Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Industry Jobs: A Case Study

In previous articles, we have made reference to the difficulties you may encounter when searching for a job in the film industry after graduation. We have always tried to offer advice whenever possible and recommend things you can do (or avoid doing) to help your cause. However, recent events have brought up what can only be described as a case study to illustrate the trials and tribulations of trying to get a job. So I have decided to write about the whole sequence of events so that hopefully others can learn from this experience as well.

It's all Paddy from here on!

The Exposition
Over a month ago now, I saw a job application posted on a media jobs website. I'm not going to name the company in question but they are the newly-established corporate arm of a well-established production company. They were looking for a full-time salesman to sell their corporate videos over the phone. 

My only concern at the time was that the job did not have a basic wage or salary - payment was totally based on commission. I would receive a percentage of the revenue generated from every sale I made. This concerned me for two reasons:
"You know what? You're right - you don't need
us to make you a video after all. Goodbye."
1) I might not be able to make enough money to pay rent, bills and living expenses. There could be many of reasons (other than my abilities as a telephone salesman) which might prevent the company making enough sales for me to earn the amount of commission I need to live on (see right).
2) Depending on the lead times of their videos and their payment system, it might be several months between me successfully getting a client to agree to have the company produce a video for them and the client finally paying for the finished product. All that time, I would be earning nothing.

Regardless, due to my experience in corporate video during my placement year at university, I decided to apply for the job. I figured it would be an excellent opportunity to work with an established company and make some new contacts. Happily, not long after I responded to their application they got back to me offering me an interview at their office. Naturally, as a film graduate who was currently working in a bar, I was over the moon at the prospect of working for a video production company.

The interview went extremely well. My interviewers were impressed with my experience and they were able to answer the majority of the questions I asked them. I was anxious to find out how many corporate videos they had sold and what their forecast was for future sales, as the latter would affect how much money I was likely to earn from this position, but the people I spoke to weren't able to give me a clear indication on how many of their videos they anticipated selling or their expected turnover. That being said, the overall impression I got was very positive.

A few days later I received an email from them inviting me to a meeting with the company's Managing Director. In this meeting I wanted to make sure I brought up my concern that I might would not make enough money to pay rent. I thought long and hard about how to tactfully bring up this issue without causing offence, but it was something that I needed to know before things progressed any further.

"We're here to fuck shit up."

The meeting with the Managing Director went equally well - we both asked and answered lots of questions we had for each other and, although he was able to give me a better impression of how he had forecasted the immediate future of the corporate arm of the business, I wasn't able to properly voice my concerns. I didn't feel it was acceptable to bring up a potentially uncomfortable topic in the middle of his office and in front of all his staff. As a result, I brought up my concerns with one of the company's employees as we left the office, and he promised to pass on those concerns to the Managing Director. Before that, however, he had essentially offered me the job and said he would get in touch later that day.

Sure enough, that evening I received an email formally offering me the position. I was delighted to be offered the job, but I didn't want to accept it right away as something had only recently occurred to me: Was it legal to pay staff solely by commission, regardless of how little they sell?


The Complication
The next day, after a conversation with my parents, some research online and a phone conversation with the Pay and Work Rights Helpline I discovered that I was legally entitled to the minimum wage for this job, regardless of the fact that the was job meant to be paid solely by commission. If the amount of money I earned was less than the minimum wage when divided by the number of hours I worked, the company were legally required to top up my pay so that it meets minimum wage requirements.

Now came the tricky questions: Were the company aware of this? If so, were they trying to see if they could get away with it? If not, should I make them aware of this, and how should I do it to avoid insinuating anything?

Rather than accuse them of anything, I decided to put the ball in their park and see what terms they would offer by requesting a contract, complete with contracted hours and clarification of the pay details. If they did not address the issue, I would make sure they were aware of this fact and were willing to pay the difference should the sales I make fail to accumulate enough commission for my pay check to meet national minimum wage. If they were unwilling to pay the difference, I wouldn't accept the job. It may sound snobbish, but I'm not willing to work for a company that isn't willing to pay their staff what the legal minimum wage. Furthermore, I don't want to quit a job that supports me comfortably for a job that offers me no guarantee that I will make ANY money at all. They say "Money isn't everything", but if you can't buy food with opportunity or pay rent with dreams.
"Thanks Boss, that pat on the back will get me
through another two weeks living on the streets."

The Deus Ex Machina
The interesting twist in this tale comes when the director of a summer camp in Pennsylvania that I'd been in contact with (I've been to America to work in summer camps for the last four summers now) offered me a job as Director of Media at his camp over the summer. I would be organising all of the photography and videography at the camp for nine weeks. The pay was very good and they even offered to pay for my flights. It was a no-brainer. I could spend my summer in the UK, doing a job that involved cold-calling businesses to sell them corporate videos that I wouldn't be making and that couldn't guarantee me any money whatsoever. Alternatively, I could spend my summer in the United States, doing a job that puts all of my education and training to good use and that I know I will love AND getting paid well for it. I accepted their offer. Plus, camp is incredibly good fun!

There are very few jobs in the world where this kind of behaviour is acceptable.

Two weeks later, I still hadn't heard back from this video production company. Not that it mattered now, but I decided to send them an email to find out why they never got back to me and to let them know that I had been offered another job. Interestingly enough, they responded within 20 minutes, saying that they were going to contact me in the next day or two. Hmmm...


The Lowdown
In this case, I was lucky that things worked out well for me in the end. However, I'm confident that even if this job at camp had never come around, I would rather have stayed on at the bar where I currently work, instead of taking a massive gamble with a job that I wasn't comfortable with.
My advice: Do your homework. Learn your rights. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself if you think your employer is doing something wrong. I know graduate work is hard to come by and the market is very competitive, but don't let prospective employers take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to step back and look at things objectively. When you do, the decision is often far easier than you think.

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