How I got sucked in, part 2

(Continued from part 1)

Andrea took me aside and congratulated me.

“I’m really looking forward to working with you. When can you start?” she asked. I explained her about my current situation at the engineering firm and how in another two weeks I would have open availability.

“Ok, that’s perfect. The construction on the store won’t be finished for a few days anyway” she informed me. “Would you mind hanging out for few minutes? I need you to do some paperwork.”

“Sure” I told her. She disappeared into the darkened, yet to be completed store and reemerged a few minutes later with a large stack of papers. She handed me a pen and told me if I had any questions to let her know. Along with the normal tax forms and other common employment information to be filled out, there was an aptitude test in the stack of papers. I didn’t realize it was a test at the time. I asked Andrea:

“What’s this packet?”

“Oh, that’s an attitude test they want you to take. All the management candidates take it. It’s no big deal. Just answer honestly and I’m sure you’ll be fine,” she said.

I have since learned that administering these tests has become a very common practice in today’s employment environment. As best as I can figure, the goal of these tests is to ask you about a hundred questions all relating to morality and honestly in some weird way. What I find amazing about these tests is that if you really answer honestly you will absolutely fail these tests. If you lie your ass off on these tests you will also fail miserable. These aptitude tests that many corporations give to their potential employee are actually tests to determine how well you can blur the truth. I’m serious.

These tests are commonly broken down into two types of questions both of which are answered with a multiple-choice response. The first type directly asks you a personal question. You check off either the “yes” or the “no” answer. The second gives you a hypothetical situation and the hypothetical resolution. The question then asks if the test taker Strongly Agrees, Agree, Somewhat Agrees, Somewhat Disagree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with the question. Let me give you a few examples of the questions I answered that day.

“Have you ever smoked marijuana?” Yes ___ No____

“Have you ever committed a felony?” Yes ___ No____

“All people who steal are criminals.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“Sally knows Billy is struggling to pay his rent and feed his children. Sally witnesses Billy remove a twenty dollar bill from the cash register and put it in his pocket. Sally tells her manager about it. Billy gets fired. Sally did the right thing.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“If someone drinks just to get drunk, they have a drinking problem.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“Bob is George’s supervisor. When George comes into work he is clearly hung over. Bob lets George go home without further penalty. George did the right thing.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“Someone who engages in recreational drug use will be an unreliable employee.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“Whether it’s a $3.00 pair of socks or $10,000 bracelet, stealing is stealing and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

“Bob is George’s supervisor. Bob witnesses George asking for another female employee’s phone number. Bob ignores the situation. Bob did the right thing.” Choose One:

Strongly Agree____ Agree____ Somewhat Agree____

Somewhat Disagree____ Disagree____ Strongly Disagree____

I answered about 25 pages of questions exactly like these. The questions were all over the place. Drug use, alcohol abuse, sex in the workplace, stealing. You name it, it was on this test. Also, the tests often repeat themselves and ask the same question in a different way to judge your consistency. The real bitch of these tests is that you have no idea what the right answer to these questions are. I’m sure that very reasonable people can disagree as to the correct answer to some of these questions. After you finish the test your results are called into the home office. By grading the answers to the test, the human resources rats who are responsible for tests like these determine your hireability. I knew after the third question that I better make sure I sounded as best as I could without sounding like Mother Theresa. As a result I took the test, not looking to be as truthful as possible, but rather to sound as human as possible. Obviously if you answer yes to the “are you a drug addict” or “are you a convicted felon” questions your hireability goes down the toilet. That’s fairly obvious. It gets a little dicey when you talk about people who are poor and are stealing to feed their children. So, you make up answers that sound good but not too good. The key phrase in that sentence was “make up”. If you sound too moral, you’re not getting hired. If you sound too much like a heroin addicted rock star you’re not getting hired. The perfect test score is smack dab in the middle. You must score well on all the hot button issues but still have a few flaws that can be corrected through proper training. I’m sure the companies that subscribe to the use of these tests would defend them as useful instrument in the never-ending employee screening process. It’s fairly evident that many people believe these tests to be adequate judges of someone’s character as is apparent from their extensive use in the hiring practice of many companies. Unfortunately, the only way these tests will stop a potential bad hire is if the person taking the test is too dumb to realize that saying you’re a thief won’t get your hired. If you’re an honest drug user or a moral thief and like to admit it don’t bother taking these tests. In my opinion the only thing these test measure is how good you are at inventing yourself into an image of cooperate hireabilty. These tests encourage dishonestly from the very first moment you join the company.

