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(Mostly*) True Adventures at Work!

Work IS an adventure. Especially temp work. I left a good-paying full-time job with my own office and desk to go exploring -- and I love it! There are so many different work environments, tasks, and people involved that it never fails to be interesting, challenging and fresh. I am SO glad that I had the courage to actually do this, rather than keep thinking about doing it.

2000 Update: It's been a year-and-a-half of job adventure and freedom. I'm still not sorry to have left the structured corrals of regular work. The stories below are arranged with the most current ones on the top (so you needn't wade through old stories to get to the latest ones) so they are in reverse chrological order.

*some names and personal details have been changed for privacy.

Workin' for the Feds

2000: Three-and-a-half Hours PLUS At The Census Bureau

March 2000: After working in Field Operations for about two months, they moved me to Special Places. SP, as it's called, is actually even more interesting than the maps and returned census books in Field Ops. I do miss my fun group of co-workers; we had a good time sitting at the large expanse of cardboard tables taped together and checking over maps or books. We get together for breaks sometimes, though. The worst thing about the new job is that it requires more thought! Normally I like a work challenge, but I'm working 6 or more nights a week at the P.O. Encoding Center and mindless work during the day is better when I'm half asleep. I have worked both jobs with only 2 hours of sleep; that can be pretty brutal. At least I've got some money to do fun stuff when I'm not sleeping or working! Took a fun trip to Chicago, which I wrote about in "Journal, What's Been Going On" Also I once again have my own desk! It's cardboard, of course, in the hallway and sometimes shared by others. But I have an Easter basket w/candy on it and some flowers. I did miss the office and desk I had at my old job, and the great clients who came in for help and gave us as much back as they received.

January 2000:A co-worker at the telemarketing/ fundraising company told me that the Census Bureau was taking applications. I stopped on my way home from card-writing to apply and be scheduled for an exam. When I asked if the work schedule would conflict with my night Post Office work, the receptionist commented, "We like Postal workers." The exam seemed fairly difficult, although nobody else I spoke to thought so. Perhaps it was hard for me because I had worked all night at the Post Office and was still very tired at 8:00 a.m.!

Anyway, I must have passed, because Monday of this week a man from the Census Bureau called, asked a few questions, mostly about my Post Office work schedule and my availability. He called back later and hired me to come in the next day. On Tuesday I arrived the proper ten minutes early, another new hire arrived shortly after I did. I had come though the front door and had to be buzzed in and signed in; she walked right in an unlocked side door! We were given temporary passes to wear, and filled out papers. Then we sat around for an hour. The man who had hired us got a guy from Purchasing to make us each an ID tag, like a military "dog tag" to be worn while working. A higher-up supervisor came out and said the first one had given us the wrong papers, and gave us another folder to fill out. Some of the papers were exactly the same as what we had already filled out. We filled them out again. We sat some more. A middle supervisor came and swore us in. (like the Post Office, an employee must raise their right hand and repeat a long oath) A still higher-up supervisor came out and took the both of us to work desks. They were cardboard desks, like all the desks in the place. We were each given two phone lists to crosscheck and call the people on the most current list to ask if they wanted to stay on the active employment list, did they still want to work for the Census Bureau? We weren't offering them a job, just updating the list. We were given no more information than the names and numbers, and so couldn't answer any of the questions we were asked. We fudged a lot saying things like, "we don't have that information right in front of us." "We'll be calling you back." and other such non-helpful replies.

The big boss came over to me to discuss my Post Office employment. It seems that the Federal government had some prohibition against people working two federal jobs. She said she'd look into it and apply for a waiver from Kansas City. I continued working until lunchtime. We new hires got only a half-hour lunch because we had started late. When I stopped to get my coat and things, the supervisors were having a meeting in that area. They said they were talking about me! I asked "Good, or bad?" in sort of a playful way, but one frowned and said, "We don't know yet."

