Warning: This article contains foul language. Sorry, but not sorry.
This morning while chatting about finances with a coworker, I had a flashback to that time of my life when I worked in a collection agency. I was in my early twenties and was ready to move on from the world of retail. I thought moving into office administration would be a better fit. As my mum said, it was time to find a “real job.”
I’m trying to recall what year this would have been but it seems like a lifetime ago. I know the job didn’t last very long. I think I was there maybe three months before walking out of the office. There are only two jobs in my life I have walked out on – and this was one of them.
I’m going to say this was around 2000. I honestly can’t remember. That whole part of my life is a big blur. A lot happened during that time. It was a part of my life I think I mostly repressed because too many bad things happened.
I had worked in retail since graduating from high school at eighteen. I worked in a book store for about a week. I worked at a Tim Horton’s one summer. I worked as a nanny for two months before I decided that kids and I did not play well together.
I was not in a great place in my life as I was still reeling from an assault that happened when I was seventeen. I was at that stage in my life where I was trying to figure out exactly who I was and what I wanted to do. Hell, sometimes I think I’m still trying to figure that out.
Wow, just writing this is bringing up all kinds of feelings I had suppressed from this experience. I’m going to be pulling up a lot of The Wolf of Wall Street memes. Because that’s what working in this particular branch felt like back in the day. It was definitely a man’s world. Where women did all the leg work and handed the calls (and the commission) to the men.
I vaguely remember the interview process. I was interviewing for the job as a Skip Tracer for an “unnamed” collection agency. For the sake of this blog, let’s call this place – Dave’s Credit. Because “Dave”, was the head manager at the branch and he was a major asshole. And this way, they can’t turn around and sue me.
That’s the dangerous part about being a writer – there’s always a chance that someone can turn around and sue you if they don’t like what you’ve written about them.
After waiting for what seemed like eternity in the waiting room, I was escorted into the smallest room I had ever been in. There was a tiny wooden table and four tiny wooden chairs that squeaked when you sat on them. The room must have been a closet at some point in the office’s history. It was like being cramped in a box without windows.
I was feeling a little like Milton from Office Space – another great movie I have to re-watch soon.
Dave himself, attended the interview along with Allison, the head Skip-Tracer. This was so long ago, I actually don’t even remember her name. But I remember she had blonde hair and she wasn’t much older than me.
The interview itself was fairly painless. The details about the job almost seemed too good to be true. I was told that it was like working in a call-centre and that I would be on the phone most of the day.
“You will work Monday-Friday, 8:30 to 4:30. You will be paid $13.00 an hour.” (a lot of money for that time in my life).
“Your job as a Skip Tracer will be to track down debtors, the people who owe our clients money. You may have to call friends and family members to collect personal information. Do you think you could handle that?” I was asked.
I nodded and maintained a positively-absolutely-can-do professional attitude. And I was offered the job on the spot. That should have been my first clue. I was to start the job on Monday morning. I was also told not to be late. They watched the clock for late arrivals.
What is a Skip Tracer?
It didn’t take me long to find out what being a Skip Tracer actually meant. Skip Tracers were handed files that were very delinquent. It was our job to track down the debtor – the person who owed money to the company by any means necessary.
Being a Skip Tracer was kind of like being a bounty hunter. We made preliminary calls to the debtor to confirm contact information. If the debtor answered the phone, we were to advise them that they owed funds to such and such company and then we would transfer the call to the over-eager collection agents.
If a friend or family member answered the phone, we were told to “act like a friend” and ask questions to find out how to get in touch with the debtor.
I never liked that part of the job. It always seemed sketchy (and illegal) to me. I felt so dirty at the end of the day when I came home from the office. I started hating myself for it. And everyone who worked in that office.
When passing on the calls to the collection agents, it was a lot like what I imagine working in Wall Street would be. We would put the debtor call on hold and shout out “CALL!” as loudly as we could, and the agents would jump and down and scream and shout until the call was transferred. It was like watching a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street.
The competition was real – and things got dirty and ugly.
Management actually kept track of debtor calls and “scores”. When the debtor agreed to a payment plan – that was a score for the agents. I’m not sure how commission worked. But the goals were insanely high to earn any kind of commission. Collection agents were also awarded nice prizes like hockey tickets, wine baskets – you get the drift.
Skip Tracers were tracked as well. But we didn’t earn commission like the agents did. Nor did we get any bonuses at the end of the year.
As you can imagine – it wasn’t exactly the friendliest office to work in. Especially as a woman. We sat in tiny little cubicles, much like you would see in a call centre. There was no privacy. We had no internet on the computers. And the computers that we used were ancient old Apple computers like we used in elementary school on computer day.
The Collection Agents were spoiled. Their desks were twice the size of ours. They had privacy. Some had an actual cubicle with a wall. And they were treated like royalty.
This picture is a fairly accurate representation of the office we worked in. Only on a much smaller scale. We were squished in like a can of sardines. Don’t even get me started on that day the office we received a fake bomb threat. That was fun.
