A 360 degree panoramic of our campsite at Balsam Lake Provincial Park last May 2010.

Suspect Information, Ideas, and Opinions - rarely updated and of dubious quality.

ACNielsen - the worst job I ever had

Earlier this year, I worked briefly for ACNielsen. Though touted as one of the Top 100 Companies to work for in Canada, I never took into account that there are only really 100 companies total in Canada, and that the results of Top 100 poll can be skewed by an "enthusiastic" senior executive team that does everything in their power to rally their staff so that they get on the list.

In the end, I determined that there were countless cons and only three pros to working at ACNielsen. The pros were that it was close to home (only 45 minutes away), the cafeteria was this fantastic, gorgeous space with equally fantastic and gorgeous food, and I think my chair was an Aeron or similar knock-off. The back of this chair looked like the Alien that comes out of the chest of the guy in the first Sigourney Weaver movie, and unfortunately it was about as user-friendly - there were operating instructions built into the armrests! I never did get comfortable in that thing.

But as I just said, the cons were many. On my tour-of-the-office on the first day, I asked about all of these terminals that were scattered about the office hallways and cafeterias. My manager said: "Oh they are there because not everyone needs Internet access at their desks. If they want to browse the web on their break or lunch hour, they can use one of these public terminals..." In retrospect, I realize I should have quit right then. That's like saying not everybody needs a phone or a stapler. You can imagine the first thing I did when I got back to my desk was check for Internet access and, thank Google, God popped right up. (I tend to get those two mixed up lately)

But their IT department was pretty expert. First of all they choked the shit out of the Internet connection. I could measure my speed (or lack of it) in single digit baud rates. In the IT usage policy, they made me sign away my IT life and my IT firstborn. I was not allowed to install any non-ACNielsen software on my laptop at all (what about my Palm Sync?) and not only could I not subvert the security measures they put in place, I was forbidden to even try to! This is so contrary to my usual nature (to crack whatever I come across) that I felt somewhat paralyzed and afraid to touch my laptop for fear of contravening the IT Usage Policy.

I was in training in ACNielsen University for over a month. Maybe it's because I'm a trainer (they say physicians make the worst patients) but that was the absolute worst training I have ever experienced. ACNielsen will crow from the rooftops about the "investment" they make in employee training and "ongoing career development" but really, if they had stood me facing the wall for a month instead, I'd have learned more and would have been a whole lot less bitter at the end of it.

If you understand the trainer lingo, ACNielsen does absolutely no pre-qualifying of attendees, they continually put learners on the spot and they know nothing about the concept of "assuring learner success". The majority of the trainers look like they'd rather be doing anything else - I suspect they are completely burnt out. They don't use measurable objectives, their tests and happy sheets have central indicators - essentially they are Market Analysts that became trainers instead of the other way around. The trainers all seems to display visible contempt for internal trainees (vs. clients) which is ironic since everybody who trains there was once an internal trainee right?

In my starting class - the people who started on the same day I did - there were 5 fresh-faced MBAs and me. The trainers would say things like: "Of course you all know what a SWOT analysis is..." and these lemmings would nod and write down the word "of course" and I'd be like: WTF is that?!

Nobody did anything but work there. I would jump around a corner of a cubicle like Mr. Rooney jumping into the kitchen doorway in front of Ferris' sister in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and I never once saw even a glimpse of someone guiltily minimizing their browser window. I understand that when you are at work, you should be working but I found that phenomena completely sick. I think you need a few minutes of personal Internet or email time every day just to decompress from your demanding job, right?

There were exactly 3 moderately cool guys there, but we had nothing in common and I never got to see them during the work day so I never could establish the Dave, Vlad, Steph trio thing again. So, I really didn't click with anyone while I was there. I'd be at lunch with my class, and they'd be all like "All Commodity Volume" this and "A/C distribution vs. Opportunity Cost" that and I'd be like "So! Who saw Survivor last night! Hell's Kitchen? The Bachelorette?..." and they'd just stare at me blankly - if I was lucky. If I wasn't so lucky one of them would says something like. "I NEVER watch TV...I just don't have the time..." which makes me wonder because as a vocal TV aficionado I talk to people all the time about TV. FIFTY MILLION PEOPLE watch Desperate Housewives every Sunday but I think I've asked 500 people if they watch it and not one will admit to watching TV at all, let alone DH. Yeah right.

There was this one girl there. She was an MBA of course, in her middle twenties, and somewhat attractive if you plot her on a bell curve and don't rate her on her own merits. For some strange and stupid reason I was nervous around her and I hated that since I have been married to Patti for something like 75 years now - so what do I have to be nervous about? Also I found out that I am finally getting and feeling old. I had these strange paternal instincts that would kick in when she was around. I obviously had nothing to offer her from an intellectual standpoint but I figured she could benefit from my years of professional work experience. I could show this greenhorn how to navigate the rocky shoals of office life. But the more I tried to ingratiate myself with her, the creepier and more perverted it looked, until the last time I visited her desk, she made a big show of letting some pepper spray fall out of her purse.

