Aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

An extra instalment for your perusal. Incandescent does not even begin to do justice to my state of agitation and disbelief.

I have just been to sign-on. I explained, with some pleasure, that I had succeeded at last in getting a job to start in the New Year. I was told, as I had indeed expected, that if I wanted to continue to receive my NI credits I would need to continue signing-on until the new job actually started. A minor inconvenience, but rules is rules. Then the bombshell. An interview has been arranged for me with a careers advisor next week. This, I was told, is in order for me to receive advice on how to go about getting a job. I feel the need for a verbatim record of the exchange.

“Oh, well that’s kind. But obviously it would be a silly waste of everyone’s time in the circumstances, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, you still have to come.”

“But why? What use will it be for me, or for you?”

“I’m sorry, but you have to come to see the advisor, and if you refuse you will have your benefit stopped.”

“But you don’t pay me any benefit! We’ve been here before.” (See an earlier post for details.)

“We give you NI credits, so you have to come.”

“How much is it costing for me to have to come – not even at my normal signing-on time – to see an advisor for advice I palpably don’t need.”

“That’s not the point.”

“But it is the point. That’s why unemployment costs us all so much. Why can’t you use your common sense, and realise that in these circumstances what you are asking me to do is silly, and a waste of time and money.”

“There’s no need to be aggressive.”

“You think that’s aggressive? It’s aggressive for me to ask you to use your intelligence?”

“I’ll ask my manager if an exception can be made.”

“Thank you.”

A slight pause.

“No, you have to come because the regulations say you must.”

“Could you please raise my concern and incredulity formally in some way. It’s not acceptable for you to hide behind rules that defy simple common sense!”

“You’ve made your point several times, sir, and I must now ask you to leave.”

“Will you convey my frustration and dismay?”

“Please leave now, or I will have to call the security guard.”

I think my blood pressure has returned to normal now, but my sense of frustration remains as potent as ever. What a load of fatuous bollocks.

A brief announcement

Rather inconveniently for the title of this blog, I now have a new job! It hasn’t started yet, so currently I’m not technically lying, but once the festive season is over things around here will have to change. It just so happens that I had prepared sufficient posts to keep the blog going until I left for France at Christmas, and so I’ll publish those for the next two Wednesdays in my usual rhythm. Next Wednesday’s is especially splenetic, and I’d hate you to miss it!

I hope you’ll continue to visit when the blog becomes The No-Longer-Jobless Blog. (And a prize of Twitter glory for the first to think of a snappier and more imaginative title – please leave your suggestions in the comments below.) For those who’ve appreciated my grumpy old man style, you will not be disappointed as my sour disposition in fact had nothing to do with being unemployed. For those who’ve longed for a sunnier atmosphere and less sniping, you probably will be disappointed.

But at least you can look all forward to a wider range of distemper, covering, well, anything. No-one and nothing will be safe!

The fun and games of psychometric testing

These days we job applicants are assailed not just by illiterate person specifications, but also by the particularly piquant pleasure of the on-line psychometric test. These are supposed to alert employers to, well, to what some psychologist believes one can infer from the enforced answering of bizarre questions. Since I’ve perforce become familiar with being on the receiving end of these charades, I now cringe with shame that I allowed my Head of HR to persuade me that they should be introduced for some high-level posts at my last company.

Generally these tests ask you to say which of 4 statements is most like you, and which least. About 150 times usually, with different combinations, sneaky repetitions, and seemingly designed to force you into either inconsistency or lying about yourself.

An example: I’m modest about my achievements; I do most of the talking; I don’t like keeping to the rules; I keep a tidy desk.

Next question: I’m prepared to stand up for what I believe; I get anxious before big meetings; I keep my own counsel; I don’t like to show my emotions.

And always, you must tick the most and the least like you. Usually, having ticked that which is most like you, you end up having to tick something as least like you that you don’t believe, but which is the least daft choice. Or vice versa. Try them out and see. But although you can often look at an individual question and give a sensible answer, it’s the sheer number of questions, and the way they force you into corners, that most frustrates and demoralises.

At the final question I’m asked what best describes my current emotional state: You want to slit your throat from ear to ear; You feel like throwing your computer in the bin; You would glady throttle the writer of this exercise. I tick all three. The computer says I can’t tick them all. Oh yes, I fucking well can.

“Tell me, Mr No-Job, how long have you had this difficulty with anger management?”

“Oh, about 45 minutes. In fact, ever since you started asking me these damn-fool bloody questions!”

But sadly, my future employment may yet depend on this psycho-babble nonsense.

The kindness (and tolerance) of strangers

From the important to the insignificant, from Trafigura to the recent spat-in-a-Fry-ing-pan, it’s been Twitter’s role as an amplifier of anything and everything that’s been exercising a lot of journalists lately, many of whom should frankly have known better. But in this debate between Twitter as liberator of the masses and Twitter as dark engine waiting to be pressed into service as the preferred tool of some future Goebbels, I think its primary feature has become obscured. For Twitter is simply a means by which individuals may connect with others that otherwise they would never have known about. Whilst I would gladly have never been put in connection with yet another cock-sucking Britney, Twitter’s benefits greatly outweigh its annoyances.