Andrea took my test and had it graded by one of the Anonymous Outfitter’s human resource rats. I passed. With that final hurdle out of the way I was officially a member of the Anonymous Outfitter’s team. Andrea and I our goodbyes and she said she would call me in the next week to set up a schedule.

All things considered I was pretty excited about my new job. It was a fresh start for me away from the angry engineers with health benefits, a chance for promotion, and twice the money. Andrea seemed excited to have me in her management team and I was happy to be there.

Little did I realize working for Anonymous Outfitters was much like the Red Scare of the 1950’s except without the communism. The upper management of Anonymous Outfitters were either related to Joe McCarthy or read his collective works because, if you listened to their logic, every person ever born on this green Earth was a thief waiting to emerge.

My last two weeks at the engineering firm went well. I have a feeling they were as happy to get rid of my as I was to start new somewhere. People generally ignored me for those two weeks and that was fine by me. My boss wished me luck on my way out the door on my last day. Thanks buddy.

When I started with Anonymous Outfitters, things were great. Really great. In fact for about two months I loved the job. I can honestly say I have never been happier in any job than I was for my first two months at Anonymous Outfitters. I was making more money then I knew what to do with and wasn’t staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day. It wasn’t easy work mind you. When construction finished in the store we had the massive task of cleaning the place up and actually stocking the shelves. It took a crew of about 40 people a full week to get the store presentable. That says nothing about the stock room that the public never sees. I fit right in with the people who worked there. They were friendly and always willing to lend a hand. One issue I did have with the store at first was my training, or lack thereof. I never actually had any official training. The training I was promised by Dick never emerged. The store was so busy in the first few weeks between stocking the storefront, cleaning the stock room, and the general insanity of a grand opening there was no time for sit down training. What I learned I learned by fire. It’s not an altogether terrible way to learn if you have a reasonable boss. I made mistakes but, all things considered, Andrea was a decent person who was very good to me and let me figure out a lot of things on my own. One of the problems of not receiving the official training is that you learn things your own way. Your own way, I can promise you, will not be the company way. I would learn this the hard way.

When a new Anonymous Outfitters store opens the regional manager, Dick in this case, typically gives the management team about three months to get the store organized and running smoothly before his first visit. In essence the regional manager is saying: “I know your store will look like shit for three months after opening. Rather than see your store looking like shit we would rather ignore you for three months. After your three month window, things better be perfect or you’re ass is grass.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. Things would have been fine for us if it wasn’t for those damn aptitude tests. Turns out the two other people hired to be part of Andrea’s management team were real winners. One quit two months in and the second was transferred to another store for undetermined reasons. So much for the aptitude test. They certainly didn’t see that coming.

