[This is an old personal essay from 2014.]
I’m on the job hunt right now, having quit my waitressing job at a terrible, unethical, low-paying sports bar. I went to arts school. I have a degree in theatre and English. I didn’t have to work through high school or college. To summarize: I have few marketable “real world” skills. If you want to have an analytical discussion about a line in Hamlet, come at me, bro; if you’d like me to book a reservation in a specialized restaurant operating system and expect me to have done that for 3+ years already, look elsewhere.
A few months ago, I’d applied for an office assistant gig for a small, personal moving company. They were looking for someone with people skills, organization skills, and a flexible schedule. I do, thankfully, have all three of those things, so I applied for the job. I never heard anything. The thing about the NYC job market is: if you’re trying to get a job, you better have done that job for 3+ years or you better not apply for it. We’re a country of over-specialized workers anyway, but that factor gets multiplied and magnified in the epicenter of our country, and if you aren’t an expert in the field in which you’re looking, you might as well give up on NYC and get the fuck out.
This morning, I woke to an email from that same company, of course addressed to a BCC of invisible competitors, letting us all know that they’d filled that office assistant position way back when, and that we’d all applied for it, and maybe we’d be interested in a different job with their company–that of a customer service rep. I’ve worked several customer service jobs. I believe you can list most jobs under the umbrella “customer service,” but that’s a discussion for another time. I’ve been a Phonathon caller, a receptionist, a hostess, a waitress, an elderly care assistant, a nanny, a substitute teacher, a dog walker. I’ve serviced customers from every walk of life, in most basic situations, in every job I’ve had. So, of course, I thought, “Perfect.”
I clicked through the email, ended up at the application, filled it out. It’s a young, hip company, so I kept my answers brief, light, and slightly sassy (I am young and hip, so this is a market I know well). And then I got to the last requirement of the application: a phone call. Naturally, it’s a customer service position, we’d be handling phone calls–they wanted to see how we sound, how we speak, etc. We were to look up some pricing information about their company, call a number, leave a voicemail, read a scripted customer question, and then form our own answer.
I’m eloquent. I’m articulate. I’m a performer, I know how to speak well and immediately. I was also a gifted child, so I rarely had to work on anything past a base level of “doing it once” and “turning it in.” By all accounts, I should have been a shoo-in here, and let me tell you, I played it that way. I dialed the number the first time, and an automated service began, but said it would connect me to the first available customer service agent. I’d been told to press 1 to get to the voicemail, so I pressed 1, and nothing seemed to happen. I still got the hold music, got no indication of being directed to a voicemail box. I waited a moment more, and then the same automated voice came back: “All of our customer service agents are busy at the moment. Please leave your name and number, and we’ll return your phone call.” BEEP.
I sat in silence for a moment, wondering if this was the right voicemail, wondering if I’d somehow not pressed 1 at the right time and was leaving a voicemail on their real voicemail box. By then, it’d been a solid 5 seconds of silence, and I couldn’t very well launch into the script they’d given me after such a void. I hung up. I figured they’d ignore a silent voicemail, and I had another chance.
I dialed again, got the same automated service, pressed 1. I didn’t panic when I got the hold music again, nor when I got directed to the “all our customer service agents are busy” message. I was ready. It beeped. I launched into the script.
“Thank you for calling (insert company name here). My name is (insert name here), how may I help you?” So far so good.
They’d given us the scripted question and urged us to speak it in a silly voice if we wanted, so I went for it. I laid on a valley girl voice, and started paraphrasing the question. My actor’s showing–I got too wrapped up in making the question seem real, hadn’t thought past that point of, y’know, actually responding as a possible job candidate to the possible job task at hand. So, once I’d finished what’ll undoubtably be the best delivery of the customer question they provided, this is what my answer turned into:
“All right, well, we’ve got a standard box size of 24″ x 16″ x 18”, which is a pretty big box, and there’s a $45…charge…per box…plus a $30 registration fee…and what you get for all that is (sigh) how do I not–” I wondered if there was a way to not leave this voicemail, if maybe I still had a chance to salvage this. I took a risk and hit POUND–maybe it would take me to a voicemail menu, one of those “if you’d like to re-record your message, press 1” saviors. I hung in the balance. The line beeped twice and hung up on me.
At the sigh, I knew I’d already blown it. If I’d just gone through what I was going to say once! just once! before calling the number, I’d have been absolutely fine. As it was, I’d called them twice now, once to leave a silent confession of confusion, and a second time to most likely prove that, while my character work might far surpass all their other potential customer service reps, apparently my actual customer service work was bumbling, at best. There was a possibility that the voicemail had not been left, but who could be sure, based on the confusing end to the phone call? I’d said my name in the message, left my phone number on their records and possible caller ID twice now–there was no going back. To call them a third time! The humiliation!
I didn’t. I didn’t submit my application, which means they’ll get all the entertainment of the voicemails without there being any obvious connection to an actual applicant. I hope they get a good laugh out of what seems like such a promising candidate sounding like she’s had a sudden case of amnesia in the middle of a voicemail, only to leave off completely from the task, question all of life’s embarrassments, and hang up.