A Career in Debt Collection

Lisa Walters
Paralegal, Collections Department
Bishop, White, and Marshall, P.S.

Q: First, could you provide a little background about yourself. How did you get started in the collections industry?

A: Shortly after I graduated college I was hired as a receptionist at a third-party collection agency. They quickly moved me to the legal department which consisted of two people: the attorney and myself. I got to learn about collections and civil litigation at the same time and how they complemented each other.

Q: Next, can you tell us a little about the company you work for?

A: The company I’m with now is actually a law firm that specializes in creditors’ rights and handles not only legal collections in five states, but also foreclosures and bankruptcies. It is all third party debt, although the majority of our clients still own the debt and, in many cases, have not yet written it off. I’ve also done first party collections for a company in the transportation industry, which was 1/3 collections, 1/3 customer service and 1/3 basic accounting.

Q: Can you tell us about your job, what do you find rewarding about a career in collections?

A: I prepare a lot of the paperwork for new and ongoing collections lawsuits for the attorneys to review and sign. I also act as a sort of liaison between the collectors and the client as well as the attorneys and the client. There are a lot of things that I do that are specific to a law firm, but collections knowledge and experience is essential to know how to handle each specific file. Collections is rewarding because there is a constant opportunity to use communication and negotiation skills that I have developed and apply it to each unique situation.

Q: What kind of training or education does a career in collections require?

A: I’ve had co-workers from all walks of life. Some have been in collections for the majority of their working career. Others have a strong background in customer service or banking. Yet others have held completely unrelated jobs at the company before moving into the collections department. Although some fields of education, such as a degree in business, accounting, or paralegal studies, are generally more desirable, anyone who can use a computer, communicate well, and is assertive can be trained to become a collector. Training on most of the industry-specific knowledge that is required, such as the FDCPA, will be provided by the employer.

Q: What are the skills that are valuable to a successful collector?

A: Assertiveness. Which does not necessarily translate to aggressiveness, despite popular belief. You have to know how to listen to the consumer, address the reasons why they are upset or can’t pay, and help them come up with a solution that is amicable to all parties involved.

Q: In day to day operation, what are some of the challenges a collector can expect?

A: One challenge that collectors can expect is to work in a goal-oriented environment. Although this can be challenging for some people, others will view it as a way to improve their performance, which will ultimately improve their paycheck.

Q: Do you have any advice, such as resume or interview tips, for those seeking employment in collections?

A: If you are new to collections, focus on skills that you have learned from other fields or from your education and other traits that can be applied in the collections industry. Communication skills are especially important, but employers also want a focused individual with basic computer and typing skills.

Q: From your point of view, what kind of impact is the economic downturn having on the collections industry?

A: There is a lot more work out there due to the economic downturn, and it is sometimes (but not always) more difficult to collect. The recession won’t last forever and when the economy picks up, the collections industry will be very lucrative.

Q: Change is constant, what are some changes that you see occurring in the collections industry?

A: One change that I’ve noticed is that creditors are keeping their delinquent accounts in house longer than they used to. This could mean that they are attempting to more readily work with consumers in this economy, or simply that they want to attempt to save the costs of placing it with a collection agency. Either way, it means the possible creation of more first party collections jobs.

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