How Hiring Decisions are Really Made

Employees find all sorts of silly reasons to claim hiring decisions are unfair when it comes to internal job postings. And when you work in a call centre, competition is fierce for any job that will get people off the phones.

If you think to yourself, ‘Who would want a boring admin job that doesn’t pay great?’ you’ve clearly never been forced to work a call centre before. Any job that gets you away from crazy clients and over-analyzed phone stats is a godsend. I would have taken a pay cut to get off the phones when I first started.

Internal job postings still involve the old resume and interview shtick, but hiring managers and HR also have access to more information to help with a decision. We could look at call stats and scores to determine how good a phone rep was at their job, plus we got to take into account team manager and floor supervisor feedback.

At every call centre I’ve worked, it’s the manager feedback that was actually an employee’s ticket off the phones.  I didn’t realize how important this feedback was until I was on the other side of the equation.

During my first interview for a team manager job, I got asked plenty of situational questions, those pesky “what would you do if…” questions. I find those harder to answer than “give me an example when you…” because you aren’t talking about a real situation. The question that threw me the most was, “What would you say if employees were complaining that promotions always come from X side of the call centre floor?”

The first that went through my head, which I also blurted out unfiltered, was “Do people really complain about such stupid things?”

Who would have thought geography had anything to do with hiring decisions? And who would even notice? (No, management had not decided to only hire people from the west side of the call centre as some sort of ploy to mess with everyone’s heads.)

The interviewer assured me it had been a real concern expressed. I kept thinking everyone was nuts until I was on the other side and saw just how much team manager input influenced hiring decisions.

It turns out the complaining employees were right, but it wasn’t geography itself that resulted in the hiring decisions. In this call centre everyone was assigned to a team with around 15 other employees and one team manager was in charge of that group. Every phone rep was assigned a workstation in the call centre near their manager’s cubicle.  And some managers pushed harder for promotions for their employees.

The pushers would lobby for their employees during every hiring decision, whereas others would only occasionally push and some never bothered.  The pushers almost always won. And by chance a couple of the pushers had teams clustered together, so promotions did mostly come from one section of the floor.

For once the crazy employees were sort of right. It happens sometimes.

I guess the moral here is be nice to your boss. You’ll never know how much they can help or hinder your progress at work. And pray you don’t have a lazy manager who will never bother to fight for you.

Trust Your Gut

I’ve never been wrong when I have a bad feeling about an interviewee. In any interview or resume scan where I felt even the slightest inkling of trouble, I was always right. The employees did not do well. Some became nightmares.

Why would I even hire candidates who worried me? If you ask that question, you have never worked in a call centre. When you have to hire new phone reps, you don’t hire one at a time. You hire a whole class, because they will be put through a three week training program before they ever hit the floor.  We often needed groups of up to 25 people.

This whole process is expensive, so you’d think we would want to hire the best candidates. The problem is we are culling applicants who have offered to work in a call centre. It’s a crap job, so we often attract lazy and desperate people. The only real exception is students. They need to work odd hours at easier jobs to pay their tuition. I’ve had great luck with students over the years.

If we already had dubious candidates and we needed to pick upwards of 25 of them, we were talking a different recruiting ballgame. Instead of trying to pick the best candidates, we were trying to eliminate the worst.

This proved easier in some recruiting rounds than others. There were times when we desperately needed bodies, and none seemed good. So we tried to find the least detestable options. This meant we sometimes hired people that gave us the willies.

After each interview, I would bounce my opinion off the HR person conducting the interview with me. We had two HR people we worked with. One was often on the same wave length as the team leaders and would let us say no when our alarm bells were screaming. The other one, not so much.

HR Person Two would push us to take people we really didn’t want. I suppose she was being more realistic. We couldn’t say no to everyone. Sometimes though, she would have been better off listening to us. We ended up with a few nightmares.  They caused a lot of destruction before we could push them out the door.

When the company was really starting to tank, we couldn’t even fire our own employees. We needed approval from some HR person in a different province who never worked a call centre. She just didn’t understand how call centres work. Of course they have high turnover. They are filled with lunatics.

This new policy meant we had to keep one employee who showed up in the police blotters of our own newspapers. Nice, right?

We also had to keep two brothers who fell asleep at their desks, had pants around their knees and spent shifts writing indecent rap lyrics instead of taking client calls.

I guess my main point here is to trust your instincts as a manager. I have felt positive about a few employees who did not turn out well. But I have never been wrong when my instincts tell me no. And if you happen to manage in a call centre that forces you to take bad apples, you have my sympathy.

The “Eewww” Factor

I recently wrote a post about keeping your poker face at all times with employees, lest they see what you really think when they do something stupid. That post brought to memory a story that I have tried to repress, to no avail.

In my last call centre, headsets were like gold. Valuable and hard to find. This shouldn’t really be the case in a call centre. You can’t answer phones without a headset. Our phones did have handheld receivers, but you can’t actually use one while typing and flipping between screens at a rapid pace.

In my first call centre, each employee had their own headset that was their own responsibility. People took good care of the equipment and we didn’t need to replace headsets all that often.

My second call centre was not so enlightened. They refused to assign anyone a specific headset. I know they were worried about high staff turnover, but they shot themselves in the foot. Our employees just had to grab any headset they could find when they arrived. This meant they had to always carry around their “foamies”, or ear covers, for hygienic reasons.

I can’t even count the number of foamies we went through. People didn’t bother to keep track of them and they were easy to lose because of their size. Since the headsets didn’t belong to anyone in particular, you can guess what happened. No one even tried to take care of them. We always had broken and semi-broken headsets. We had very few on the floor that worked properly. I and the other managers begged and pleaded for assigned headsets and always had to justify a request to order new ones.

I thought telling employees that we could not supply headsets that allowed them to hear customers and vice versa was one of the dumbest tasks I ever had to perform. It was hard to look professional with faulty equipment that should not have even been an issue. It didn’t teach the employees any respect for their work environment either.

Since we regularly only had half a dozen mint condition headsets, employees took to hiding the good ones so the headsets would be available when they started their next shift. This caused us a lot of headaches when we actually could not find enough headsets for everyone who happened to be working at any particular hour. Can you imagine, coming to work and not being able to do your job because we couldn’t find you a simple headset? Our customer queues were actually longer because we were scrambling to find headsets for employees.

To alleviate this, we always had to harp on the employees to not hide headsets. We became good at ferreting out their best hiding places. This pissed off the hiders to no end. Which finally leads me back to my poker face story of the week.

One employee I’ll call Giselle came up to me one day all disturbed. “I can’t find my headset!”

To which I replied, “It’s not your headset. You have to share. Please find another one.”

“But you don’t understand. You see this rash on my face?” She got right in my face to make sure I didn’t miss it. Trust me, it was hard to miss before she got that close.

“Yeesss,” I replied.

“It’s Impetigo! It’s highly contagious. No one can use my headset. They might catch it.”

Cue the poker face. Don’t think I did such a good job this time.

“Why are you at work?!”

“Uhhhh.”

That was the best she could come up with.

Fortunately, we didn’t have any impetigo outbreaks at work.  I swiftly took myself to the safety of the HR offices so I could bitch in private. Some days just go like that.