Once Andrea learned of our sudden management crisis she tried to contact Dick. Because Dick’s district was so large it could be difficult to get in touch with him. You always had to call his beeper (!) and then he would call you back at his convenience. Andrea immediately paged Dick. It took Dick a full day to return her call. When he did, Andrea asked him if we could hire another manager or at least transfer someone into our store from somewhere else in the district. She was hoping that both would happen. There was some urgency to her request because we had a potential disaster on our hands. Suddenly the only people who could open and close the store were Andrea and I. The store was open 10am till 10am daily. A manager had to be there at all times. What this basically meant was that in order for one of us to have a day off, the other manager would have to work the full 14 hour day including an hour to open the store and an hour to close the store. Usually the magic number of managers you need on your staff is three or four. This insures that everyone is going to get a few days off and work less than 80 hours a week. Dick told Andrea he would work out something, but he never said yes to either request. My BS detector immediately went off. Something wasn’t right with this situation. How long, realistically, can two people run a store without days off working double the hours we were paid to work. Both Andrea and I were salaried for about 43 hours a week. With three or four managers the most I ever worked in a week was a reasonable 47 hours. With only two managers I had 70 hour weeks staring me in the face for the foreseeable future. If Dick wanted to prevent a major managerial burnout from occurring in our store, it was in his best interest to get us some help. Wasn’t it?

A week into Andrea and I’s managerial marathon, Dick paid a visit to the store. He sat down with Andrea and told her he didn’t have a suitable managerial candidate to hire and no one in the district could spare a manager to help us. It was pretty clear what he was saying: deal with it. Deal with no days off and 70 hour work weeks. After his meeting with Andrea he asked me if I was hungry. He told Andrea to watch the store. He was taking me out to lunch. I was stunned. Suddenly I was smack dab in the middle of these two and I wanted no part of it.

Dick, turns out, thought the world of me. Andrea had been singing my praises to Dick for about two months. She told him on more than one occasion “she couldn’t run the store without me.” It breaks my heart now when I think about it. Things were about to get really bad really fast.

“I have to ask you a question. I’m going to come right out as say this. Have you seen anything going on in the store that you would like me to know about?” asked Dick as we sat down for lunch in a small restaurant not far from the store. The restaurant fashioned itself as a once removed New York City deli but offered a Mexican-American menu. Don’t ask me.

“Dick, I’m not sure what you mean” I replied and I didn’t. There were two things about Andrea that I thought he might be talking about. Andrea had her own personal problems. She was also divorcée who occasionally had shouting matches with her ex-husband in public. Andrea was also very close to some of her staff members than the company probably would have liked. Anonymous Outfitters frowns on friendships and relationships at work. The training material I was subjected too encouraged a professional distance between employees even after work. Translated: Don’t be friends with people you work with. Before I met Andrea she ran an Anonymous Outfitters in a different mall for years. She had completely turned that store around and hence the reason she was given the store in the Carousel Mall. She earned it. Opening a new store is considered an honor and privilege. They only give that honor to the most trusted employees. The Carousel Mall store was closer to her home and she viewed it as the perfect situation. She brought several of her staff with her when she made the transition between stores. Some of these kids had been working with her for years and considered her a positive, motherly influence on their lives. Honestly though, who cares? She treated her employees with respect and love. It was all professional. Was any of this my business? No. Was that any of the companies business? Definitely not. She was a good person and a good manager. I thought that was all that mattered.

“I’m going to tell you something that you must promise me you will never repeat” said Dick dramatically. “We believe that Andrea and the staff she brought with her to your store are thieves” he said. He sat back in his chair and judged my reaction. I was on trial here and I knew it.

What was I supposed to do? I had never seen any activity by Andrea or her transplanted staff that I would consider suspicious. As a matter of fact, Andrea let a girl go a few weeks before because she thought she was stealing bracelets. There was no proof of this, just a suspicion. Andrea was no thief but it didn’t matter to Dick. He was convinced. How ironic it was that the beginning of the end of my Anonymous Outfitters career would occur in a restaurant.

“Dick, I can honestly say I have never seen anything like that happening in the store” I said.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about you from a lot of people. The simple fact of the matter is that you haven’t received the training you deserve in this situation. Part of that training is being able to spot of thief. These people are so good at what they do, you might never notice it.” By “these people” he meant Andrea and her transplanted staff. Dick then proceeded to show me one of the scariest things I have ever seen. Conspiracy theorists take note. I became a believer in “big brother” from this conversation.

