Wow. Just wow. (Guess the company)
I suppose I deserve it for being so naive.
But then it only made too much sense at the time. An ailing company sees my CV, and they know that I can cure their ills. Call J in and all will be well. It’s not so much that it’s not true, but more that far too few companies recognize this, and if the so-called smartest companies in the industry don’t realize it, how can we expect the less-gifted to?
The story I will tell you is one of those experiences that could not be beaten by fiction, improved with embellishment, or even believed by many. We’ve all had them. The story you wonder if you’ll even bother telling your friends because they won’t buy it. Sadly, every word of it is true.
It started when I was looking for a job in marketing. It’s what I do best, it’s what I have done, and it’s what I plan on doing. Unfortunately most companies want someone with 10 years of experience in the business, or they simply don’t know what they want, and thus finding a marketing job is hard. This time around, however, an agency found me a promising lead for an e-marketing position. They had done well for me in the past so I saw no reason not to trust them on this one. I did recognize the company’s name, but from less than honorable circumstances. See, I’d been spammed ruthlessly by this company in the past. Hell I still am spammed by them. Whether it be e-mail upon e-mail piling up in my junk mail folder or obnoxious popups, this was a company without intelligent marketing.
But, through a mix of goodwill and naivete, I decided I’d give this company a chance. They must have turned over a new leaf to be considering me. After all, why hire a champion of legitimate business practices when your company rejects them? A quick look at the site was distressing enough. The website looked to be created by an HTML student in junior high. Loud colors, jumbled themes, and flashing text cluttered the whole screen. Scrolling down met with more of the same. I continued to scroll down the page, but it was longer than some GeoCities pages I’d seen pre-bubble. No kidding! Needless to say, I assumed they must also be hiring someone to do something about THAT.
So, at this point, I had become excited. Finally, a company had seen the light, realized the error of their ways, and had happened upon J, a talented e-marketing expert and small-time entrepreneur. That fresh blood would be the saving grace of their wayward company. I made doubly sure to brush up on the history of the company (a depressing history, I may add), and overall look the part when I walked into that interview on a bleak Monday morning. That day, after locating the office park the company occupied, my illusions started to show signs of fading.
Firstly, I could barely find the place, given there was no signage. No company logo, not even a company name prominently displayed in plain Helvetica, no nothing. Just one address. Without a sign, finding the entrance was tricky, but after turning enough corners around the nondescript buildings, I chanced upon it. I walked to the door… locked! Yes, it was locked at 8:55 AM. I didn’t realize I was interviewing at the Pentagon. I knocked on the glass door, and within moments a voice on the intercom said “Can I help you?” but really sounded like “What do you want?” Naturally, I replied I was there for an interview, and was buzzed in without further incident. As I walked into the undecorated, austere lobby, I saw who had let me in. An overweight lady with, I kid you not, a fe-mullet. From her 90s-looking boombox emanated country-western radio, a sure sign I was in [low-rent Seattle suburb].
I wasn’t asked to fill out any further applications, so I basically had some time to kill on the tacky vinyl couch. I busied myself checking e-mail on my phone, playing mahjong, and otherwise watching as 8:55 turned into 9:05. While it’s common for an interviewer to show up after the candidate, they tend to show up from inside the building, presumably from their desk or a meeting. In this case, the interviewer barged in from outside, clearly running late. Late enough to forget he was going to work, and not Wal-Mart.
His first words? “Oh, you’re here already.” Already, as in five minutes early… not even as early as I should be. As I stood up to greet him, I was clad in pressed dress pants, and a pinstripe shirt, with a tie. He was wearing, once again, I am not making this up: workout sweats, a wife beater, and a North Face fleece. I’ve worked in hip, young dot-coms. The interns there dressed nicer than this guy. I’ve been told never to wear jeans to an interview, but this guy was wearing SWEATS! I started to worry I’d wasted my time, but I kept up hope. After all, they haven’t gotten to behold my professionalism at work just yet.
