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Charming cash out of pockets.

Summary: On the railway viaduct across the road that passes through the campus of Ain Shams University was a large green rectangular panel with the name of an insurance company in white letters of a distinctive Arabic font. Underneath in Roman letters was the el-Shark for Insurance -- a rather unfortunate transliteration for users of English, especially since many members of the community whom Shakespeare dubbed "this happy breed" have had bad experiences with insurance salespeople.

Many years ago, this writer tried his hand at selling insurance for a brokerage that had empty premises at the top of a prestigious office block and a receptionist with a hair-do like a lion's mane. Goodness me! I was tough selling people an 'idea' that involved 'investing' money for an uncertain return. "A hedge against inflation" was one of the phrases we were advised to throw in the conversation as one throws chunks of stale bread to ducks. "Knock out your mortgage ten/fifteen years early" was another.

The number of years could be adjusted to the prospective client's size of his house, or family, or quantity of cars in the driveway outside, or bicycles stacked in the back garden. While we aspiring insurance agents were trying to break new ground and prospect for clients by phone and footslogging, another company three storeys below us was, it was rumoured, "raking it in".

However, the rival company was accused by our boss - the only person who had a desk on the premises and a swivel chair to go with it - of being unethical, shysters and, worst of all, "sharks". You could imagine a shark-infested tank occupying the third floor. These cartilaginous skeletal creatures would be swimming around ready for the smell of cash. The dorsal fins in a merry dance as their owners ready themselves for enormous bites in the cash cow of the bank accounts of the simple-mined and gullible.

Thankfully, those days are gone forever, but a stark reminder came in the form of an advertisement in the November/December issue of 'The Employer' magazine. Thumbing through the job vacancies advertised in this publication also evoked despair. One can imagine how unemployed graduates feel. The disheartening Catch-22 situation - no experience, no job, so how can one gain experience? - must make the 21-35 age group feel cheated. Get on at school, their parents told them. Get the highest marks, they warned. Nothing less than 100 per cent will do, the threatened.

If you get an 'excellent' grade for your degree, we'll buy you your first car, they wheedled. In the abovementioned magazine, forget about the job vacancies that are listed under "8-10 years' experience". On the one hand, such a stipulation must mean a very short shortlist of candidates for interview. On the other hand, those of you who are trying to throw that six to start the came, the prospect of landing that 'decent' job grows dimmer with every page turned.

By the way, who on earth put about the rumour that a university degree is a passport to a 'good' job? Worse, what about those students who have been brainwashed such that they and their parents are convinced that they are studying a subject for a degree that would be useful for that wonder job at the end of the academic treadmill? What are you studying? Mathematics. Oh, goody-goody, you can be an accountant, for which the only mathematical skills required you learned when you were six years old. Forget about complex numbers, differentiating sine x, asymptotes and group theory. Ha! All that goes in the dustbin of personal life history.

Right, let's go to the "0-3 years' experience" category of vacancies. Why not go for the sales agents for a local insurance company. The ideal applicant should be "young and energetic". I should think so, too. S/he should be "disciplined with friendly customer approach". Such qualities are indispensable, to be sure. An insurance salesperson must also enjoy a challenge and be target-oriented. It is interesting to note that this advertisement appeared in an English-language magazine, which must mean that its readers must be educated, even though there is no mention of a degree. Of course, the successful applicant may have to do his or her own prospecting. Forget about 'leads'. Setting up meetings to present company products is one thing, but presenting company products is something else. Without the proper training, the smart, disciplined, target-oriented person with the friendly customer approach could well fall at the third hurdle as Mr Prospect is either blinded by science, bewildered by variety, bored to tears, or horrified by how much s/he will have to shell out every month. And for what?

How many times have you been accosted by a young man in the street who waves unidentifiable products in your face and mumbles something about the merits of his wares? Yet he seems sorely disappointed when you express no interest in purchasing a cigarette lighter in the shape of an Archimedes screw. However, you might prefer the attractive young lady in a supermarket who almost pokes your eye out with a toothpick impaled in a cube of something-or-other on a doily on a tray. See how disappointed they are when you tell her that you cannot eat cheese. No-one has trained these sincere people to think laterally: Does your wife/offspring/hamster like cheese? Well, all right, then, as long as the price is not too steep for a year's supply of cheesy thingies on cocktail sticks.

If the future lies in sales, let's see some seminars and training sessions in this field. Selling is not for everyone. Some might argue that salespeople are born, not trained. Getting people to part with hard-earned cash is the most charming fashion is an art that will help boost some sectors of a stuttering economy.

Copyright Eltahir House 2013

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Date:Apr 4, 2013
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