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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 25, 2006

Lessons of Experience

I've come to the conclusion, after about three months of job-hunting, that all of the jobs you see advertised are fictitious. Or rather, they're fictitiously described so as to ensure that no matching candidate will ever be found.

You see, after filling in all those application forms and sending off those CVs, and spending hours writing Personal Statements that showed how I fitted the Person Specification - after all that, I got a job with a nod and a wink. A quick turnaround: 24 hours of hurried activity. Someone doesn't turn up for an interview, and suddenly all the hoops and obstacles and crap that stands in your way is removed. I decided about a week ago to stop fighting the inevitable and go into teaching. Yesterday, I was asked to deliver a sample lesson. A 20 minute interview later, I was in.

Thinking back, when I was fresh from my PhD and applying for (University) teaching jobs then, the same set of obstacles and hoops stood in your way, as potential employers made it as difficult as possible for a candidate to get through. Realising it was going to be a bit of a slog, I sent off a letter to a local computer dealer. A short interview later, I was in. No job advertisement, no application form, no person specification.

Thinking further back, when I was just out of school, having dumped my 'A' levels and left home, I spent 18 months trying to get a job - any job. In the end, it was after I'd been called in to one of those "how many jobs have you applied for this week?" interviews with the (then) DHSS. I mentioned I'd just applied to one in the Tax Office (which I'd done because I knew the DHSS interview was coming up). The guy wrote down the details, and lo and behold, I was in. There's not a doubt in my mind that if the guy from the DHSS hadn't pulled some strings, I'd still be unemployed.

So, what I'm saying is this. If you're out of work, you might as well sit around doing nothing, because something will turn up.

I'm convinced that all the jobs advertised under the rubric of employment agencies (in trade mags like Media Week, Marketing Week etc) are completely fictitious. They just want people to register with them, so they can do database matching for quick fixes. An employer goes to them with a genuine opening, they run a search on the database: bong. Two grand, no legwork.

As to the other ads you see in the press, well. I recently received a phone call from a very nice guy who was advertising what might have been an interesting marketing job in the performing arts sector. I'd initially sent for the application pack, read through it, and decided not to apply: because there was no way I could tick all the boxes on the Person Specification.

A month later, I got a letter asking if I'd reconsider applying. The letter indicated that they realised that a lot of possibly suitable people had been put off by the requirements (they basically wanted a Steel Drum Orchestra leader with about 10 years experience of marketing and fund-raising - it was very specific). They said, even if you haven't got all that Arts experience, if you've got the marketing, we want to hear from you.

So I applied. This is no mean task, and quite a commitment. Some of these jobs, it'll take you all day to fill everything in properly, writing that personal statement.

And then he phoned me. They couldn't shortlist, he said, because nobody met all the requirements. But they had decided to meet four of the more interesting candidates, the obvious self-starters, to see if they could find someone who could grow into the job.

Well, well. A common sense approach. Somewhere, somebody has managed to get hold of the Human Resources process in this country. They've invented a set of rules, procedures, standards, probably created a trade association of some kind, a professional body. Tried to turn Human Resources into a science. This Is How To Recruit. And all the universities, councils, charities, arts bodies, and most larger companies have bought into this science. And I can't help thinking that they're tying themselves in knots trying to weed out candidates. And I can't help thinking that, as in most walks of life, 90% of them are blagging, faking, and don't know what they're doing.

And they're so crap. I've been down to the last four or five on a couple of occasions recently. Around five interviews, one of them a second interview, and I knew it was a short shortlist. But, of the five, only one bothered to write to tell me I'd been unsuccessful. For the rest of them, a phone call, an email, or a short note (after all the effort you have to put in to applying): they can't be bothered.

So. About two months after originally advertising the job, this guy ended up on the phone, having a 5-minute chat with (presumably) several candidates, inviting them down to have an informal interview to see if someone was going to fit. Well, duh.

It's obvious that too much emphasis is placed on experience. I've started to learn the codes. A lot of jobs ask for such specific experience that it's obvious - for example - that they're looking for someone very specific, who can walk into a job on day one and already have all the contacts, industry expertise, a full phone book of people to tap up for cash or good press. That's what I meant by saying it was fictitious. They may have an obligation to advertise, but actually they know damn well who they want.

I've seen jobs advertised that paid between £18k and £25k, but the person they wanted should have already been earning £40-50k. Some organisations clearly operate a "me too" attitude to advertising jobs, not realising that they'd save a lot of time and money if they made it a little less specific and got in someone who could "grow into the job." Because, in the end, that's what everyone has to do.

It's funny. That five-minute phone call with the guy, I felt there was an immediate rapport. We were having a laugh, and he seemed like a nice bloke. I know a lot about him already. I know he's disorganised: it was eight o'clock at night, and nobody organised would be working that late. And the follow up email came through around nine o'clock the following night. So I already know they need me because - ask James - I am very organised. Unfortunately, they've missed the boat, because I just got a teaching job.


  • It's true, very organised. Amazingly untidy desk, but a tidy mind. You'll be head of department in 2 years, no problem. Congratulations mate.

    By Blogger HolySwerve, at 2:29 am  

  • Seconded. Well done Rob.

    Excellent news. Looking forward to future posts on how you've tutored children in the ways of righteousness.

    You're a clever bloke, more than able to communicate ideas, and what's more I think you actually care about important things, so I've not doubt you'll make a brilliant teacher.

    I dread the day when I have to make an involuntary career move. I don't know what I'll do, because I really don't have the energy to put up the requisite performance.

    By Blogger SimonHolyHoses, at 2:48 am  

  • Yes yes yes I agree with the entire post and what the lads say about you teaching. It's all good, very good.

    By Blogger Marie, at 4:29 am  

  • Thanks all. I am completely chuffed. I may treat myself to a blistering beehive pizza oven to celebrate!

    I already know how to win the hearts and minds of my future colleagues. Just bake the occasional cake (and how could they resist my Secret Recipe cheesecake?) and the world is my lobster.

    By Blogger bot37363838, at 5:03 am  

  • Brilliant News!! Looking forward to future posts.

    By Anonymous The London Barbecue, at 10:51 pm  

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