August 1997
s m u g
by Joe Procopio



If you're anything like me (and God knows I am), you exist in a state of perpetual motion. For instance, right now I'm writing this article, mixing down some acoustic masters for my band, and waiting for a callback from the good people at the DMV (points, *schmoints*, I say). That's just the stuff I'm doing directly. In the background, my computer is pricing plane tickets over the internet (New York, 10th year high school reunion) and downloading some files from my office so that I can go to a client site tomorrow morning without going into the office first.

That will get me thirty more minutes of sleep.



This is Type-A, baby. This is the kind of lifestyle that the marketing folks for all the techno-gadgets, overpriced German sports cars, and local health clubs just salivate over. It's also the kind of lifestyle that can put ambitious young men and women with tons of potential into an early grave. Or at least a series of dysfunctional relationships.

Luckily enough for me, I don't know any better.

Also, I get bored easily.


Now, I have this friend. For the sake of anonymity, let's call him "Shawn." Shawn and I used to work together at the same tech-consulting firm. We share the same corporate-business credo, which goes something like; "Stick it to the man." However, while I have chosen to tackle the Great Monolith System from within, Shawn has decided to thumb his nose at the whole thing and become an independent contractor.

Shawn now makes a ridiculous amount of money.

And he calls me once a month to tell me so, usually the day after payday. Lately, these "catch-up" chats have degenerated into:

Me: I can't do business-lunches anymore unless I get clearance from somebody.

Shawn: I'm building a house next month.

Me: These deadlines are killing me. We're severely understaffed.

Shawn: I had to work on Saturday. I made an extra $700.

Me: I can't get the software I need for my demo tomorrow.

Shawn: Have you ever been to the Caymans? What should I wear?


Call me crazy (go ahead, I'll wait), but something isn't right here. It seems CorporateWorld has tripped over this freak anomaly in the time-space continuum of technology. In other words, there's a knowledge gap. And it's huge. People who know computers, software, hardware, or information technology can make a killing. Now.

Put this together with my need for constant mental stimulation, and it's time for a new job.

Me: So what do I do?

Shawn: Slap together your resume and register with a couple of internet recruiting firms.


If you're going to take on the big, bright world of independent contracting, you must first realize that an independent contractor is only as good as the contract he or she can obtain. You don't have time (or, more to the point, the clout) to hash over figures with the CEO of American Express, culminating in an agreement that makes him happy and you rich. You need an agent, or, more specifically, a recruiter. One who will hunt down those leads for you 24/7 and come back to you with an offer that includes a boat.


Kicker is, the recruiter gets a percentage of whatever they score for your compensation. So think of it this way; if they get you a boat, they get a third of that boat. Loose analogy, but it works. Now, add to this the number of boats being given away by major corporations to independent contractors (zero), and you have an interesting situation.

The majority of the contracts out there suck. The majority of candidates for those contracts are sorely under-qualified.

So what happens?

Lies! Lies! Lies!


Now, I've been on the other side of the recruiting desk. I've had to hire. And I've seen potential candidates exaggerate to the point of fraud. Let's say John Smith wins "Employee of the Week" for his thrilling and eyebrow-raising memo on saving paper clips. Note: This award is usually given to John to provide him with some sort of satisfaction in hopes that he'll shut up about the paper clips and return to the drudgery of his job with new vigor. John takes his award and then adds the name of his boss and the current calendar year. Then he gets a thesaurus. So now his "Employee of the Week" award becomes "The 1997 Irving K. Osgood Laudatory Encomium."

But this type of ruse has gone on forever, no?

The latest craze is to, I don't know, walk into Best Buy or something, and lift the names of software packages from the boxes in the "Productivity" section. And then maybe read the back of the boxes to have something to say in the interview.

"Oh, I'm quite familiar with Microsoft's Corporate Slagmaster Version 4.01. Did you know they've beefed up their Useless Meeting Planner feature to boost productivity paradigms by 35%?"

And while we're at it, having Microsoft Skills means more than using WordArt in Word97 to make cool party fliers. And having Internet Skills means more than being able to find


The recruiters themselves are no better. This is the lesson I've learned more recently. The ugly process begins with the initial phone call (by the way, it's not *that* difficult to pronounce my last name. Especially with a little time to practice beforehand). After the name-butchering, they mention that my resume was "passed to them by a mutual friend." I'm not sure what logic is used here. If I *had* a "mutual friend," I wouldn't need a recruiter. I know this is a lie. They know I know this is a lie. What kind of relationship starts off like this?

Well, except for in college.

Then the flurry of buzzwords begins. My skeptical nature allowed me to dig a little deeper when these phrases were mentioned. Here's a small definition list, best as I could understand:

Casual Office Environment =
Six by six foot cube.

Potential for Growth =
They need two years of work done in three months.

Fortune 500 Company =
Six years ago, before the negligence lawsuits began.

Opportunity for Mentoring =
While you're working we'd like you to train people to eventually replace you for much less money.

Exciting Travel =
We can't get anyone for the North Dakota branch office.

Per Diem =
McDonalds and Motel 6 okay with you?

Leadership Role =
We've got a lot of idiots here.

Temp-to-Perm =
You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.


This went on for two months. I had a couple of recruiters actually reintroduce themselves with the same schlocky sales pitch each time they found a new position I might be suited for. A couple more told me they came across a new position and remembered my name... not thirty seconds after they had just referred to me as Mr. or Mrs. Percopaco.

The highlight was a call I received two weeks ago at about 4:30 in the morning:

Me: Hello?

Caller: (Incessant screaming in some Asian tongue)

Me: Who is this?

Caller: (More incessant screaming, higher pitched. I think I heard the name "Toshiba")

Me: Could you call back in a couple of hours?

Caller: (In terribly broken English. Still screaming) Do you speak Japanese?

Me: No. No I don't.


It was then that I realized that what had just happened qualified as my shortest interview ever.


Oddly enough, by what I've decided was the very grace of God, I got a call later that day from a friend in San Francisco who knew a friend in Raleigh who was looking for someone with my skills. I called him, we went to a bar, we chatted for three hours over beers and buffalo wings, and he offered me a job.

I took it.

I won't be building my house in the Caymans any time soon but now, when people call looking for Mr. or Mrs. Percopaco, I can tell them he or she died in a horrible lawn-ornament accident.



in the junk drawer:

July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997

and such
and such

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