Dick gave me a little background about himself and Andrea. Dick was moved into this district by the company a few weeks before I was hired because the previous district manager was let go or quit depending on who you asked. Dick was brought into the district to shake things up and determine if the district wide theft that the company believed was occurring was actually occurring. Andrea’s former store was number one on Dick’s watch list. He believed that thousands of dollars of merchandise had been stolen from her previous store and that she had something to do with it. There are several types of thief which is also commonly referred to as “shrink”. When product disappears without being paid for your inventory is shrinking and hence the name. Shrink referred to shoplifting, merchandise being lost due to shipping errors, and employees being dramatically undercharged for purchases. Every store gets audited twice a year by a company sponsored loss prevention specialist. According to Andrea’s last audit, her former store had a major shrink problem to the tune of $10,000 dollars. That a lot of shrink.

Dick pulled out his Anonymous Outfitter issued laptop computer as our fajitas arrived.

“I want to show you something” he said.

Dick loaded up a piece of software that I won’t mention to avoid getting sued. This piece of software was absolutely the scariest piece of technology I have ever seen. Actually now that I think about it, technology itself isn’t really scary. Technology in the hands of simple people like Dick is what scares me. This software did nothing but track all the transitions any employee in any Anonymous Outfitters store had ever made. Ever. Mine, Andrea’s, even Dick’s. That includes ringing a customer up or buying clothing for your own personal use. Anonymous Outfitters gave a tremendous 50% discount to all their employees on any non-clearance merchandise. Unfortunately it was hard some days to tell what was clearance and what wasn’t. Clothing retailers are constantly putting things on sale. Sale items were not subject to the discount. If you gave an employee a discount on a sale item the computers didn’t actually tell you that you were making a mistake. It just gave you the discount. However, the computerized registers would send a red flag back to the district manager whenever an item was purchased improperly. An honest mistake in the store looks like theft on this software. Dick pulled up hundreds of transactions that might or might not have been theft in my store. Some of those transactions were rung in under my name. Many were under Andrea’s.

Does this mean Andrea was a thief? Hell, does that mean I’m a thief? I was pretty sure I hadn’t been stealing from the company. I guess I would know. I highly doubt Andrea was either. Jesus Christ himself would look like a petty thief if he was an associate in Anonymous Outfitters. The software didn’t give specifics as to why something was rung into the registers improperly. It only flagged certain transactions that were “suspicious”.

Let me give you an example of a suspicious transaction to the people using this software. A customer is shopping in your Anonymous Outfitters store. They find a shirt that has been marked $25.00. The actual retail price of the shirt is $35.00 but has accidentally been marked incorrectly. The customer brings the shirt to the register. The register believes the shirt is actually $35.00 instead of $25.00. Remember, the error was committed by a human. That’s a fairly common occurrence in any business. How many times have you gone to a store and had a question about what something cost? It happens all the time. To the computers the shirt is still $35.00. What do you do as a store manager? Do you argue with the guest? Obviously not because it’s your mistake. You override the computers and give the customer the shirt for $25.00 and wish them a good day. If you give the customer a hard time the best that’s going to happen is he or she is going to put the shirt back, leave and never shop in your store again. The worst case situation usually involves an e-mail or phone call to the corporate office complaining about the service in your store. The only solution to this issue is to bend the rules and make sure the mistake that led to the improperly marked shirt doesn’t happen again. In this scenario you only had the betterment of the company in mind but this software made you look like a thief. A ten dollar thief. It was absolutely frightening.

Dick’s judgment of Andrea was a simple case of jumping to conclusions and then searching for the evidence to back it up. This software made that possible. Dick believed that Andrea and her transplanted employees were thieves. It was Dick’s job to clean up the problem. This meant, as I learned about a month later, getting rid of Andrea at basically any cost. You would think that, as a powerful district manager, changing the management teams of your assigned stores would be a fairly simple process. No part of the employment process is simple when a corporation is involved. In fact, nothing is simple when a corporation involved.