I hurried home, wolfed down a lunch and returned to make only two phone calls from the list before the big supervisor was back at my cardboard desk. She said she was really sorry but I couldn't work FT for them while working at the Post Office, and since there were no PT positions open, I would have to leave! My co-worker was shocked and said "You're going? Are you coming back?" and other people were staring at me because the big boss had come over, taken my dog tag away, and now I was putting on my coat! I told my brief co-worker, "No, I don't think so" and left, wishing they would have had the decency to tell me BEFORE lunch. The daily time log I was required to turn in had three-and-a-half hours indicated on it. (To be fair, this was a temporary office quickly set up. Some of the people had only been there 1-2 weeks.)

Friday update. What a week this has been! A supervisor from the Census Bureau called. Kansas City has approved my employment. She offered me a different job; putting the actual census data on to a spreadsheet. This sounds more interesting. I start next Monday working FT for them.


March 2000:
Passed the three required "benchmarks" of speed and accuracy, so am still employed at the P.O. Encoding Center. I get a little depressed when I realize that, even though this is my favorite job ever, I'm not that great at it. Pretty ironic that some people who hate this job and are doing it just for the money are much faster and more accurate than I. The people next to me all key faster, I'm the slowest person I know who works there. I've speeded up a bit, but just can't seem to think as fast as those folks who whip along, hour after hour, keying in code. It hurts my pride, because I've always been good at the jobs I've done, at least above average. I'm at average or below average performance on both my current jobs, but truly like and enjoy them both. Does this competence thing work in reverse, or what? Common sense would connect good performance with enjoyment of the work.

January 2000: I still work nights in the Post Office "REC Center" which stands for Remote Encoding Center. Contrary to public belief (even our local media ran video footage of a mail processing center and called it the Remote Encoding Center) we don't have any actual mail in the building. We receive the remote images of letters on a computer monitor and key in the proper address information to route letters. When we code letters, back at the processing center where the actual letters are, a spray of orange goes on one side of each letter. Probably you've seen it on letters you have received. I have been upgraded to a regular employee after 50 hours of training in August. This means I input all of the addressing information, not just the zip code. I still love it, this is an awesome job! We get a break every 55 minutes and can wear headphones while working. Plus it's very interesting work, for good pay. I just wish I had more hours scheduled so I wouldn't need to work during the day.

Early 1999: I work nights in the post office. The job title is cleverly called N-Coder, typing in numeric data from remote images of envelopes. I used to be one of those folks who liked to joke about the lack of efficiency in our mail system. No more! After a stint of dealing with the public's idea of addressing envelopes, I think we are damn lucky to get mail through at all.

Zip codes have 5-digits, this is not commonly realized. Sometimes they have the plus-4 added. This is not a complicated procedure.

And how hard could it be to put the zip code in the proper place, not freeform, anywhere on the page?

There ought to be a remedial course on Addressing l0l, not 1011, or 1-01, or 10. Last night there were envelopes with the zip code written like this: 630-12-1724. It had all 9 digits of a zip+4, but set up like a social security number!

A rhetorical question: how does a person who puts a zip code of 345-124 expect that piece of mail to get to where it's going? Very commonly seen are codes like this: 17834-138. Remedial math might be in order too.

Would you punch any old digits to make a phone call? If you don't know the correct zip, either look it up, or leave it off. You will have a better chance of correct delivery with just the city (write city and state carefully -- a theme for another day.) Your recipients will thank you!

The Fundraising and Telemarketing Experience

Several months before Christmas, actually I was undergoing my Post Office training, so it must have been in August, I saw an ad for an Open House in the newspaper. A telemarketing firm was looking for people to write out Christmas fundraising cards for various large non-profit agencies. The requirement was for neat handwriting and attention to detail. Having been some form of secretary for most of my working life, the attention to detail requirement was a cinch. However no one in my entire life has accused me of having good, or even readable handwriting. In grade school I had good grades except in handwriting. People I tell this to nowadays say "I didn't know they even GAVE out D's in handwriting!" Well, they do, and I received several. So I considered this employment opportunity a personal challenge. I took and passed the handwriting test and was hired, much to my surprise and amusement.