And Get this. ACNielsen is a consumer packaged goods market analysis firm. They obtain TLOG data from retailers (like A&P and Loblaws) they massage it to make it all agree, then they sell that data to Manufacturers (like Pfizer, and General Mills) in a proprietary database format and call it MarketTrack. In order to pull reports from MarketTrack, you need this Win32 app called Workstation Plus. After several days of training I was getting mixed messages regarding this simple concept. So I asked the trainer at the end of the day: "Is MarketTrack an application or a database?" It's a simple question, right? You know what she says to me? "Ummm, that's a technical question. You should ask your manager..." When did that become technical?! My own manager, who has been a Market Analyst with the company for more than 8 years, couldn't answer the question. Finally the third trainer I asked told me that MarketTrack was an application you could use to get data. WRONG! This may be my biggest pet peeve - people who bullshit rather than admit they don't know what they are talking about. It actually set me back a bit because I needed to know this little fact to reconcile everything I was hearing, and here I was being led down the garden path by some idiot trainer who is afraid to say: "I don't know."

And speaking of idiots, at ACNielsen I was one. At the conclusion of the month long training there was an exam. It was one of those "don't worry about the exam" exams, and an "even though your job depends on it" exam. So of course, up to the fateful day, everybody is studying for this thing like it's a University final. I am ashamed to say that even I studied my butt off, and I'm ashamed to say it because I failed the test - twice. I also have the distinction of getting the exact same mark on both tests 62%. (A pass was 80%) Man, they phrased the questions all ambiguous and tricky! That is so unlike IT and computers. After training my mind for the last 10 years to express myself in the clearest and most unambiguous fashion possible, all of a sudden I was expected to interpret things, and put "a spin" on them. It has just occurred to me that this might just be the single biggest reason why I couldn't pass that test, and why I ended up courageously dropping my keys and letter of resignation on my manager's desk after she left for the day. (Boy, does she ever work late. I didn't get home until like 8PM.)

After I failed the test the second time, I could really see disgust in my colleagues faces. To be honest, I'm not used to being the "dumb one" They started making me wear this helmet while I was at my desk. People would walk by me and slap me on the back and say "Way to go Steph!" for no reason at all. It was so surprising that usually I would end up dropping my crayons or spilling my chocolate milk on myself. It got so bad I could barely sleep on my mat at nap time.

Client trainers (of which I was one) at ACNielsen get free lunch on days when they are either in training or conducting training. You get this little ticket you hand in to the cafeteria staff at the till and you can put anything you want on it. Keep in mind that this cafeteria is awesome - 20 varieties of coffee, salad bar...really everything you could ever want for lunch. Regardless I considered this free lunch thing a sort of tainted benefit since you usually have to sit with the clients and make chit-chat while having your free lunch...it's not like you can eat with your buddies and play cribbage. So one day , I'm sitting with my class (I ditched the clients) and my tray is loaded down with stuff I would never actually pay for given the choice - one of those overpriced energy drinks, two entrees, two desserts, chocolate bars, gum...the works. My class is wondering about this so I tell them about the ticket. Well, you'd think I'd won the lottery. I mean, we are talking about the equivalent of $15 and these people are literally green with envy. You'd think an MBA wouldn't freak out over something so trivial.

Anyway, I was planning on dieting anyway so I promised that the next 5 tickets I got, I would pass on to each of them in turn so they could experience the joy of "free lunch". That was instant popularity for me. And as promised for the next five days, I would get my little ticket, track down someone in my original class and give it to them. I would then buy a more reserved lunch with my own cash. I reasoned (and I still do) that there is no ethical or moral issue here. I wasn't making any money from this transaction - I was simply spreading the joy a little.

It all went well until person #4. You see, whomever tallies up these tickets at the end of each day is accustomed to seeing 8 to 15 tickets in the cafeteria till, representing a classroom worth of lunches. Person #4 wasn't really hungry the day I gave him the ticket, so he saved it and used it on a day where there was no client training. (God, do I always have to spell everything out in excruciating detail?) So on that day, there was only one client ticket in the cafeteria till. As you can see, this is an impossibility.

Boy, I had no idea these tickets were so important! Everybody got whipped into a complete frenzy about the "stolen" ticket. There was talk about overhauling ticket system to prevent any future travesties-of-justice like this from ever occurring. I'm surprised the police weren't called. In the end I decided (wrongly) to come clean with my (just-promoted and pretty inexperienced) manager who was something like 10 years old, and we would share a laugh about it. Instead she completely freaked out, while still being unable to express any logical reason as to why this was unsatisfactory behaviour on my part. So in the interests of harmony, I volunteered to forfeit another 4 lunches to the company, because from what I could gather, if I am not hungry (I said I gave them away because I wasn't hungry) then I should simply not use the ticket and save the company $15. Of course, this is assuming that I give a flying-f@#$ about saving $15 for ACNielsen...

The whole job description ended up being this one big miscommunication. They told me they wanted a technical trainer, but what they really wanted was a MBA Market Analyst clone who counts among their skills an ability to get up front on groups of people. There was no technical component at all. So all of my current skills were useless, and though I was trying to get some new ones pretty darned quickly, by the end of 9 weeks I was feeling a little nauseous every morning on my way to work. And even though I can't really afford to be jobless right now, I quit anyway because the job was really that bad. Now of course, there may be other areas of the company that approach normal; I can only speak for the "excuse-that-passes-for-training" department. I did learn a lot while I was there. For example, I am now more clearly aware of the incredible manipulation perpetrated upon consumers by grocers and manufacturers...Loblaws being the absolute worst offender. So if nothing else, I will become a savvier shopper because of all of this, but details of that are for another short note to you at some unspecified point in the future.

ACNielsen - the worst job I ever had

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Maybe read No Big Deal, a story I consider to be the very best thing I ever wrote.