Something you should know about the retail industry is that unless you actually watch someone steal or shoplift an item you can’t do jack to them. You can know for a fact that a customer is stealing from you but unless you see them actually shoplift the item you have to let them go. The Corporate Loss Prevention slugs provide suggested courses of action to prevent the thieves from actually going through with the crime. For example, one of the Anonymous Outfitters loss prevention techniques is to imply to the guest you know they stole something without actually saying “give me back that shirt you thief.” If you think someone was about to steal a shirt you could say to them “I really like that shirt you had in your hands a moment ago. Did you put it back?” Unfortunately that’s just about your only recourse. The company would rather lose a $50 pair of jeans then deal with a lawsuit.

Something else you should know is that Anonymous Outfitters doesn’t fire people. It either stops scheduling them or makes their lives so difficult they want to quit. Dick was employing the latter tactic on Andrea. If someone leaves on their own accord there is no paperwork to do. If someone is fired you have to justify the termination. Anonymous Outfitters was all about following the path of least resistance. He never actually caught Andrea stealing. Rather than be a man about it and confront her he simply removed all hopes of getting another manager in an effort to get Andrea to quit. District managers don’t like to be men about things they might be wrong about. He figured that a month or two of 70 hour weeks would do the trick. He was absolutely right.

Andrea was a good employee. She loved the company. She was the best manager in the district. Dick didn’t know her or anything about her. He was as new to the district as I was. He simply wanted to make a splash and show he could get results. He wanted to lay down the law. He wanted to be the alpha male. District managers usually aren’t leaders enough to deal with the day to day running of a business. Instead they only appear when the corporation perceives a problem. Just like the aptitude tests Anonymous Outfitters gives to all new managerial hirelings, they only succeed in seeing what they want to see. Never mind that Andrea was a good, hard working, loyal employee. People like Dick thrive on drama, controversy, and unrest. This is a common trait among district or regional managers.

You might be asking yourself why didn’t I get out? Greed. Plain and simple. I was making good money with good benefits and Dick had insinuated that if I stuck it out, kept my eyes open and my mouth shut I would be greatly rewarded. I consider this to be one of the darkest moments of my life. What I did, or didn’t do to be more precise, is unforgivable. I should have stopped eating my fajita and told Dick I thought he was full of shit. I should have told him I had never seen Andrea steal stitch of clothing and highly doubted she had it in her. Instead I took it all in and allowed him to convince and manipulate me. Honestly, I was scarred. I was suddenly caught up in something I didn’t understand.

In retail theft is the cardinal sin. If someone calls you a thief it’s like being called a “Red” in the 1950’s. When someone accused an employee of stealing it was serious business. Dick was telling me that thousands of dollars of clothing had disappeared, on paper, out of Andrea’s former store and there was only one explanation: Andrea and her cohorts had stolen from the company.

Obviously there was more than one explanation. I hate myself for believing him however. It’s not like I treated Andrea any differently or performed my job with less professionalism because of what Dick told me. But I was in the middle of it. Dick had played the trump card. He called her a thief to her only peer, her only assistant manager. Dick had successfully put a wedge between Andrea and I that would lead to my promotion to store manager in less than four months with the company. I was playing politics as much as he was. I knew that she might get fired or forced out and didn’t say a word to anyone about it. Looking back on it I feel like I watched an innocent person fall so I could advance my career. I wasn’t the reason Andrea was on the verge of losing her job but if you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem. I was young, but not stupid. I didn’t want to lose my job that had made life fairly comfortable. I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck anymore and it was a great feeling.

After lunch (he bought), Dick and I returned to the store. Dick spent the remainder of his visit picking apart the store piece by piece. He gave us a laundry list, literally, of things we needed to fix before his next visit in less than two weeks.

