I briefly worked for a collections agency. A job where you’re trained on the finer points of legal harassment. In fact, if you’re looking for excellent stalking tips, your local collections agency is sure to have them. The place I worked at wasn’t a typical collections agency. They only worked with student debtors, attempting to get them into programs where they could rehabilitate their loans and repair their credit. It was a job where I felt I could have some pride in my work. Getting students out of loan debt is a good cause in my book.
Student loan debt is one of the few debts not dischargeable by bankruptcy. As a country, we’ve made sure those ungrateful leeching students are going to pay back every last penny. Screw them. Running away from debt they incurred on their own. Who do they think they are, investment bankers?
After three weeks of intensive training on the ins and outs of government regulated rehabilitation programs, I was put on the floor with seven other trainees and started making calls. I did OK my first day. I spoke to a few debtors, started to learn the computer system a bit, and left the office feeling good about the job.
“The supervisor came to me and did her morning routine: the one where she bitches me out for not making enough calls. She was really good at that routine.”
I came in to work on day two greeted by my supervisor. She had a grim look on her face as she gave me the news: I only called 48 people my first day. She told me the daily goal was 145 calls whether you talked to debtors or not. I had probably dialed about 100 numbers, but the agency only counted connected calls. Most calls are disconnected numbers or ring endlessly. I reminded her I was only one full day in to the job so maybe lay off a bit lady. She told me she just wanted to let me know 145 calls was the “goal.”
Two hours later she came back to my desk with a sheet of paper. I only had 15 calls in those two hours. There were seven other trainees who were up on the floor with me, and we were all being given the same hectoring lecture from the supervisor. After my lunch she came and hit me with more numbers, and told me I needed to be more aggressive with the debtors. I asked what she meant. She told me I was too nice. “Nice doesn’t work,” she said. “You have to treat the debtors like children.” She made a call to show me. In her call, she tried to shame a student debtor into a payment plan. She had a nasty condescending tone, and even suggested garnishment of salary if the debtor didn’t acquiesce. It was a wonderful lesson. Be an unrepentant asshole. Great. Got it. Thanks.
In our training class, the trainer never mentioned we should be morally reprehensible. Actually, our trainer encouraged us to find our own style that suited us as individuals. If I’d thought we were expected to be aggressive and threatening, I wouldn’t have bothered applying for the job.
My second day went by without closing a repayment agreement. I was learning though, and no trainee had yet secured a payment plan. I didn’t feel like I was behind the curve. The next morning though, I was scolded by the supervisor for my lackluster calling numbers. She also pleasantly reminded me to be a dick on the phone. She pushed me to get people in situations where we could garnish their wages.
During my third day, the supervisor was literally over my shoulder, watching me and the other new agents. She was efficient in letting us know specifically how each one of us was fucking up. One person wasn’t loud enough. Another one forgot to read the script properly. I wasn’t dialing fast enough. It stressed me out. My neck and back started hurting. All stress related maladies.
I left the third day, truly wondering what I’d gotten myself into. The agency felt like a boiler room. The environment was toxic. I didn’t sign up for that, and I was wavering on staying another day. I decided to give it one more shot. I felt I owed it to myself to see if I could close one repayment agreement on my terms. Plus, I knew there was a learning curve, and three days wasn’t it.
As soon as I got to work, the supervisor came to me and did her morning routine: the one where she bitches me out for not making enough calls. She was really good at that routine. Kudos to her. A job well done. She really knew how to lower someone’s morale. That morning she had to go to a meeting. When she took off, I knew I needed to make a decision. Whether or not I could do the job well, I had to figure out if I could work for a person, and a company that would hassle and abuse people so new to the job? Then something happened. Something so bizarre I still can’t believe I didn’t dream it.
When the supervisor came back from her meeting she had a bunch of colored construction paper in her hands. She came over to me and the other new agents, and then this happened—she said, “Pick your favorite color, and then put your hand on the paper, take a pencil, and draw the outline of your entire hand including fingers.” At this point I was enraged. How dare she treat me like this. There was no purple to choose from. Purple is my favorite color.
The supervisor went on. “Now I want you to take that piece of paper, and carefully cut the outline you just made. Now take that hand and write your goals for the year on each finger, and then pin it up on the bulletin board with the other hand cut outs.” All that was missing was some paste, safety scissors, and a crayola box, and I was back in kindergarten. The only goal I could think to write on any finger was, the middle one, and the words “Find a job with some dignity in it.” So my decision was now made. I had to leave.
Instead of completing this complex assignment, I went up to the preschool teacher, I mean the supervisor, and told her I needed to speak privately with her asap. We met in a small conference room. I looked at her and said point blank. “I don’t like this job, I’m done.” She was a little stunned. “Don’t quit, you’re going to be great at this. You’ll get there. It takes time,” she said. What a patient sweetheart she was… oh wait, this is the same person who was hassling me nonstop about my lack of success since I started on the floor. I told her she didn’t hear what I said. I calmly informed her, “I don’t want to be great at this job. I don’t like anything about this job, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I quit.”
She didn’t know what to say. I kind of don’t blame her. I hadn’t been there long, and showed little discontent. It was just that I knew I had to go. As I’ve grown older, my tolerance for handling jobs that essentially degrade my sense of self has grown shorter. There was a time where I would stick with a job I despised. Either due to financial obligations or fear of the unknown. I feel differently now. Life’s too short to work a job that corrodes your soul. That collections job was awful. No doubt about it. However, it did get me one step closer to finding something I wanted to do. For that, in a bizarro world kind of way, I’m glad I did it.