A call for jobs

Large number of locals turn out to apply for jobs with IT-services company

Job applicants await their turn for an interview outside the Bell Memorial Union on the Chico State campus.

Job applicants await their turn for an interview outside the Bell Memorial Union on the Chico State campus.

Photo by Tom Gascoyne

By about 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28, Chico State’s Bell Memorial Union was a center of heavy activity as hundreds of people went through a three-step interview process in hopes of landing one of 230 jobs coming with the arrival of a Fremont-based company called Milestone Technologies Inc.

More than 1,100 people had registered for interviews with the company that, according to its website, provides information-technology solutions to big-name businesses like Google, eBay, Apple, Facebook and Cisco Systems Inc. This was the first of two interview sessions, with Milestone officials looking to hire and train 75 to 100 employees by early October and the rest sometime in November.

The jobs, which pay $15 an hour, are positions at a call center to be housed in a vacancy at the Chico Municipal Airport that was once the home of Build.com. Those hired will deal with clients via phone, meaning customer-service experience is a crucial element of the post. Included in the hires will be 16 supervisor positions that pay $19 per hour.

About 20 people in various stages of garb—from casual to dressed-up—stood on or near the BMU’s steps waiting their turn. Inside, “pre-screen” interviewers sat at a line of tables questioning applicants, and either weeding them out or sending them to the next phase of the process: a phone interview with a client working within Milestone’s hiring effort.

Milestone founder and CEO Prem Chand walked through the BMU carrying a clipboard, actively helping move the proceedings along. Chand, who is in his mid-40s, was casually dressed in a Milestone shirt, blue jeans and baseball cap and followed by members of his family, including his young daughters, as he moved about. Chand was born and raised in the Butte County community of Biggs. At the age of 21, he moved to Silicon Valley where he worked for a logistics service company and took night classes in business and finance. In 1997, 10 years after his arrival, he founded Milestone.

Chand said he decided to expand in Chico for a couple of reasons—his roots and the potential for success, at least as sold to him by locals.

“Number one, I am from here—well, from Biggs,” he said. “And number two—well, to be honest, I almost didn’t come here. It was kind of an eleventh-hour decision. I’d heard from the mayor and [city senior planner] Shawn Tillman, and they convinced me that there is a lot of talent up here.”

Tillman said he and Chand had met last March when the company founder was checking out Chico with a bit of a different plan.

“He wasn’t sure if Chico had the ability or talent,” Tillman recalled. “In that case, he did not proceed with the plan.”

But the groundwork had been laid and Tillman convinced Chand that Chico has much to offer.

“He contacted me again and we had another go-around,” Tillman said. “He called me with a bit of urgency. He said here is an opportunity and that he needed to be convinced that Chico can deliver.”

Tillman said he restated the case for Chico that he had made in March.

“This is exactly the kind of company that Chico is well-positioned to be home to and a place for it to grow,” Tillman said. “Apple and Hewlett-Packard are not going to move here, but companies that serve them will. The cost of wages and the cost of living are low, but the quality of life is good.”

Prem Chand (below), founder and CEO of Milestone Technologies Inc., was on hand to help organize the recruiting effort.

Photo courtesy of Prem Chand

On the day of the interviews, Chand noted that though more than 1,000 participants had signed up ahead of time, he expected at least 150 would not show up, but that many would probably come as walk-ins to wait their turn.

“We have a total staff here of 80 people greeting the registered applicants and the walk-ins, and introducing them to HR, which does the screening,” he explained. “I’m really happy that the people from Chico and the surrounding area are here.”

Annie Rafferty, director of The Training Place at Butte College, was on hand to help direct the interview process. She, too, wore a blue Milestone shirt.

“We have 10 pre-screeners, and 55 to 60 percent [of the applicants] get through the first step,” she said.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, 101 applicants had made it through the first two steps and were directed to the second floor of the BMU, where they would wait for another face-to-face interview.

Rafferty, who has 30 years of call-center experience of her own, greeted those approaching the third stop in the process, where 50 to 60 people of varying ages sat waiting for their interview.

Those who passed this third stage would come back the next day for a final shot, Rafferty said.

Tedra Thomsen, an unemployed Butte College student who interviewed with Milestone, did not make it past the screening process. A former employee at Cold Stone Creamery in downtown Chico, she does gardening and landscaping to help make ends meet; she said she hasn’t had a steady job for the last six years.

Thomsen, 45, is a fairly high-profile transgender person, well over 6 feet tall and often seen downtown wearing short skirts, plunging necklines and high heels.

“It took longer for me to iron my blouse than it did for them to do the interview,” Thomsen said a day later. “I checked in and they found me on their [computer] tablet and gave me a lanyard and a pen. Then I sat at the table for about 10 minutes.”

Thomsen said she was asked to describe her take on customer service, adding that she purposely did not use any of the information on the company’s website so she could present what she believes are genuine thoughts.

“I said I thought [customer service] is lacking these days, and that people are too busy and don’t seem to care about finding solutions,” she said. “Asked about my availability, I said that I am totally available and that I’ve worked graveyard shifts.”

She said she felt the interview was too fast and that the process was not explained well enough.

“I handed them a résumé and they didn’t even look at it,” she said. “If they are hiring 200-and-some [people] and they got 1,000 applicants, that means they weed out four of every five.”

Thomsen said she’s had a lot of difficulty finding a job, but credited the company’s effort.

“I’m transgender,” she said. “I really thought that it’s a call center, so it doesn’t matter what I look like; I could be calling somebody in Cleveland. I must say, though, I thought they were real professional, nice and spot-on.”