Consumerist Undercover At IDT Energy: The Job Interview

Midtown Promotions has no yellow pages entry, no website, and no apparent internet job postings. Cruising their profile on Rip Off Report, a site where, natch, consumers file complaints against companies they feel ripped them off, I found a number for Midtown Promotions main office. It took several discussions with the editor of The Consumerist before we felt we nailed down the approach to the first phone call…

Photo: The walls were the same color as their door, but much more faded. And ugly.

This is part 2 of our undercover report into IDT Energy, an energy reseller in the New York area…


Before I called, I set myself up with a new phone number using the free online service Grand Central. When someone dials this phone number, my cell phone rings and when I answer it, I am prompted with a message that gives me four options, one of which is to record the phone call. New York only requires one-party consent to record calls. I wanted to make sure I captured everything accurately.

Now, from what I’ve read, in all the ads DS-MAX put out for prospective new marketing slaves, there is always a contact person, female first name only, and the office’s main phone number. This name changes at different points so they can track where prospects come from. An old high school buddy of mine, who called me when he saw the first diary in this series, confirmed this, among other DS-MAX rumors. For his protection, like everyone else you’ll meet in this series, we’re giving him a pseudonym.

Jonathan worked for an East Hartford, CT based DS-MAX affiliate right after 9/11. He says they screwed him over almost daily, including when he was forced to pay for his own transportation, hotel, and expenses while attending a sales conference in New Jersey.

The lecturers there really worked him over, he says, using every trick in the book to get him to fall in love with his job. On returning to Connecticut, he was out at 11pm one night when a call came from the office, ordering him to come in immediately. He had an elderly underling of his in the backseat and made a quick illegal U-turn in the ghetto of Hartford. The police took one look at this odd couple, cuffed Jonathan, threw him on the front of his car, tore up his seat upholstery, and wrote him a $400 ticket. When Jonathan quit later that night, his employer didn’t reimburse him for his troubles. A several-hundred-dollar check for salary and reimbursable expenses promised to him by the company never materialized.

These were the type of people with whom I was desperately trying to get a job.

Ring, ring.
A female voice greeting me with, “Marketing!”
“Hi, good morning. Who do I speak to about getting a job in sales?” I asked.
“Hold on, please.”
After ten minutes, a new voice says, “We’re holding interviews today at 2:30. Can you make it?”
“Ah, yeah… sure.”
“Dress professional. 115 West 30th, fifth floor, suite 500, between 6th and 7th. Bring a resume. What’s your name and phone number?”
I gave them my real name and my new phone number.

The building directory listed “Figueroa Marketing” as occupying Midtown Promotion’s same office space.

midtownpromotionsoffice.jpgThe office, pictured at right, reminded me of the offices in movies about conmen, which always seem to choose as their setting cheap, drab rented spaces, with hustling employees and ringing phones. Then, when the jig was about up, we see the same place, except emptied, and decaying. Midtown Promotion’s office was already decaying. Dust spun between the bare, faded-green walls. It didn’t matter what else was in the room, even the nice leather couches and sleek glass receptionist’s desk couldn’t offset the walls’ hideous glare.

On the sofa across from me sat a fidgeting, endlessly jumpy twenty-something black guy in baggy clothes and a headband. I’m white, 5′ 11″, wear glasses, and look like I should be an assistant professor of literature. If they weren’t going to hire me, it’s because I didn’t look as desperate and as out of it as he did.

I only waited about thirty seconds before Eric, a blond guy in his late thirties and smiling at all the right moments, his head perpetually tilted sideways, never giving you all his body language, came in and snatched up my resume, whisking me off to his office.

Eric showed me into a spacious office. At least a dozen people could crowd into the area behind the guest’s chair. Everything looked new: the walls, the wood flooring, the desk, the huge bookshelf behind the desk. Ah, I thought, here’s where the money goes. Why waste it in reception? If you just push a few more doorbells, crank out a few more sales, and you could be like Eric here.

Right away, Eric noted the political and cultural experience on my resume and wondered what the hell I was doing in his office. I told Eric I ran into “Jose,” a guy I knew from a catering gig, on the subway the other night and he had told me to stop by if I was looking for work.

“Ah, Jose,” recalled Eric with a nod. “He used to work for us in Chicago. What’s he doing now?”

I almost burst out laughing. “Jose” was the cover story we concocted in case I was pressed about how I heard of Midtown Promotions. I almost missed Eric’s next question. He wanted to know why I was interested in door-to-door sales, seeing as I didn’t really “look like” their typical applicant.

I said, “Last year, I was in politics… and there was, of course, a petition drive… it was something nobody else on the campaign was excited about, so I guess it caught me off-guard a bit when I found that I had the knack for it and even loved it at times. Just the idea of selling people on something, of convincing them face to face…”

He interrupted me. I forgot they don’t actually care about what you’ve done, who you are, or whether you came to the interview in bondage gear. They just need warm bodies.

Eric then offered me the vaguest company description I’ve ever heard. Midtown Promotions was a place that did direct marketing, door-to-door, and other kinds of sales. And that’s about all he said. He never talked about pay rate, hours, or who their clients were. At one point he was rambling about “the 99 cent stores we sell to.” What? Oh God… I hope I don’t get hired to do that. God forbid somebody who I went with to high school is in there and sees me berating the owner for not buying more day-glo plastic umbrellas with ducks on them.

One of the strangest moments came when I realized he stumbled over the name of his own company, as in: “Well, we here at, this is, uh… Midtown….” He looked like he wanted to continue but changed his mind and just left the name as Midtown.

Throughout the interview, Eric’s eyes bulged with excitement, like he couldn’t wait to tell me the next part he loved about the job. And I won’t say he has a permanent smile, but pretty close. He made me feel like he was the head of a big, boisterous family of salespeople.

Luckily, from what I gathered from Eric’s monologue, I’ll probably be working on the IDT-Energy campaign. As the interview went on, well past the standard five minute mark written about in many ex-employee testimonials, Eric gradually worked his way up to a speech I’d seen word-for-word in many an online testimonial from ex-DS-MAX interviewees: how the sales field is very competitive, they have so many applicants for so few slots…

“…and for what we’re looking for, we only have five slots.” Now, I thought, here comes the part where he says, I’ll call you tonight and tell you whether you have a second interview tomorrow. Then he said, “And this interview really doesn’t tell us much… I mean, what is a resume, really? We need to get to know you and this doesn’t say anything.” Suddenly, his demeanor changed. I could hear the mechanism, the gears, grinding a bit. “Like I said, we only have five slots available… and only two slots left…. wouldyouliketobeinoneofthosetwoslots?

I did indeed.

“All right, Brian!” Eric said, jumping up to pump my hand.

I found myself already on my feet, excited and worried, wondering if maybe my vigorous handshake meant I was already getting carried away… — BRIAN FAIRBANKS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Day One
2. The Job Interview
3. The Day Of O
4. Let’s Get Juiced
5. The Meeting
6. The Meltdown
7. The Confession

Note: No definitive ties have been established between Midtown Promotions and DS-MAX/Innovage.