Chad Silverstein of Choice Recovery talks to Workforce about how incorporating a job search assistance program within a debt collection agency changed company morale.

The last place most people would think turn to for help finding a job is a debt collection agency, but one company hopes to change that.

Choice Recovery, a debt collection agency based in Columbus, Ohio, began its Restart Program two years ago. With Restart, the company essentially created a headhunting agency within the collection agency.

“We challenge leaders to dream big in the company, and one of these leader’s dreams at the time was to change people’s lives,” said Chad Silverstein, Choice Recovery’s founder and president. “People tend to laugh that off. How do you change people’s lives at a collection agency?”

Although connecting job-searching and debt-collecting services is rare, it’s not completely unheard of. For example, the idea behind Choice Recovery’s program started when one of Silverstein’s colleagues learned what CFS2 was doing.

Founded five years ago by Bill Bartmann, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based debt collection agency seeks to help debtors find gainful employment through a series of free offerings
such as career services, social services and debt negotiations.

Upon discovering this program, Choice Recovery was inspired to create one of its own. The result was a headhunting agency within the collection agency. The agency helps candidates with various aspects of the job search such as creating and posting résumés and arranging interviews.

“We make 10,000 phone calls a day trying to collect for our clients, and the No. 1 objection we hear is, ‘I can’t pay my bills because I’m not working,” Silverstein said. “Those are our candidates right there.”

Filling Up on Filling Out

Consultants connect interested people with a Restart specialist. Since the job application process can be time-consuming, people at Choice Recovery are filling out applications
for candidates every day, even as candidates are filling out their own.

Meanwhile, candidates’ accounts are put on hold during the job hunt process. Although workers are ultimately responsible for their debt, they don’t get phone calls about debt collection while they’re involved in the Restart program, Silverstein said.

Consultants go over basic questions with candidates such as: Do you prefer to work by yourself or with other people? Do you like to go into the office? Are you in sales? Customer service? What kind of jobs are you interested in? They tailor résumés to what a candidate is best-suited for and most interested in. Most people who have found jobs through this resource so far have found entry-level positions in fields that fit their skill sets and job history.

To date, 330 people have found jobs through this program. The company’s goal is 500 jobs by the end of the year, Silverstein said.

One of these success stories is Michelle Friedlund of Indiana. A former employment specialist, she lost her job last July. She eventually found out about the employment
assistance program. Although skeptical at first, she gave it a shot.

She found the assistance especially helpful because of how complicated the job search process has become. As a former employment specialist, she recognizes how online applications are the norm now and how some applicant tracking systems ask a lot of questions.

“You’re doing an online assessment to fill a position at Long John Silver’s, and there’s a 95-question assessment!” Friedlund said. “And the questions they’re asking — someone without something more than a high school education would have had problems answering those questions.”

She eventually found a job in family case management and got back on her feet. Throughout the process at Choice Recovery, she was impressed because although the end goal, to collect money for the agency, was the same, the specialist was respectful and kind to her and seemed to care about what she was going through, she said.

The Restart program is simply a resource for job seekers. Choice recovery doesn’t collect any fees, and there’s no charge to candidates for using the program.

“For employees, in an industry where it is commonplace for people to scream at them, hang up on them, and otherwise treat them unkindly, this is a refreshing approach,” said Susan Heathfield, a human resources expert and organization development consultant who curates content for’s HR page.

Taking this approach to debt collection is valuable to both the job seeker and the collection agency itself, she added. Debt collectors don’t leave a bad impression on the people from whom they are collecting.

Rebranding the collection agency and helping people find jobs has had a huge effect on company morale and culture, Silverstein added.

“It’s a very difficult job to call people up and ask them for money we know they don’t have, so for a collector to have this sort of purpose has really jolted the company,”
Silverstein said. “The fact that we’ve connected those consultants to the mission has been a game changer.”

~ Andie Burjek March 28, 2016