By Nicole Bryant, 18
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Nicole Bryant graduated from King Drew Magnet HS in June and now attends Cal State Long Beach.

It’s funny how you can be so excited about something, but after a while you regret getting yourself into the situation. That’s how I felt about my first job as a telemarketer.

It was early July 2002. I had just turned 17 and was sure there were thousands of employers ready to hire me. I had done plenty of volunteer work; I could type; I was friendly and motivated. What more could they ask for? I drove all around Los Angeles filling out applications and doing on-the-spot interviews. Then I patiently awaited the phone calls. Well, the phone calls never came. And I was sick of wasting my time filling out applications that I had to leave half blank, because, duh, I didn’t have a previous employer or previous experience. I got discouraged because I couldn’t even get hired at McDonald’s.

I felt like a loser and began getting desperate. I thought about washing cars, selling burned CDs, babysitting, pursuing an acting career or making a demo. None of those things would have worked for me though, because I was a talentless, underage, spoiled wimp of a girl who wouldn’t even wash my own car, so I knew I had to be more realistic.

Reality was that I didn’t need a job anyway. I didn’t have bills or anything spectacular I was dying to do, so for the moment I gave up. But a few weeks later the boredom of summer settled in. I had to find a job. I just needed a new approach. Something smarter. I decided that it was a waste of time applying at random establishments. I would apply only where people were hiring. The problem was finding those places. I decided to look in the newspaper. I probably did not think of this on my own. I’m sure it was my mother’s idea. It worked.

No fast-food job for me

That day I read the tiny classified ads to find something that was interesting. I plan to work in the health field, so I was looking for something that would get me prepared for that. But all the jobs were in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. I could have done those jobs, but I could not see myself in a paper hat or pushing carts through the parking lot.

I circled the ads that looked promising, like "Make $16 an hour," but they all turned out to be selling magazines door-to-door. I wanted a job that was just a short drive away and did not involve risking my life. Finally, I found about five jobs that fit my standards.

I called these places and faxed my short résumé. Many of the businesses advertising that they were looking for students were actually looking for college students, basically people over 18. As I continued to skim the pages, since I was tired of reading all the microscopic print, I saw a bold advertisement. "Telemarketing. No experience required and paid training."

This job paid $8 an hour and sought people with minimal experience, offered flexible hours—so I could still enjoy my summer—and had an office that I could get to in 10 minutes. I knew this job was for me, so I called immediately. The lady told me I was qualified and gave me directions. My appointment was for 2 p.m. the same day. I dressed in a nice white button-down blouse and a black skirt. I grabbed my résumé and was out the door by 1:25 p.m. I arrived at the office at 1:40 p.m. I felt confident and strolled into the building.

When I entered the offices I saw about 80 cubicles. I went to the front desk and signed in. I expected to be the only one with a 2 p.m. interview, but I saw several others who would be joining me. Fortunately, I was told that there was more than one opening. I went into a room that was a little strange. I never expected to have an interview in a room with a glass wall where everyone in the office could see you.

Soon, a young man, who reminded me of a former teacher, called me out of the small room. We sat in the main lobby next to the front desk. I thought that was a little weird. I just knew I was not going to have my interview in the middle of the office, right? There must be a room where they’d take me. After a minute, reality struck. This is where it was going to happen. I was nervous and who knows if it showed. He asked me the normal questions, "Why do you want this job?" "What makes you a qualified candidate?" I answered to the best of my ability and showed him my résumé that was filled with volunteer work. At this point I was beginning to realize that I was a little overdressed. Most applicants had on jeans and tennis shoes. Aside from being the only one in business attire, I was a lot more excited about being here than most of the middle-aged people who were applying. My interviewer gave me a script to read and I flowed through it without any hesitation. He glanced at me and told me I had the job.