The next two weeks sucked. Plain and simple. Dick basically wanted us to completely remake the store’s entire appearance. He wasn’t happy with a single decision Andrea had make with her visual designs. Corporations like Anonymous Outfitters give their managers a little leeway as to how to present certain products. There is a blueprint, called a floor plan, that details how new products are to be displayed. For the most part these floor plans assume all stores will be similar in square footage and construction. Our store was newly constructed and, as a result, deviated from the normal Anonymous Outfitters store designs. Andrea had to make several judgment calls. Judgment calls are fine if the district manager likes them. Unfortunately Dick didn’t like Andrea and therefore hated every decision she had made in the store that deviated from the floor plan.

To compound the problem Dick demanded we completely re-arrange the stock room. This was no small task. Our store was packed to the brim with product we couldn’t move. Our store was being shipped an unbelievable amount of shirts, jeans, sweaters, and coats under the assumption our business volume would be extremely high. While our store was successful it was not meeting the expectations the company had for us. As I have mentioned, companies love demographics and census data. They look at the sheer number of people in an area and per capita income to determine potential profitability of a store in that area. The Carousel Mall is very conveniently located for many people and, potentially, could be a great place for a retailer like Anonymous Outfitters. Unfortunately there are four other malls within a half hour of Carousel Mall. Our business was less than the company expected and, as a result, our stock room was overflowing with product we couldn’t possibly sell. We told the corporate rats back at the home office in Pennsylvania that they were shipping us too much product. It didn’t matter. The product came at us hard and fast despite our pleas. They told us “sell more stuff”. Clearly we would have loved to sell more “stuff”. It just simply wasn’t possible to sell the volume of clothing they sent us in the market our store was operating in. The Anonymous Outfitter’s brand had reached a saturation point in the area. We couldn’t sell it so we had to store it. It didn’t take long before our stock room was packed to the brim. Does it really take a brain surgeon to figure this out? This was my first retail job and I could figure this shit out. What was wrong with the corporate rats? Couldn’t they see this?

The pressure was beginning to show on Andrea. She was snapping at people and saying a lot of things I know she didn’t mean. She was angry with Dick and couldn’t understand what had happened. She went from company poster child to lost cause in a few months. We were both working seven days a week, 10 hours at a clip. Andrea was completely frustrated with her efforts to get another manager for the store and started to consider other job opportunities. One morning, a few days before Dick’s return visit Andrea told me she found another job and was thinking about taking it. She wanted to talk to Dick first. I knew this was going to be ugly.

Dick arrived on Wednesday morning and was happy to see me.

“Today is going to be a good day. Wait and see” he told me. I wasn’t completely sure what he meant. I was hopeful Dick had discovered his software was wrong and Andrea was a good person again. I opened the store that morning and Dick was pleased with our progress. He told me the store looked a lot better and the stock room was actually navigable. His apparent good mood put me in a good mood. Maybe this was going to be a good day.

Andrea came into work around noon. Dick immediately took her into the stock room and locked the door. I have no idea what was said in that room over the next hour but Andrea eventually emerged visibly upset. She said to me:

“I’m leaving. I just quit. I can’t work for that asshole. He thinks I’m a thief and I won’t work for someone like that.”

Mind you, I’m paraphrasing. There were several expletives thrown in for meaning. She hugged me, told me good luck, and she walked out the door. I never saw her again. Andrea lost her job and I’m not sure if she ever really knew why. I did talk to her on the phone a few days after she quit. She told me that Dick accused her of stealing. Over the course of that hour in the stock room she asked Dick to provide specific details. As it turns out, there was a week to ten days when a lot of the merchandise apparently was lost in her former store. It was a documented fact that Andrea was on vacation during that period of time. How could Andrea steal clothing when she wasn’t even in the store? Dick had no proof and hadn’t even done his homework. Every attempt to rebuff Dick’s accusation only angered him more. The conversation ended with Andrea quitting and Dick getting exactly what he was hoping for.

After Andrea left Dick emerged from the back room. He took me on another walk through the mall.

“Andrea quit” he began.

“Yeah, she told me” I replied.

“How do you feel about that?” he wondered.

