Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Giza Pyramid Scheme



This is a really shitty time to be a recent college graduate. Included in my current slew of unfinished books are The Secret and Think and Grow Rich, both of which stress the importance of positive thinking. But with the economy the way it is, it is all too easy to become a pessimist. As I see the stocks plunge and jobs being dropped, I can’t help but grow anxious for one particular job to become vacant – Bush’s. I’m sure he’s quite ready to retire as well. Perhaps he should take a hint from bin Laden and hide in a cave to escape the jobless masses, who are rightfully pointing the finger at him.


Or, like me, giving him the finger.

In my quest for a job, I can’t even count how many resumes I have sent out. What’s worse is the fact that I don’t even hear “We got your resume,” let alone, “Come in for an interview.” It’s insanely frustrating.

To apply for one particular job, I needed to post my resume on Yahoo Hotjobs. I heard nothing from that potential employer, of course, but the very next day I got a phone call, asking if I had ever thought about selling insurance. Of course, I hadn’t, but at this point I was eating up any opportunity that came my way, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with my major. Or my minor. Or my interests in general. In fact, this was the kind of job
that I watch my favorite characters on The Office dread and make fun of from week to week.

My schedule was all clear every day for the foreseeable future, so I figured I would at least check it out. Equipped with a pen and a pessimistic attitude, I sat in a cramped conference room with an array of various job-seekers of all ages and I impatiently waited to hear about the insurance industry.

“How would you like to make six figures within two years?” asked a man in a suit, as he walked through the door. He was off to a good start, in my opinion.

“Here at Giza Insurance [name changed], it’s up to you how much money you make.”

“One hundred percent commission?” a skeptical woman asked, pointing at the brochure that he handed out on his way to the front of the room. “So there’s no salary?”

“That’s the best part!” He whipped out a marker and drew a dollar sign on the dry-erase board.
“This is your earnings.” I was with him so far.

He drew a horizontal line under the dollar sign. “This is the floor, or the salary that most companies would give you.” Drawing a horizontal line above the dollar sign (which represented my earnings, in case you forgot), he explained that “This is the ceiling, which is the maximum you can make at another company.”

My earnings were trapped! Clearly, they had nowhere to go if I went to another company. What was I to do?

The presenter erased the line below the dollar sign. “Sure, there is no salary,” he explained, then smiled broadly, “But here at Giza Insurance, by taking away the floor we also take away the ceiling.” By golly, he had liberated our earnings with the help of an eraser!

He drew one more thing, and now the dollar sign was accompanied by an arrow that reached to the top of the board. “Here at Giza, there is no cap to the amount you make.”
* * *

His primitive sketch opened my eyes a bit to what was going on. I thought back to a night in my senior year of college. After a night of baseball and beer, three of my roommates and I went to a nearby diner. It was 2AM, and we were alone, except for a long table of about twenty people across the diner. Their attention was fixed on a man in a suit, happily saying something.

“What are they doing here so late?” I asked the waitress. “Some sort of motivational speaker?”

“No it's one of those pyramid schemes,” she explained.

“Yo, I’m gonna go ruin that dude's plan and tell ’em all they’re bein’ duped,” my buddy said.

“Don’t!” she said. “Please don’t! Every week there’s new ones and they get all excited and leave a big tip.”

“What idiots,” I said.

* * *

What idiots, indeed. But here I was, two hours into Giza’s presentation, and I was completely sold. I knew it was essentially a scam, yet they had thrown around such amazing numbers and earning potential, that my mouth was salivating for money. They handed around copies of bonus checks, some totaling $30,000. And those were given quarterly. I had become convinced that I could make it. I could be the best insurance salesman ever and get an exponentially increasing paycheck from bi-week to bi-week.

The next day, I was called and asked if I would be interested in coming in for an interview. I excitedly agreed, and for the few days before the interview, I daydreamed of all the riches I would bring in with my newfound career aspirations.

Looking back on it now, my naiveté amazes me. In researching the company online, I found complaint upon complaint from former employees of Giza, who described their own experiences of unfulfilled promises of high income from the company. I brushed it off as disgruntled employees looking to vent, and searched and searched until I finally found a few positive reviews, which reassured me almost completely.

God even tried sending me a sign, allowing me to notice the tiny words: “Results Not Typical” at the bottom of a Jenny Craig commercial.
* * *

When the interview finally came, I voiced a few of my concerns to Shane (who would be my “Team Leader” and who would also get a percentage of my sales). I told him that some of the former employees had left negative reviews online, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t make enough money to support myself, especially in the first few months.

Before he could offer a full explanation, I actually chimed in and offered an excuse for him:

“But you know, most of them were from other branches, and most people who post on those sites are ones who are looking for somewhere to vent,” I offered, and followed up with: “You wouldn’t see someone who is having a great experience looking for somewhere proclaim their great experiences.”

What the hell was I doing?

The “interview” continued with more pleasantries exchanged, and unlike other interviews that I had been on, it seemed that he was sucking up to me just as much as I was sucking up to him. Through our conversation he found out that I had been to the Atlantis in the Bahamas for a poker tournament. The next five minutes consisted of him telling me how they send people on trips to places like the Atlantis and how easy it is to be sent there. Then the next five minutes were spent discussing poker being an integral part of his upbringing.

“Are you an Eagles fan?” he asked, then high-fived me when I responded in the affirmative.

I mean, I was getting sold. He is a proven salesman, and he was clearly selling this “job” to me and I was letting him.

From the outside, it is easy to scorn these pyramid schemes and wonder how people can be dumb enough to invest their time and money at the lower levels of them. But when you are sucked in and become part of the recruiting process, it is amazing how easy it is to get sold by the proven salesmen who sit at the apex.

I am glad I stepped away from the “lucrative opportunity” offered to me, but it is disheartening to go back to the grind of applying for jobs and not hearing a single word back. Money is going to be tight for the next few months. All I can say is, thank God that Chukwu Godwin e-mailed me from Africa and is allowing me to send him $5,000 and in return will wire $2 million to my bank account!

It’s a good thing I check my Spam, otherwise I would be broke in a few months.

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