In a month or so, it will be graduation fever to many colleges and universities in the Philippines. But as early as now, pre-employment events such as career talks and seminars have been going on. Getting a job is tough in the Philippines, but getting your dream job is tougher still.
There are many factors that come into play in this situation. Most would read this as symptomatic of a deeper issue—such as economic inequality, monopoly of power and resources by the elite, government inefficiency , etc. Miraculously, many of our college graduates do end up getting a job (not exactly their dream career) and manage to keep them for some time, before moving on to greener pastures.
Other than Filipino OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), it is said the major force that propels the engine of Philippine economy is the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry. Call centres or contact centres make up the biggest segment of the Philippine BPO industry, consisting of close to a million workforce. The BPO industry has democratized Philippine hiring procedures as well: as opposed to the old days, pre-internet times, when only the “pleasing personality, attended a prestigious university, and knows someone at the chairman’s office” could hack the perfect candidate hurdle. Today it is no longer the case—not in the BPO industry anyway. You have a licensed nurse working as a product trainer for a global insurance campaign; an x flight attendant as a communication coach for a West Coast Telco account; a former English teacher writing online content for a fashion website. Things like that.
The most sought after reward in working for a BPO company is the salary, not security of tenure (nobody talks about that at a call centre). That’s why getting in is tough. There’s a high attrition rate at pre-hiring interviews (almost 60%); and this figure gets higher as the position gets more specialized.
How tough is the call centre interview? In many ways it does go like your average 8-5 office job interview. Let me share some of the off-putting call centre job interview questions I’ve had the bad luck of answering:
Why do you want to work here?
I came to the interview ready with information about myself, my skills, and my previous workplace. The little piece of information I knew about the company I was applying at I got from the classified add section published in a newspaper. Many times these details only mention the company’s business address, corporate profile, nothing more. Unless the company is a global player or is part of Fortune 500, little else is to be said why one wants to work for it. It’s not a big come on to say you want to work for the company because of the above industry salary it offers. But when pressed for a quick answer, one would most likely blurt it. Note that in many big companies, salary is a separate amount from incentives such as perfect attendance, surpassing performance metrics, sales commission, and other perks. It’s very possible to get a reply saying, “Our compensation package is low, but…” And one should wait until the HR guy finishes the sentence.
The HR guy/manager may have heard all sorts of answers to this question, and the only thing he expects to hear is sincerity. Putting on a show by saying things that are too good to be true: “Oh, I love to work in your company because it is the best workplace in the country, and people who work here are happy and proud ” can backfire (it will surely backfire!) and lose your chance for good.
Tell me about a difficult obstacle you had to overcome recently at work? How did you overcome this?
If you’re a bundy clock puncher at 5 PM, this question doesn’t quite apply. But call center workers of all stripes know that just the thought of getting up late at night while the whole world lies sleeping raises cortisol levels five times. Going to work and getting to the workplace on time is an obstacle in itself. And the moment you step on to the production floor there will be only three exceptional instances where you are allowed to step out: during your first break (15 minutes), your lunch time (an hour) , and your last break (15 minutes). Outside of these circumstances, you put your shoulder to the wheel of production—no, you put on your headset and answer calls until your outer ears go numb. That’s an average of 90 calls per shift. During critical working days (expect heavy call volume), it could reach 150-160!
So, in answer to the question above, I said: “ Every shift brings its own shocks and surprises, so I treat each one differently. I am working in a very stressful environment and to think of this as an obstacle would only negatively impact my performance. Instead, I strive to keep up with the demand of my work by programming my mind to take all this in a positive light. Changing my mindset helps me in overcoming work-related obstacles.
How do you deal with change and fast turn overs in the workplace?
It is no secret that that as early training week at a call centre, some newbies don’t make it past the fourth day. They don’t survive for some reason or the other, whether that be external or internal. On the production floor, it’s even more demanding. I had seen people sobbing alone, arguing with their team leads, clenching their fists while on a call, walking out on a live call. Next day you have a different team-mate. That’s how fast it is.
To this question I said: “ It was made clear to us that the work we’re getting into is very demanding, that’s why we’re paid higher. There are high expectations that have to be met daily. This doesn’t mean we have to work like machines. The point of being in a team is that we have people to consult with, air out with, particularly our team lead and trainer. We have to get used to the “rat race” because the true measure of a call centre executive is meeting and breaking performance metrics.
Two days later, I got a call to come for a second interview. The HR guy said I ought to prepare an English lesson demo good for 15 minutes.