The entire time I worked there I was a bit nervous about being found out to secretly be a horrible handwriter, but it never happened. Some people received work back because it was too sloppy, I never did receive any sort of criticism on my handwriting. Of course I was writing the best I could and as fast as I could too. Often I was the first person done with a batch. This did wonders for my ego, as you can well imagine. A friend who always harasses me about my poor handwriting tried to get hired and couldn't, because her writing wasn't neat enough! I had really wanted her to be hired; she would have been a great co-worker, lots of fun. Yet, in a small way I felt vindicated for years of putting up with people whining and complaining about my handwriting.

Writing out Christmas cards was a fun job too, pretty mindless, but I was then working long hours at the Post Office because of the holiday rush. Some days I worked a total of 15 hours with only 3-4 hours of sleep! A mindless job I could do in my sleep was totally perfect for that time. I met some very interesting and fun people too. We were not supposed to talk while working, so we could "concentrate" but after the first couple of days we kept up a low, running chatter. The same bunch of people would sit together at the tables and we got to know each other well, with conversations about childhood, religion, relationships and children!

The last day of work, December 24, was a sad one. They ordered 15 delicious pizzas and we had a party. But I knew I would miss the easy, fun work and the great co-workers. I hope to get hired there again next fall.

Spring 1999: We must be the telemarketing capital of the U.S. here; we have at least six "Call Centers," as they prefer to be called. It would be difficult to find a person who didn't have a friend, family member, or hasn't worked themselves in this new, expanding field. A variety of views are offered; some people love working in a call center, and many do not. I was especially intriqued while on a temp assignment at a call center. The job was as an administrative assistant, and had little or nothing to do with telemarketing. Our offices were not even in the same area as the banks of chattering telemarketers. Yet I thought it might be fun to try out someday. The telemarketers were such upbeat, cheery people; friendly, vocal, funny - it seemed like they might be great co-workers. On a whim, I applied at a call center, got through the required script reading audition, and was scheduled to start training to be a telemarketer.

The training was a bit daunting as there is so much to remember. The attributes of a good telemarketer appear to be: a good listener, a quick thinker, have a good memory. Next, we got to go "out on the floor," as the rows of computerized telephones are called, and try out what we had learned. My "buddy" an experienced telemarketer who listened in to all my calls and offered help and advice kept saying, "we need a high number of contacts per hour." Although she was pleasant and trying to be helpful, this did not help; a person needs to know what they are doing before they can hurry up! My second buddy, who sat with me for my first real shift of working, was more laid back. She helped with technical difficulties (the computer part is tricky when you are new) and offered only a few suggestions.

Now I work on my own; it's pretty demanding work, but one probably gets used to it. We have only a 15-minute break in the entire shift, one break. I'm not used to taking long or lots of breaks, but a bathroom break once in a while would be nice! It takes sipped water and/or coffee to be able to keep on talking enthusiastically for hours! Having only one break per shift must be even more difficult for the smokers.

We called people from Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Texas, California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. As the night rolls on, we end up talking to people further and further west, because of the time zones. The computer automatically dials the numbers and the information pops up on the screen. In fact one of the hardest things to get used to is that you have a live person answering the phone BEFORE their name comes up on the screen! I learned (as probably everyone there has to) to start saying "May I please speak to _________" slowly while waiting for their name to pop up on the screen. Nerve-racking at first, as we are only legally allowed to "present" to the authorized buyer or spouse. The computer also keeps dialing and dialing, it's VERY fast paced, not time to breathe, hardly. The sales spiels change unexpectedly for each customer and so we sometimes read information off the screen that we've never seen before! There are many different scripts possible, some are more wordy and harder to read aloud than others.

What is amazing is how most of the people we call are so amiable! I had expected more irate, nasty people, since most of us aren't that fond of telemarketing calls. Instead, most customers are polite, if not kind, and very likeable. People asked about the weather, some mentioned the Vikings (this was before the game), and many people joked around a little.