“Well, I like Andrea as a person but she has to do what’s best for her” I replied. It was such a political answer. I hate myself for it. When someone leaves a company like Anonymous Outfitters, people are instructed not to say anything positive or negative about the former worker. You can’t even give references if a former employee puts you down as a previous employer. All you can do is confirm or deny the dates of their employment. Every former employee, good, bad, or otherwise, receives the same reference blacklisting. It’s nauseating.

Dick nodded his approval at the answer.

“I am left with a serious problem with this store. You are the only manager left. I have two other managers ready to transfer into this store and take things over. I’m not sure how the staff would react to that.” I agreed with him. I didn’t say anything about how the staff was going to react to losing Andrea. Andrea was very popular with the staff. He continued.

“I want to give you a chance with this store. I have to run it by my boss, but I’m offering you a promotion to general manager” Dick said. There is was. My reward for being a good little patsy. I kept my mouth shut and was rewarded with my own store. With the promotion came a large increase in pay, benefits, and the ultimate responsibility that comes with being “the boss”.

In four months I went from an engineer firm to a retail outlet. I had been promoted way out of my league in both places. I had never worked in retail before in my life but here I was about to accept a job as the general manger of an Anonymous Outfitters. Some people wait for years to reach general manager. I was never trained properly to be an assistant manager. Now I was offered the general manager position of a store clearly in trouble. It was the Wednesday before Black Friday, the busiest retail day of the year. Like an idiot I accepted the position.

Most soon-to-be-general managers are trained for two weeks to a month on top of their assistant manager training before they take over their new store. Due to the circumstances in my store, I did not have that option. I was to receive no training. I was given the reigns and told to drive. Just before Dick left that day he asked me “Do you think you can do this? It’s not too late to back out.” I told him if I got the help I needed, I could do anything. I was about to learn two things. First, everyone is expendable to a corporation. Second, I couldn’t do everything.

The week of Thanksgiving I worked 85 hours. I was being paid for 43 of those hours. The week after Thanksgiving I worked 80 hours. The week following that I worked 76 hours. I would not see a week where I worked less than 60 hours for the next two months. I wish I could tell you there is a happy ending to my career with Anonymous Outfitters. There isn’t. I was a temporary solution to Dick’s problem. Andrea was only one of Dick’s targets. Three of the stores in Dick’s sphere of influence were supposedly full of thieves besides Andrea’s. I didn’t see Dick again for weeks following my promotion. He had bigger fish to fry. I was, just like with the engineering firm, a calculated risk to Dick. The logic was simple. I knew the staff in my store and could take over a lot easier than an outsider. Dick obviously wanted to start over with the district and groom it in his own image with his own people. He gave me the opportunity because he didn’t have anyone else at the time and he hoped I could learn enough on the fly to get through the holiday season. After the holiday season, all bets were off.

At first I was very grateful for the opportunity. I loved being the boss and running my own business. Unfortunately I was screwed from word go. To steal a phrase from the corporate world, I was not set up for success. Dick was so wrapped up with his firings that he didn’t have the time to answer the simple questions I had, let alone major protocol issues. I was so worried about doing things by the book I lost sight of the big picture. On top of all this I was learning how to be a manager in the middle of the holiday rush. It was absolute insanity.

It wasn’t that I was a bad manager necessarily but I immediately had major problems with huge aspects of my job. Take hiring new employees for example. Dick told me to hire an entirely new staff to replace Andrea’s people. I wasn’t going to fire Andrea’s old staff mind you, Anonymous Outfitters doesn’t fire people as I mentioned. I was ordered to replace them all and not schedule them. I liked a lot of these kids. Most of the staff members that Anonymous Outfitters hires are 16-18 year olds. Who else is going to work for $5.75 an hour? Nevertheless, I was interviewing potential new employees and giving aptitude test on virtually a daily basis. When I would conduct an interview I tried to ask the really “hard” questions. I really did. My problem was always that the moment I asked someone “what do you want out of your job with Anonymous Outfitters” I felt like a fraud. I already knew the answer to that question so why was I asking it? They, just like everyone else, wanted money out of their job. Besides that, some of the questions they recommend I ask potential employees were simply outrageous. I’m going to be paying this potential employee $5.75 an hour to fold clothing. Who am I to ask them “what are your best qualities?” The chances are, for $5.75 an hour, I’m not going to see their best qualities anyway. Have you ever heard the saying that if you put enough monkeys into a room with enough typewriters and give them enough time they will eventually produce Shakespeare? Well, if you put one monkeys into a room for 20 minutes he figure out how to fold a pair of jeans.

