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The Perfectly Imperfect Collector

December 6, 2010

By: Carletta Clyatt

Even the best person for the job can bring managerial challenges!

Most credit and collections professionals admit they’ve gotten more than their share of sideways glances when others learn what they do for a living.

Some claim comments like these are not that unusual:

“But don’t you always feel like the bad guy?”

“Well I guess you’re a lot tougher than I thought you were!”

“Geez, you’d never find me doing anything like that!”

The truth is that good credit and collections workers take a great deal of pride in their work. And well they should! These are people with the determination, diligence and social skills needed to track down debtors, follow up on their promises and tactfully but firmly persuade them to pay up. They are persistent, goal-oriented individuals who make a valuable and quantifiable contribution to the world of business by helping speed up the cash flow and reduce DSO.

Still, there’s not exactly a flood of applicants clamoring to be hired as collectors, and because of this, finding someone to fill an open position can prove exasperating. While it may be tempting for a collections manager to offer a job to the first warm-bodied being who comes through the door, doing so is apt to be a huge mistake, leading to mutual resentment, financial losses and frequent turnover.

Job compatibility

Fortunately, despite the fact that the pool of collections applicants is limited, it is still possible to find someone who, though probably not perfect, seems to have the most potential. Ideally, a collector needs to be assertive, but not overly aggressive; sociable; persevering; results oriented; and determined. Look for hints of at least a few of these traits during the interview process; remember, though, that some innate tendencies are less obvious and therefore require more in-depth analysis in the form of behavioral assessments or personality profiles. When you know in advance where your new employee is apt to fall short and where he or she should hit the mark, you can better focus training and more confidently hone strengths – in other words, utilize the positives, navigate around the negatives.

Once you take your new hire aboard, you may need to alter your typical management style somewhat and be a little extra perceptive, but the rewards that should come in the form of that employee’s loyalty, job satisfaction and all-around performance will make the effort worthwhile!

Fitting in on the team

Some measure of job compatibility is, of course, essential. But of equal or greater importance is environmental compatibility -- how well a new employee is apt to mesh with co-workers, a boss, and the overall climate of a specific collections department. Placing someone who works at a very unhurried pace into an office managed by a busy, time-driven personality is all too often a recipe for disaster. However, if, as the boss, you’re willing to make a few concessions in terms of time lines and work methods, you can avoid disappointments, ease anxieties and experience fewer problems.

Deadlines are more easily met when agreed upon in advance, generous and underlined. Avoid mandating abrupt changes and springing last minute surprises. And finally, encourage your not-so-fast-moving employee to establish a routine, stay organized and work according to a system, as doing so can help maintain a more relaxed worker’s efficiency then ultimately boost productivity.

Too loud, too quiet?

Another characteristic to consider when hiring is a person’s communication style. A manager who is very open, talkative and animated may find it extremely difficult to relate to a more introspective, inhibited employee. Each needs to be willing to change their expectations and responses to one another if they are to get along and avoid misunderstandings.

Be succinct and serious when speaking to someone who seems far less outgoing than you. Introverts relate best to people who get right to the point and offer the facts, not hype or hearsay. If your usually tight-lipped subordinate gradually becomes more open and responsive, it may be that he or she is finally starting to relax and feel accepted. Congratulations! This may be the first step toward securing that employee’s long-term satisfaction and commitment to the job.

Behaviors, reactions, and words -- not personalities -- can be modified. You can maximize an employee’s potential by learning how to trigger the desired responses, but you cannot force someone to be anyone other than him or herself. For example, if you hire a worker who turns out to be one who habitually bucks the system, you’ll need to find creative ways to garner his/her cooperation. Try including this person in strategy sessions or the decision-making process; people usually feel more obligated to abide by policies they’ve helped devise. Another tactic is to offer options; this makes free spirits think they’re making their own choices, which keeps them happy.

It’s the method you use to manage imperfect workers that makes a difference!

Climbing inside their heads

It’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of both potential and existing collectors in order to manage them appropriately. Each person brings a unique perspective to the team and is probably capable of contributing to your agency’s goals in one way or another. The key is to have a firm grasp of how applicants and employees are wired so you can more precisely determine their training and management preferences in order to help ensure greater success on the job.

Collectors with reserved personalities may not display the level of empathy needed to form a rapport with consumers. Exhibiting a sincere desire to help a debtor and maintaining a positive attitude are two ways to potentially elicit a positive response, but restrained individuals are sometimes so succinct and direct they come across as cold, unsympathetic or mechanical. They need to be shown how to warm the tone of their conversations with consumers.

Very tough talking, bold and daring collectors have their own problems! They can sound annoying and confrontational and serve to alienate debtors, not coax them -- as is the objective -- into cooperating. Encourage these highly aggressive individuals to choose their words carefully, not be so harsh. Remember that role-playing often provides eye-opening insight into how a worker most typically communicates with others.


 To ease the hiring experience and improve the entire process, keep the objective of finding the best worker for your company in the forefront of your mind. You, your job applicants, and your existing staff need to have a clear understanding of who you all are so you know what drives you, what motivates you. Then, and only then, will you have the power and knowledge needed to be a team of diversified, “perfectly imperfect” credit and collections professionals who are successful, cohesive, productive, and loyal.

Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email:

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