So, I am quickly shuttled into the nearest conference room, with the veiled implication that it’s as much to avoid seeing the rest of the facilities as it is for the room’s inherent suitability. Within minutes returns Mr. Too Stylish for Style and with him is another guy. This other dude had a patchy goatee, a none-too-shabby beer gut, but at least he had that sort of “Basement Cubicle of Broderbund Chic” going on with his polo shirt and jeans. The first guy had downgraded to business casual by taking off his fleece. He looked like the type of guy who maybe had played football in college… er, more likely highschool. He had that layer of pudge so evenly distributed around his face and body that it had just come to define him.
So began the interview. I was asked right off the bat to explain who I was. So I started giving a synopsis of my marketing history, and prior to that my history as a graphic designer and illustrator. In particular cited my experience as head illustrator of Rome and Environs highlighting my incisive attention to detail which made the visual component of the book what it is (as anyone who knows me is aware… it certainly isn’t any artistic talent). It was in that instant that I was interrupted, and my view of the world just became more black and cynical. He said, “Hold on a sec. So, about your attention to detail. We were kind of wondering if you might be willing to compromise on your sense of design.”
Alarm bells went off. I had a feeling I knew where this was headed. I replied with a question to buy time. “What do you mean by that? I have often compromised and often been able to recognize another’s idea as the best one. I’m more concerned with the end product being excellent than my own ego being satisfied.”
Phew! Saved… right? Wrong. He then replied by saying, “What I mean is, would you be willing to go with a design you might not consider ideal?” I stalled further, wanting to delay what would surely induce God himself to strike the room we were in with a meteor. I told him I wasn’t sure what he meant. But to no avail. I got the answer I didn’t want from Polo-Shirt Guy: “What he means is, would you be willing to completely bastardize everything you ever believed about design?”
They had to have noticed the gaping expression, the deer-in-the-headlights eyes I must have been wearing. I was in complete shock. Not only did this company have absolutely no intention of giving up their shyster business model, but they wanted to turn me into them. They didn’t want fresh, talented personnel to redefine their marketing model, but fresh bodies to replace those who had jumped off tall buildings in despair. I felt like a Priest who had a man come into confession and confide that he had just raped a young boy, but before the Priest could suggest a penance, the man asked if he wanted to DP a few altar boys.
It only got worse. Sense-Of-Style said, verbatim, “You’ve probably seen our website, and as you can see, it looks pretty shitty. That’s pretty much how it’s going to stay.” At this point, I no longer had any interest in impressing them, and thus emboldened, started asking the questions. I asked if, by that they meant would I implement e-mail ads along the same design philosophy. The short answer was yes. So I asked, diplomatically, if they felt that this more stylistically loud and garish aesthetic attracted more business and won more sales as I honestly had no idea how it would. I was just as curious as I was defiant by now. I never did get an answer. SoS explained that at first he didn’t really like it, but now whenever he looks at a [properly designed] website, he finds himself thinking “They really need some flashing text there.”
I asked them, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to create a sense of aesthetic rapport with your customers? And moreover, not to intimidate them with assaultive overload of information? It would certainly foster more return business.” His answer was simple: “Honestly, we don’t give a shit about branding.”
Branding, personal experience, dignity, who needs ‘em? It certainly explained the lack of sign. It also explained how they can advertise the same product with five different names. His explanation was that they were a direct marketing company who just wanted to push products (and job candidates) out the door. His description of the target customer was, “Men from around age 30-40 with a little extra money who like buying gadgets and aren’t too concerned if it doesn’t work too well.”
Alright then. Can’t really say much to that. I decided I’d ask my favorite question. “What do you feel makes this company the best at what it does?” (stifling snickers) His response was something about your ability as an employee to pursue what you want to do, and avoided any talk of the product itself. Sense-of-Style elaborated to say that they’re very open about communications at the company. Apparently, the employees sit at long tables with no cubicles or partitions, and still communicate with IMs. So, in the guise of asking, “What makes this company the best to work for?”, I asked him why the fuck anyone not on crack would ever want to set foot in their offices?