The questions I should have been asking are more like this: “How do you feel about boredom?” or “Do you mind being paid like shit for menial labor a monkey could figure out in 20 minutes?” What does a question like “What do you consider your worst flaws?” have to do with folding clothing? I’ll tell you. Absolutely nothing.

I also saw an obvious contradiction in Dick’s logic. Dick gave me the chance to manage the store because I was good with the staff. The staff worked hard for me and I treated them with respect. However, Dick’s first order of business was to have me replace all the old staff with new staff. What was the point of me taking over the store if I was just going to replace everyone anyway? Wasn’t my strongest assets to the company my working relationship with the old staff?

To complicate matters Dick transferred two managers into my store that were complete and total idiots. I was grateful for the help and the days off after a month of hell but one of these assistants managers would eventually be suspected of stealing from my store and let go. The other was interested in replacing me and was constantly calling Dick with “progress reports”. I never knew if he was calling Dick because he was prompted too or if he was doing it on his own accord. I suspect, judging from Dick’s track record with Andrea, that the calls were encouraged. At a time when I needed good assistants, I got the bottom of the barrel in the district. It was simply a poisonous atmosphere. All the hours, the lack of training, the complete idiocy of my assistants, and the neglect of my district manager eventually caught up with me. I gave my two week notice in March almost six months to the day after I was hired by Anonymous Outfitters. So ended my meteoritic rise in the company. I had watched what happened to Andrea in silence. The company destroyed the reputation of good person who eventually quit to save her sanity. I reaped what I sowed. The same exact situation played out with me. Shortly after I left Anonymous Outfitters a few friends of mine in the company let me know that Dick was telling anyone who would listen that I was a thief. It’s a sick and vicious cycle propagated by equally sick people.

I was 23 years old and I felt like I was totally out of options. I had no idea what the next year would bring in my life. I was a college graduate with a 3.6. I had already worked in a major tourist attraction, the House of Representatives, an engineering firm, and a retail clothing store. You think my story is unusual? Maybe, but talk to some recent college graduates. Pay special attention to those with degrees in English, History, Political Science, Art, Art History, Psychology, Sociology, Archeology, and Geology just to name a few. People, like myself, with those types of majors have two choices: graduate school or employment outside of their field. Colleges and Universities are turning out unemployable graduates at an alarming rate. You’ve proved you can stick with a program for four years but have little in the way of employable skills.

One of the most powerful lessons I learned from the engineering firm, the tourist attraction, and Anonymous Outfitters was that I could walk into a lot of places and get a job. My degree opened doors to me I would have never thought could be opened. A large percentage of these jobs were out of my field. Some of these jobs, like my job at Anonymous Outfitters are good jobs for the right people. Unfortunately most of these jobs were menial work for menial pay like the engineering firm. I was pretty lucky all things considered. I said to myself several times while I was at Anonymous Outfitters “the degree I have has nothing to do with my job but I wouldn’t have gotten this job without the degree.” It’s a catch 22.I was in a situation that was growing all too familiar. I didn’t know what was next for me. Should I go back to school? I wasn’t sure for what. I needed another job and some time to think and figure things out. As my final two weeks were nearing completion my girlfriend said to me “You know, the Dead Animal Steak House is hiring servers again…..”

1 comment:

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