I joined Twitter not only, like so many others, to be party to the flotsam and jetsam of Stephen Fry’s life and thoughts, but also in the hope that through it some might discover this blog and like it enough to read my stuff from time to time. Neither purpose any longer remains at the heart of my twittering, for they’ve been replaced by Twitter’s greatest gift; the discovery of kind and generous people whose thoughtfulness and empathy have left me, by turns, laughing and close to tears of gratitude. When I went for an interview recently I was touched by the number of fellow twitterers that wished me luck, and urged me to let them have it with both barrels. Or the number who’ve tolerated, even applauded, my lame efforts in the #oneletterwrongTVshows department.

Obviously enough, Billy No-Job is not my real name (oh, you thought it was?) and so none of the people I follow, or who follow me, know anything about me other than what they deduce from my tweets. So are we all deceived, our virtual selves entirely at odds with our real ones? Well, once in a while Twitter’s virtual and my real universes mix and mingle, and meeting Marcus Chown the other week proved beyond doubt that the kindness of Twitter is not illusory or deceitful. But whether, as in Marcus’ own words, you’re a micro-celeb, or just like me another anonymous tweeter, I want you to know that your kindness, tolerance, and support have meant more to me than I suspect you’d ever have imagined. Thank you all – you know who you are!

Supporting myself with a statement

Here we go again. “Please tell us how your skills and experience meet the criteria in the person specification. Be specific, and give concrete examples of what you have personally done. Do not write more than 3 pages of A4 in total.” Sounds entirely fair enough, doesn’t it? Except when you realise that there are 35 points in the person specification. A little basic arithmetic is called for. Three pages of A4 at a reasonable font size is about 1,700 words. So divide 1,700 by 35. That’s about 48 words. From the beginning of this post to this point is, well, 101 words. So I’m supposed to have addressed two person specification points, being specific and including examples of course, already.

That’s OK when the point in question is, say, “Must have a degree-level qualification”, but a bit more tricky when it’s, “Knowledge and understanding of effective business improvement and performance management systems”. In 48 words? OK, so 48 is an average, but in no case would I have the luxury of the 173 words I’ve got through so far in this post.

And concision is not the only challenge to the writer of a convincing supporting statement. Understanding what on earth is meant is frequently harder than trying to write an answer. How about, “Knowledge of integrating equalities issues into services and achieving agreed targets and providing leadership in this area.” No? Well try, “To review and process re-engineer the above corporate services so that they fully support the Target Operating Model.” This Target Operating Model (why capitalised?) is nowhere explained in the reams of accompanying bilge one has to wade through. But just in case you are much cleverer than me, knowing all about the Target Operating Model, and with fluent facility integrating equalities into services whilst you sleep, try this one. “Is: resilient, tough, fixer, broker, influencer, plotter, scanner.” And most beautifully ironic of all one person specification, having called for “excellence in written communication”, went on to demand I show how I might be “engaging with and understanding the business, communicating information and advice which the Council and it’s partners needs in away that is accessible to everyone.” Lynne Truss, weep now. 366 words, by the way.

The great transferable skills myth

I’ve spent half my career believing that the important skills in life and work are generic. From fundamental life skills, like being able to listen to and communicate with other people, to the ability to analyse a situation and think logically about it, I’ve told myself and the staff I’ve been responsible for that these are competencies that will always be in demand, and can be applied in any work or personal circumstances. Demonstrate that you have developed these and other similar tools, and that will be more important to prospective employers than the specific environment or sector in which you established that competence. Well, I’m beginning to question that assumption.

In the jargon of these things, these generic attributes are called “transferable skills”. Of course, if you work in nuclear physics then the specific technical skills are always going to be the ones you need. If we want them at all, we certainly don’t want the new nuclear power stations we’re about to have foisted on us designed by people who knew nothing about radiation but were good at getting along with their colleagues. But I don’t work in nuclear physics, and I assumed that HR skills, the ability to motivate and lead my team, project management of information technology, developing strategy, and the financial skill to manage a £5M budget would be as useful in, say, the management of the health service as in the management of education.

But apparently not. Recruitment consultants nearly always play safe, and safe means knowing that the candidates they’re putting forward not only have the right skills, but have developed them in the right places. In a recession there will always be a queue of people who have worked in exactly the same sector as the new job is in, and who’ll not need any settling-in period whilst they get to grips with a new context. They’ll be ready to hit the ground running, as is apparently always so vital an attribute. I’ve always thought that the most likely consequence of hitting the ground running is to fall flat on your face, but what do I know?

So my skills might be acknowledged as being of a high order, but they ain’t transferring anywhere.