Almost every call made – was reviewed
Because we were in such tight corners, every call that we made was overheard by management. Almost every single call was reviewed. Instead of offering positive feedback or “way to go” when you actually did something right – all you would hear was “you forgot to say the debtor’s name at the end of the call.” Or, “you didn’t confirm their phone number.”
You get the point. The job itself was pretty demoralizing and soul crushing. It was one of the worst experiences of my career. And one that I never even put on my resume.
They watched your every move. Every minute was accounted for.
If you walked in the door at 8:31, you were pulled aside into that terrifying closet for a meeting to discuss tardiness. I often reminded Allison that the time she spent lecturing me on being one minute late, was time I could have spent working. My commute at that time was forty minutes from the other side of town by public transit.
Having your day start off by being lectured about being one minute late and being warned that if it happened one more time, “I’ll have to write you up.” Well, let’s just say I started arriving late on purpose. I knew she was watching and at that point, my give a damn had left the building.
Here’s a scene from Office Space to show you what it was like.
Not all debtors were bad people
I genuinely felt bad for the people that I called. I remember one woman that answered the phone. She sincerely had forgotten to pay a bill one month and it went to collections without her knowledge. I was as polite and friendly as I could be with her and I broke the rules and transferred her to one of the nicer collection agents. She felt bad enough for missing the payment. Something that I could deeply empathize with.
It was then that I knew this job wasn’t for me. And as I walked out of work for that moment. I never looked back.
It’s time to clean out the trash.
About a week or so later, I walked by Dave’s office and overheard him tell Allison, “It’s time to clean out the trash of employees here.” I could see Allison as I walked by and she stared at my with a dead stare. I knew what was coming.
The next morning, I arrived at 9:00 am – exactly thirty minutes late. I didn’t care anymore. Job or no job – I had planned on quitting. I was just waiting until payday to do it.
Allison pulled me back into that tiny little room.
“You’re late again,” she said as she drummed her ugly painted finger nails on the table.
“Yup,” I said. I sat back in my chair and folded my arms.
“You heard Dave last night? He’s talking about firing staff. He said it’s time to take out the trash,” she said in a threatening voice.
“Well, if you think I’m trash, then what the fuck am I doing here?” I said to her.
She stammered, “Well, I…” she said.
“Don’t worry. You don’t need to fire me. I’ll take myself out of this shit-hole,” I said and walked over to my desk to clean it out.
She sat back in her chair and looked at me in shock. She had never heard me swear. I wasn’t much for cursing back then like I am now. I lay blame on my ex who was former military. Yes, I have a soft spot for men in uniform. Who doesn’t?
You are what you do. Collection agents are mostly assholes.
There’s an old saying. “You are what you do.” And it’s true. It takes a special kind of person to work in a collection agency. Maybe people who started off working in those agencies weren’t assholes. But after a few months of solid competition and hounding people for payments – the agents turned into supreme assholes. Not just assholes. But a special kind of breed of assholes that preyed on people who were going through financially barren times.
They cheered and catcalled and high-fived each other when they closed a deal. Meaning, when they finally coerced someone into a payment plan that they couldn’t afford.
It was all about the clients. The company only cared about the clients and when they next big paycheck was coming in. They didn’t care about the people they stalked, harassed or threatened. They only cared about reeling in the dough. And yes – the upper management – those guys – they were the ones who made a LOT of money. And they constantly rubbed it in our faces.
Not all collection agents were assholes. But most of them were.
There were one or two agents that were actually decent guys. But most of them – were absolute dicks. They were so cocky and arrogant. At that time, working in collections – it was definitely a man’s world. I don’t remember seeing any female collectors.
Women were treated as nothing more than hired help. We didn’t get the bonuses that the men did. Instead, we were scrutinized. All the work we did was heavily reviewed. We were mico-managed. And that’s just the stuff that I knew about. Lord only knows what went on behind closed doors.
I am NOT a feminist but…I definitely felt the “ick” factor.
It was the early 2000’s when I worked at Dave’s Credit, but at times, it felt like I was stuck in the 50’s. I knew the job wasn’t for me. And one of the best decisions I made in my life was to walk out that door. Like the screenshot from Mad Men above – it was like we had reverted back in time and all those years of fighting for equal rights and equal pay – had been long forgotten.
Okay, I need to walk this off. All the memories are resurfacing. If I wasn’t working tomorrow, I’d go make myself a stiff drink. Fuck it. Maybe I will risk the migraine.
Sorry, but not sorry, for my language. I’m a potty mouth.
The Wolf of Wall Street
If you’re looking for a good but messed up movie to watch – then you have to check out The Wolf of Wall Street. The all-star cast is worth it. I think one of my favorite scenes of the movie is of Leo DiCaprio’s character who was so messed up on Lemmon drugs. Mad props to Leo on this scene.
That’s it. I’m going to pour myself a drink and watch this movie and dream of the fabulous life I could have had. Minus the Lemmon drugs. Stay off drugs kids. Stay in school.
Have you ever worked in collections? Or wall street? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!