The Competency Challenge

I applied for a job perfectly suited to me – I am the human embodiment of the person specification for the role. I got as excited as it is possible to get in the knowledge that chances of success are infinitessimal, until I read the detailed recruitment process.

Satan’s minions themselves could not have contrived a more torturous experience.  We’re not talking about a job stacking shelves, but neither is the role SCREAMING MEDICAL EMERGENCY RESCUER.  For the last ten weeks I have been engaged in this process. At times, the stress barometer needle hit hurricane incoming. I shut myself off from the world, because I don’t like to inflict myself on others when I’m like this.

As we know, embodying the person specification does not an automatically successful application make.  These days even the simplest application form – for it is always an application form, and never a CV and covering letter for the jobs that appeal to me – requires a full day to think up and write down examples demonstrating numerous very specific competencies.  Please provide, in no more than 250 words, an example of when you have successfully used influence and persuasion to obtain a positive outcome for an individual or organisation.

I filled in the application form, took a deep breath during which my life flashed before my eyes, and pressed send.

Comfortingly, this is a mass recruitment and the number of positions nudges double digits.  Not so comfortingly, my conservative estimate for the number of applications is in the quadruple digits.  A few months ago I applied for a 0.2FTE six-month fixed term fairly specialised role for which I was also well-suited, and upon not being shortlisted and telephoning for feedback, was told that they had received 265 applications. K-man is a recruiter and once dealt with 600+ applications for one job.  It’s a bear pit.

A few weeks later I received an email asking me to participate in online tests: I had made it through the first cull and now my ‘verbal reasoning’ and ‘inductive reasoning’ would be assessed.  For verbal reasoning you’re given a paragraph of text and after reading it, have to say whether a statement is true, false, or ‘can’t say’.  Inductive reasoning is a pick-the-next-diagram test.  I’m fairly good at inductive reasoning, even the ones with three or four rules to identify. 

The bad news is that a monkey with a cold outperforms me at verbal reasoning. The problem is that the text may contain opinion – “X’s report states that the sun will not rise tomorrow” – and in determining whether the statement “the sun will not rise tomorrow” is true, false, or ‘can’t say’, I naturally pick ‘can’t say’, because whether or not X says it will does not make it so, and I veer toward questioning everything (thanks, dad).  In my view, strictly speaking, further evidence is needed.  The problem is, I usually get that kind of question wrong.

I practised, and practised.  I bitch-slapped the part of my brain that delves beneath the face value of statements.  Some of the test instructions say ‘true’ equates to ‘is a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence in front of you’, which is more philosophically pleasing when considering the nature of truth, but doesn’t really help me with my root failing.  

Then, I discovered I had booked a holiday overseas during the scheduled interview time.  The potential employer said flexibility was unlikely but advised me to take the tests and then we’d talk if I got an interview.

The online testing system hates Macs, so K-man had to bring home a laptop from his office. This pisses me off, because it is hardly as though Macs are new and revolutionary at this stage of the 21st century.

The test was horrible.  I had to answer 50 questions in 40 minutes, and I thought I was going quite quickly when I looked up to see half the time left and a ‘progress’ bar showing I had completed 14 questions.  Gah!  I panicked, and started giving myself ten seconds to think about things – towards the end I was narrowing to two options and just taking a punt. 

I still didn’t finish.  I thought for sure I’d blown it. Never mind, I thought, at least I don’t have to choose between an interview and a holiday.  K-man told me they make those tests impossible on purpose; it doesn’t help recruiters make decisions if everyone gets 100%.  I didn’t believe him.

Two weeks later, wonders will never cease, I got invited to interview.  I decided to go on holiday and fly back early to attend the interview.  A coach would pick me up from the top of a mountain at 4.15am and take me to the airport, and a cheap flight would whisk me home.  I would be back by lunchtime the day before the interview.

I bought a new suit, prepared all my documentation (passport, driving license, degree certificates, proof of my NI number), and packed lots of revision and preparation information.  Sadly, because I was at one point led to believe there might be flexibility in interview timing, by the time I booked my appointment all the decent slots had gone.  I ended up with one that meant I had to fall out of bed at 5.45am to make it on time.

Snowboarding was great, but I was pretty bruised and battered, and had severe chin-chafing from my coat by the time I was ready to go home.  I looked beaten and I hurt, although the most serious injury sustained was when I walked into the corner of an open window-pane. 

I was outside the pickup location at 4am.  The coach failed to show up at the top of the mountain. Thanks very much useless excuse for a coach company, I would yes indeed miss my flight home. I will cut the very, very long story short and say that eight hours later I made it to the airport and at significant expense booked onto the next flight to the London area (although not the same arrival destination) and arrived home a murky puddle of exhaustion in the early evening. 

When I arrived at the interview two other candidates were there at the same time, enabling me to surmise that I am in the last 36-or-fewer candidates.  We went into a room and carried out a 1.5 hour written test, before being separated to face an interview panel and the dreaded ‘competency’ questions.  There was an internal candidate in my group – damn you, internal candidate you were really lovely, and I hope we BOTH get jobs.

The written test was similar to tasks I’ve carried out professionally before, and while I wouldn’t say I walked it my usually-reliable internal post-mortem only picked up a couple of things I missed.  My interview didn’t go badly, but that’s all I can say with confidence.  The panel gave off zero clues: there was no pleasantry, nicey-nicey, or laughing.  There was barely any smiling.

For the first time ever, I restrained myself from attempting to relieve a po-faced situation I am finding stressful by cracking a ‘joke’ or making a leftfield wry remark.  Personal growth!  I haz competency!

At least I hope so.  I really want the job.  Apart from the fact that the internal candidate told me the organisation is filled with wonderful people and the best place she has ever worked, I just want to be able to stop looking, to stop agreeing to things people ask me to do even though I don’t want to in case there’s a good opportunity at the end of the line.  I want security.  I don’t want to juggle three slippery fish anymore. 

On holiday someone told me that at this stage, the recruiters will have decided you can do the job.  The only question is whether they think you can do it better than a sufficient proportion of the other candidates.

I’ll find out on Friday at the earliest.

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5 Responses to “The Competency Challenge”


  1. 1 Jen March 27, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Good lord, after all that, I hope you get the job! (I mean, I hope you get it anyway, but all that effort should mean that you’ll get something from the deal.)

  2. 2 jennatjugglinglife March 27, 2012 at 3:51 am

    Oh, I hope you get it!

    I had eight of my students apply for a much lower-level job than what you’re seeking and the amount of work involved was about the same. One of the eight got the job and would rank him as the seventh most competent person out of that group. ????

  3. 3 Gail March 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Good Luck! We’ll be waiting with bated breath to get the answer.

  4. 4 Bella Rum March 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    What an ordeal. Keeping fingers crossed.

  5. 5 unmitigated me March 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    By now, it is about half past two in your time zone. Hope the news doesn’t wait until the last moment! Breathe…


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