We are required to use sales options. I don't mind using the "limited time" option to "buy it now!" or the gift option, "You already have one? Wouldn't it make a great gift for someone in your life?" but hate to use the budget option. If someone says they cannot afford it, we must enthusiastically offer our payment plan. Many people relate that they were laid off, had surgery, or other money-crunching issues, but we still must try to sell to them anyway using the budget plan. I feel guilty for selling an expensive item to a very pleasant man who is scheduled for surgery next week and will be off work for a month or more. This isn't a job for people with empathy or a conscience, although we have to pretend we "understand", but it does teach effective sales skills. I am surprised how much I can sell, with no previous sales experience.

Although I am doing very well at telemarketing (got a 162% rating on the weekly sales sheet; 90-100% is average) I am beginning to more than loathe this job. Tricking people into buying things just seems so immoral. Also I am angered and offended by the constant criticism we are forced to undergo each day. The supervisors and a room of "Rating" people listen in to our calls, then come and tell us what we did wrong. One day I had two people in my face about "mistakes" (mostly for not optioning the budget plan) in the space of two hours. At first I thought it was because I was new and in dire need of improvement. But after I sat by "Shelly" who was making a huge amount of sales, just raking them in, and a rating person came over and browbeat her because one of her calls was too long, I realized that the criticism will continue forever, whether a telemarketer is doing well or having a bad day. There is a tremendous amount of turnover at the company. When hired, I had agreed to work 30-days and will try to uphold that. There's only, um, eight days left. That's eight days too many...


1999: Clerical temp work can be really fun. You get to meet new people, see various office environments, and see the inner workings of a company. My current temp assignment is for a newly organized office. It's a new branch of another local agency. When I came in the first day, I was handed a long document to edit and finish. I diligently set forth in performing the task. To my consternation, the document had words like "dick" and "die" "nil" scattered through it! Someone must have been amusing him- or herself with the Find and Replace command on Microsoft Word! I corrected all the errors and made a search through the document using any other inappropriate words I could think up. I certainly did not want them to think that I had done the deed to their technical document! Another temp had started the document, so I don't know if he was the person with the weird sense of humor, or if some regular in the office had done it to have fun with the temps. An even stranger thing was that the next time I went on to the document, some of the words were back again. I had saved my corrections, but the computer was on a system and everyone else had access to the file too. I'm so relieved that I went for that last, anal check before putting it on a disk for the boss!


DAY ONE: I was in the hallway, ready to punch in. A woman said to me loudly enough for others to hear, "Hey Linda Tripp! Bet everybody tells you that. You look just like her." "Actually, no one has ever said that to me." I replied quietly, as we are forbidden to talk in the hallway. Usually I stay the hell away from crazy people and wackos.

I sat and worked, thought about it, obsessed a little, do I really look like her? Being compared to Linda Tripp is not a compliment. I decided not to waste any more thought on it. Tomorrow night I'll bring a tape recorder and bring the evidence to the supervisor.

DAY TWO: I didn't really bring a tape recorder.

DAY THREE: She hailed me in the coatroom, introduced herself as "Mary" and asked my name. Good, maybe she'll quit calling me Linda Tripp all the time. Her parting shot was, "You have the most beautiful hair! All those different colors all together!"

Hmmm, is she trying to compliment or insult me? Can't tell; I continue to try to stay away from her.

DAY FIVE: Have only seen her from a distance. She must have found a new victim to compliment.

WEEK TWO: Sat with "Mary" at a table in the breakroom. This was a deliberate move, I'd decided "Mary" was harmless enough, just trying to be friendly. The break only lasted 5-minutes, so not too much risk involved. She had a seed catalog and was thumbing through it and I had a catalog in my bag. We talked about gardening. She's a gardening fanatic, me, a lazy gardener (see "Non-Gardening" page for confirmation on that.)

AFTERWARDS: "Mary" now seems normal enough, I haven't sat with her again, though. I also never did tell her that I think she looks like Jack Palance.

2000: "Mary" turned out to be a really nice person. We sit often sit together for breaks. I hope she never reads this!