Now that I had the job I thought all my troubles would end. Wrong. Orientation was on the next Sunday—the last day of my SAT prep course. So I had to rush through the test and get to the office by 4 p.m. I made it, but when I arrived there were several people complaining about being locked out of the building. I thought I would be fired for being late before I even got a chance to start. Finally a security guard let us in and we all rushed up to the eighth floor. Once again I found myself in the room with the one glass wall. We read and signed documents for taxes and were told the job requirements, such as being on time, and job description. We had to call people and persuade them to come and receive prizes. It didn’t seem so bad. It wasn’t minimum wage and it seemed pretty easy.

They didn’t want my call

Photo by Paulina Ayvar

My shift was from 5 to 9 p.m. There was not actually any training. I had to read a script and hopefully convince people to come to a particular location and pick up a prize. It seemed that everyone should have wanted a free prize, but of course there are intelligent people who know nothing is free. For those people, I had to explain why spending their valuable time would be beneficial. Some people knew that we were actually trying to get them to buy timeshares—a property like a condominium that is owned by many people, each of whom contributes a share of the cost and can spend a certain amount of time there each year.

I began work for real the following day. I felt independent and was confident that I would make several sales that day. Instead, customers wanted to know where I got their phone number and why I was calling them. Or they hung up on me. Some people stayed on the phone long enough to curse me out. The first time this happened I felt bad, but after that I would just laugh it off. The people were not mad at me personally. They were mad that a telemarketer was calling at dinnertime. There were times when I wished that people would just schedule the appointment. It would have made me feel a lot better. It became depressing hearing no after no after no. I never made a sale. They were extremely rude and told me to get a real job.

This was as real as it was going to get for me. I was 17 with no experience, had not received my high school diploma yet, and had no references other than my family members. I only worked four hours that day. I was ready to quit.

Before I left that evening, I saw another group of hopefuls in that room with the glass wall. The company was ready to replace me. I had struggled for weeks searching for a job and this was the best I could do. It was depressing. The next day I spoke to five different people who said they had worked for the same company and bet me that I wouldn’t last three days. Well, they were right. I could not take it and decided to leave before I was fired. I made only about $75. I stayed for exactly three days—one orientation day and two days on the phone. At that point, I thought that I’d rather be broke and bored than be a telemarketer.

One year later, after being unemployed since my last experience, my parents harassed me about getting a job. This time I went straight to the classifieds and quickly found a similar job. At least from the outside it seemed similar. It was still a telephone job, but the people already knew why I was calling. They had bought products from our store and then we had to call to see if they wanted insurance on those products. Even though it was different, people sometimes thought I was a telemarketer. Those people made me think about quitting every now and then, but the money was really good. Although I still ran into people who told me to find a better job, I knew at 18 this was as good as it got. I made $10 an hour plus I got bonuses. I could make nearly $1,000 every two weeks. There are people who made the same amount as me who have families they support. I quit the job once I started college, to focus on my studies.

I have learned that telemarketing is not such a bad thing. I’ve learned that these people are not upset with me. And figuring out how to separate myself from the job has helped me deal with the complaints. I realize I am interrupting someone’s day, someone’s sleep, or someone’s quality time with his or her family. I can empathize with them, but I know I have to do my job and my purpose is to make money. I no longer hate telemarketing because it has taught me how to deal with rude people and how to be persuasive. Still, I am glad I am in college so that I’ll be able to find a job that is a little less stressful. I do not recommend telemarketing as a career, but for a part-time job it worked for me.

How to Read a Classified Ad

Deciphering the abbreviations and code used in the classified ads can be tricky. You can use this guide to help you find jobs that fit your schedule, interests and experience. Advertisers use abbreviations because they are trying to squeeze the maximum information into the least space.

Comm only—Commission only. Instead of being paid by the hour, you are paid based on how much you are able to sell.
Flex hrs—
Flexible hours
cold calling—When you have to call people who aren’t expecting your call.
No Exp nec—No experience necessary
R.E.—real estate
Comp skills—computer skills
Heavy phones—answer the phone a lot
Immed hire— immediate hire
MS Office—knowledgeable in using Microsoft Office software on a computer
w/ —with
We train or will train—the company will train you in the skills necessary