He reiterated that they can really let loose and do their own thing… mostly. Apparently “The CEO is this British Guy, very tall, very intimidating. He’s usually in Hong Kong where the products are made, but when he comes here, he expects us to fall in line, and we do. We usually end up working till 7 when he’s here, and we’re at his beck and call.” Overall, it could be said, his case for working at this company was not very compelling. I imagine Sense-of-Style dressed a little snappier when CEO Darth Vader was around.
He then asked me if I played any sports in high school. High school, not college. Apparently this was somehow relevant because it related to the concept of teamwork in the office. He didn’t ask me any questions about teamwork in a professional setting, just about high school sports. The key point of relevance seemed to be that it gave him a chance to mention he’d played football in high school. Score one for me. He also asked if I’d done any low-level service jobs like bagging groceries or flipping burgers. Apparently this must have a lot in common with working at this company. I was starting to see a pattern. I told him the truth… that I’d bagged groceries and mopped floors for Safeway, although in retrospect, it would have been nicer to work for one of the higher end companies like Central Market or Whole Foods which appear to have some modicum of respect for their employees. Sense-of-Style was quick to toot the company horn once more, and told me, “Yeah. And we’re sort of the Safeway, Wal-Mart low-end range type company that works with volume rather than top of the line quality.”
By now, I just wanted out, so I brought out the big guns. I said to SoS, “So, I recall the ad campaign you guys used back in the early 2000s where you had pop-up ads and you caught a lot of flak for it. You did discontinue that, right?”
“Well yeah… but honestly they made a shitload of money.”
And there was the ethos of this company summed up in a sentence. Never mind that business is about finding a need and filling it. Forget that central tenet of basic ethics. These guys just want to make money. So do bank robbers.
At this point, somehow an hour had flown by and I was ready enough to slit my wrists anyway, so the interview concluded with the usual BS lines such as “We have a few more interviews to do so we’ll call you and let you know where we are.” I thanked them (for warning me so honestly to never work there) and that was that. As I walked out the door, I spotted the only other person I’d seen there all morning. A very obese man talking on his cell phone. In any other circumstance, he’d be of no significance to the plot, except that he summed up the company in 400 concise pounds. Nobody I’d seen there looked happy or healthy. Nobody had the slightest shred of pride in what they did. Sense-of-Style continuously badmouthed his own company, because even while justifying it superficially, he knew deep down he was working for a racket.
Last I heard, I was the top candidate for the position, however I had already told the agent I wasn’t going to accept unless it was as an outside consultant in charge of remedying their faulty business model. As a consultant, I’d actually prefer the company be somewhat lame, as I love a challenge, and I could work the way I wanted to. I’ve consulted some lame companies before and there was no shortage of stuff to fix. But as an employee, I feared I’d become absorbed into the deleterious company culture. I might start to scrub out, gain weight, and begin to scorn the basic principles of business. Well, no. I have a stronger sense of self than that. Instead I’d just slowly go insane.
Anyone who can guess the company wins a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. But you must come to Seattle and meet me to collect it. I promise I won’t be wearing a wife-beater.
Ex Post Facto:
According to a responder on BoingBoing.net, “X10 [won't] ever go away because of a few big Chinese investors”. Probably the same ones who own companies that make those motor scooters that fall apart after 30 minutes. I once assembled a little Chinese made 40cc Razor-looking scooter for someone. I followed the INCREDIBLY poorly written directions to the letter. Basically, assembled it as well as it could be assembled. Within 20 minutes of first starting the motor (which left my hand blistered), it inexplicably died. No attempts at re-starting succeeded. It turned out to be an electrical fault.
Also, I found this link:
One particularly disturbing remark is from another X-10 employee who says: “They recently held a giant Ipod sale. They never had or are planning on shipping out any of these units, it was all a niftly marketing ploy to gather Email addresses for a new marketing campaign coming up soon. The whole Ipod sell was a scam to acuire email addresses, just check with anyone who has ordered any of these units. Amazingly, everyone who ordered one got put ‘on back order’ for an undetermined amount of time, even tho the company had its reps tell everyone they would ship Wednesday, June 2nd.”
Is this true??