A long time ago I asked y’all what you wanted from your chain bookstores (which I cannot find the link now), and a lot you said you wanted older, knowledgeable sale staff. You wanted somebody other than a tattooed twenty-something who couldn’t care less about their job. You wanted somebody who loved books.
Well, it’s hiring season, and let me tell you that it is damn hard to find someone with these qualifications who will work for minimum wage. Why? Because they are too qualified. Chances are those twenty-somethings are too qualified as well—almost everyone I work with has their bachelors or will soon—but they aren’t at a point in their lives where they are worrying about insurance or how to support their families; they’re just enjoying (or not) a down period before they move onto the next stage.
There are other problems as well. Book people—serious book people—tend to be introverted. Most of the kids who walk through my door with shiny eyes and ink stained fingers would never dream of walking up to a customer and asking them if they need help. They balk at the idea of making meaningless small talk, or stumble over their attempts. Eye contact—which any salesperson will tell is necessary to prove your sincerity—is uncomfortable for them.
And the kicker is that I’m not hiring them to read all day, or lovingly shelve uninterrupted. I’m hiring them to interact with customers. I’m hiring them to sell stuff to people who may be on the fence about buying.
So maybe I should not worry about their book knowledge. Maybe I should hire people who can do the selling and trust that they’ll learn the product on the job.
It’s a hit or miss prospect at best. One of my best salespeople didn’t come in with a lot of book knowledge, she doesn’t have an undergrad degree, and she’s been living on her own since she was sixteen. I wouldn’t throw in that last part, but I know it affects her work ethic. Here is a girl who has always had to support herself. She treats each job like it is important, and gives it her all. She’s friendly, understands the sales process, is a numbers fiend, and loves to learn about new things.
She is the exact opposite of a lot of the people who walk through my doors looking for work. Often the people I get give the impression that this will be their throwaway job, and while I’m not asking that it be the most important thing in their life, I’m asking it be the most important thing while they in my store. I’m asking them to do the tasks assigned, to be proactive and seek out more tasks if they look like they need to be completed, and to help customers. I’m asking them to not check their brains at the door, something that happens more often than not because, hey, it’s just a bookstore in a mall. This complete lack of work ethic doesn’t fly with me because of the way I was raised, but it seems to be pretty engrained in a hell of a lot of the job applicants I screen because it’s a mall-based bookstore and not what they want to do with the rest of their life. Their just trying to make some money, not work.
Besides it’s not like an Indie or anything.
And let’s face it, a certain amount of prestige comes from working at an Indie. You work at an Indie and it says that you’re book people. You love books. You’re sacrificing for your medium.
You work at a chain store doing the best job you can and chances are that once a week you’ll be asked a.) why aren’t working at the Indie in town, and b.) what are you really going to do with the rest of your life?
The amusing thing about this is these very same people expect someone older to be in charge. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve been working with one of my older employees—most often our part-timer who has young kids—and people automatically assume she’s in charge. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, time and again applicants for jobs, customers, etc will assume she’s the one running the floor or the manager of the store. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting there doing paperwork, or we’re both just grabbing stock to put out. Nine times out of ten they refer to her as the person in charge, and it is a pretty safe assumption that it is because she’s got a decade on me age-wise.
So here is what I have learned, contradictory all the way: I should hire people who love books, but they must also be able to talk to people (introverts need not apply) so maybe I should just hire people who can sell and hope the eventually learn the rest; I should hire older works, but I should expect them to work for minimum wage and on a part-time basis; I should hire people who will work for minimum wage, but expect them to put in the effort they only reserve for higher paying jobs.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
I’m feeling a little ranty because last night Barrista Chick came over and we put together a resume for her using all our skills at corporate double speak. Luckily she has a specialty in Starbonics—a specialized form of corporate double speak—that translates well into the resume format. We both agree that she needs to get out of food service, and that her qualifications (education, work history, etc) are such that she can land a higher paying job.
Every job she’s applying for would pay—starting salary—four to five dollars more than I make an hour. Every job she applied for had regular hours and weekends free.
And with every job she applied for I was reminded that I must really love books, love my customers, and love you guys because the life of the bookseller does not pay well.
And the life of a chain bookseller does not earn you a hell of a lot of respect.
Good thing I’m rather attached to the discount.