I was chatting with a guy recently and when he found out I had been a recruiter, he gushed “They really wanted me to join back when I was in high school. I had all the recruiters calling me all the time!”
I didn’t really feel like busting the guy’s bubble, but he was something of a schlub, and the fact is, no recruiter was going to spend more than a few minutes of time on him.
So why did he have recruiters calling him all the time? Well, because that’s what we do…
One of my key duties as an Army recruiter was to build a database on the population I recruited from. Each recruiter has a geographic area that is his territory. As a general rule, these areas are set by the catchment areas for a certain number of high schools. My job was to build a list of every senior in each of the high schools I recruited from. Sometimes, this was pretty easy. The school would give me a list with names, addresses and phone numbers. Other schools were far less willing to grant access to that information. It was not at all unusual for me to spend time in the local library building lists from yearbooks, and guesstimating what the student’s phone numbers might be by looking up last names in the phone book. And every single night, from 6pm to 9pm, I’d sit in the office making cold calls to contact either high school seniors, or recent graduates.
The USAREC, the US Army Recruiting Command had decreed that every high school senior should be contacted once a quarter during their senior year. Similar edicts were in place for the other branches. So, if you have the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force all trying to get in touch with you four times in one year, well, yeah, it is going to seem like you are getting a lot of calls. And when I called and mom or dad said Johnny just wasn’t interested, that didn’t count as a contact. So I was going to keep calling.
Now, here’s the thing. I didn’t just call up kids and ask them to join the Army. I mean, who would say yes to that? But what I was doing was trying to plant a seed of interest in talking to me. Every recruiter keeps track of EVERY phone call he makes. I could tell you every single time anyone from the Army had dialed Johnny’s phone number, talked to his folks, reached him, talked about the Army, anything. So I had a pretty good idea if a call was likely to lead to any interest. Now, some guys, I knew they were just never going to be a valid prospect for enlistment. But I’d still call them. One, it was my job. Second, I always asked folks if they knew anyone who might be interested. More than one contract came from a referral.
I hated working the phones. It is dull and frustrating. You folks out there that are tired of recruiters calling all the time to talk to your kid? How do you think I felt having to make 150 phone calls a night? Every night. Most folks just politely said they weren’t interested. Very occasionally, I’d end up having a nice phone call, just chatting away (and folks who know me realize just how odd it is that I would be comfortable just chatting with a stranger over the phone). Sadly, a lot of folks were just downright rude.
Worst phone calls ever? I was recruiting in Gary, IN, a city with horrible problems with drugs and crime. More than once, I’d call and find out that the high school senior I was trying to reach had been murdered.