaint. Every complaint is about something.

PHIL: Well, this one isn't, what do you do?

ME: I have no idea, this isn't a logical problem.

PHIL: Thing is see, you can't do this job because you haven't done the job where you have to deal with complaints.

ME: Isn't that the manager's job?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME: But I am the manager, aren't I?

PHIL: Yeah.

ME: So I need to be the manager before I can be the manager?

PHIL: Exactly.

ME: Uh...

PHIL: So I come back from holiday and find you've not done the job properly. You've lost me £70,000, you're not experienced enough to be a manager.

ME: Well, I would have tried to tell you that in the interview...

PHIL: So anyway, I fire you, but you say you really need a job, so I agree to put you to work in the kitchens, and then you can work your way back up properly.

ME: So... I've gone from £100,000 manager to minimum wage pot washer in the space of a day?

PHIL: Yeah, because you didn't start at the bottom.

ME: But I have worked as kitchen staff before.

PHIL: Yeah, but not in this restaurant.

ME: So, everyone who's a manager in this restaurant used to wash dishes when they started.

PHIL: Exactly.

ME: So... how did it first start? You can't have a million pound restaurant staffed with just dishwashers.

PHIL: No, well, obviously I didn't start in the kitchens when I set it up.

ME: But you know where the washing powder is?

PHIL: Obviously, I'm the manager.

ME: ...

At this point, I decided that was enough for me, and said I wouldn't want to take the job even if it was offered to me. Phil, meaning well I think, offered to take me through the career path I could take. Turns out, if I did get the job, I would be able earn up to £150 a month! Until I hit my sales quota, at which point my monthly wage would increase by over 150%! Wooo! At one point he even used the dreaded C-word (commission)

Rather than wait until 9pm for the prearranged pick-up (prearranged without my involvement, of course), I decided to make my own way home. After walking randomly for 10 minutes, I remembered that I didn't have any idea where I was in relation to my home. So I had to take several busses, ask direction many times and make my way to the nearest train station, all while wandering in the freezing cold in my stylish but thin suit.

As I was sat on the train coming back, contemplating the wreckage of my potential career, realising that my tendency to apply rational thought and logic was not only off-putting to many people but actually made me less employable overall, and with no hint of opportunities in sight, that's when I finally came to a sudden realisation.

You don't use washing powder to wash dishes, you use washing up liquid! Who the hell uses washing powder to clean pots? This guy insists that he runs a million pound restaurant and he can tell the difference between powder and liquid? Maybe he is Heston Blumenthal?

"Here's the soup of the day, would you like a slice?"


email: humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy


Kelly said...

I wouldn't define what you've posted as being marketing. It used to be, but it ain't like that any more if any organisation is serious about marketing..
(Sorry if that makes me one of the evil people - I work in a marketing dept and am currently studying it.)

Magda said...

First time here. This was an entertaining read =)

Good luck on your job search.

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

Absolutely. Despite the little I know about actual Marketing, I knew this wasn't it. This was too actual marketing what Gillian McKeith is to Dieticians (just to keep with the skeptical/scientist theme of this blog)

Sian said...

Your thoughts on cold calling exactly match mine and I am filled with dread that when I am eventually back job hunting, this will be the only type of job available. I will then be in the situation of either waving goodbye to the last of my morals, or refusing to lie, cheat and con people and thus inevitably have to declare bankruptcy when my benefits get stopped.

Oh, and sorry to be a bit of a smartarse, but whilst you're correct about washing up liquid for most "normal" bowls of dirty dishes, if you ever have stuff burnt onto a saucepan, forget the liquid. Add washing powder to cold water in offending pot, bring to a slow simmer for at least 20 mins. Leave to cool, then wash normally - voila, spotless pan with next to no scrubbing. Quite a lot of people know that, and therefore I am thwarted from claiming it as my own brilliant discovery.

Life (Sciences) said...

I totally sympathise. Nothing stops me reading a job advert quicker than the word commission! Which is a bugger when everywhere is packed with recruitment jobs!!

EvoDivas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EvoDivas said...

Just as a point of interest, i had a job interview with these people as well!
They are popping up everywhere. I got an interview with a very smart sounding 'London Marketing Services', and more recently an invitation to have an interview with 'Unik Corporation' (apparently pronounced 'Unique', rather than the 'Eunuch' pronunciation i was using throughout the phone call).

@Kelly is right, it's not marketing, it's a pyramid scheme! (Kelly, can i have a job?)

Good job at London Sceptics in the Pub on Monday Dean!

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