'I'm just doing my job, ma'am' - Page 2

Careers & Ed: Canvassers, telemarketers, and parking control officers talk about doing work people hate
Illustration by Jason Crosby

"But people need to remember that the parking control officers are their neighbors, their friends, their family — people who are doing an important job for the whole city."


Yes, those clipboard jockeys scanning for eye-contact outside Whole Foods or approaching you at Dolores Park have a name. They're called canvassers, and their job is to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or something similar — and often they're paid by the signature. These days canvassers are talking about everything from orphans to Obama, gun control to global warming. But most people aren't interested in what they're called or what issue they're representing.

"I've been called pariah, douchebag, whore, woman of the night," said Valerie, who recently canvassed at Market and Powell streets for an international charity. "I've had coffee poured on me. I've had people scream 'Get the fuck out of my face!' and yell 'It's a scam! It's a scam!' while I talk with other people."

Dave, a canvasser for Progressive Political Solutions who worked further down Market, agreed the job can be challenging — but worth it.

"There are going to be days that people are totally against everything you do," Dave said. "But then there's someone — one person — who makes the day worthwhile, someone who I would have never been able to talk to in an office."

Dave was enthusiastic about the skills he has developed working the streets. He not only credited canvassing for PPS with enhancing his verbal and interpersonal skills, but also with learning industry-specific skills like how to do press calls and conferences, and understanding the political process. Within months of taking the job, he said, he had risen to staff supervisor, helping to advise and manage new hires.

"I like this job in the sense of the big picture," Dave said, before heading into a crowded UN Plaza, clipboard in hand.

Valerie confirmed that for canvassers, the big picture is what it's all about. Valerie, no less positive for being verbally assaulted and doused with coffee, added, "At the end of the day — no matter how many times someone calls me a douchebag or a bitch — I am making someone's life better. That's what really matters to me."


Kurt Stenzel, vice president of sales at Tactical TeleSolutions, was one of the few people I interviewed who gave me a full name. Then again, he swears his salespeople aren't the same ones interrupting your primetime TV hour — and he credits telemarketing for his meteoric rise to success.

"I took the Greyhound bus from New York City with $200, got a telemarketing job, and one thing led to another and now I'm selling to big tech guys [Apple, IBM, Sprint] every day," said Stenzel, who runs the call station downtown.

Though TTS mainly does business-to-business work, Stenzel explained, most telemarketers do make cold calls to homes at some point. His was in New York, where he worked in a windowless room calling people who didn't want to hear from him.

Their attitude, he says, was, "You're trying to rip me off — now prove otherwise."

"It's a tough go," he admitted. "People will curse you out or be crazy."

So what's good about this job? According to Stenzel, it's how egalitarian the hiring process is. Call stations aren't interested in padded resumes and flashy degrees. They want people who know how to talk, plain and simple.

"If they're articulate, it doesn't matter so much if they've got the right degree," he said. "In that sense, call center work is one of those genuine equal opportunity situations.