Friday, 31 August 2007

What Annoys Me About ... Applying for a Job

I have always said that if moaning was an Olympic sport the UK would win gold every time. British people love sitting or standing around waiting and complaining about the service/the weather/foreigners/the cost of living/youth today, etc., etc. A very popular television series was 'Grumpy Old Men' which featured middle aged male celebrities facing a TV camera and complaining about things. This spawned the even more successful 'Grumpy Old Women' which amazingly has now also become a stage show. Yes, British people will pay to watch three middle-aged women sitting on a stage complaining about things. For the British it is not an issue of Schadenfreude it is the reverse more about proving we are actually worse off than other people, you could term it Schadenzorn. Perversely I think it gives British sense of being more moral, it is like flagellation in Christianity and Islam, the perception that those who suffer most are the more holy and this in turn allows them the power to judge those who are less holy.

Probably the best summing up of this attitude in the Monty Python sketch titled 'The Four Yorkshiremen', (northern English are probably the most accomplished complainers in the British Isles). In the sketch, four well-off middle-aged men seek to outdo each other in describing how bleak their youth was ending up with the following lines:

Right! I had to get up in the morning, at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill and pay millowner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our dad would kill us and dance about on our graves, singing Hallelujah!

Aah, you trying to tell the young people of today that, and they won't believe you!

Maybe Schadenzorn is wrong, it is not an anger about the suffering it is actually a pride in it: Schadenstolz. Sorry, I am getting well off track, this was not meant to be an analysis of the British psyche, rather I sought to contextualise this series of postings I am initiating today. I soon turn 40 which is the official start of middle age and as my life expectancy is shorter than average I see nothing wrong with starting my middle age a little sooner and indulging in the right to moan, that that status gives me.

Today I am going to look at things that annoy me, at times infuriate me, about applying for jobs. Since 1998 I have had ten jobs, so am averaging just over one per year at the moment. In the UK it is common these days to get short-term contracts and it is rare to be employed on any job for more than two years. I had three jobs for the same company over a two-and-a-half year period and was always on weekly contracts, they could lay me off at the end of each week if they chose; naturally this made it difficult to plan ahead and myself and the 100 other staff on such terms never dared take a holiday or fall sick. On average I get 1 interview for every 25 job applications I make and I get a job for every 120 applications I make, so I average around 4-5 interviews each time I am out of work. Only once in my life have I managed to get a job somewhere near where I wanted to live and that was with this current job and even then my house is 30 miles (48Km) from where the company is located, but that is a common problem in the UK as the rent is often highest where there are jobs. On all other occasions I have been buffeted from town to town as work has turned up which is why I ended up in Milton Keynes a town I otherwise would have stayed clear of. Obviously I recognise that I have very little control over my career or where I live, but in all this experience I have encountered a range of incompetent and unpleasant behaviour that just makes all of that worse, I will list a few of the incidents that I can remember.
  • Having to make 8 copies of the application form and pay for the postage to send them all in. I thought I was lucky when a company asked for only 4 copies. Do companies not have photocopiers of their own?
  • Companies, and this is very common, never telling you if you have got the job or not and being very vague about when the deadline has passed; conversely companies who wait 3-4 weeks before telling you that you actually have the job.
  • Companies who send out the wrong time on their letters for interviews so when you turn up they have all gone to lunch and you look stupid even when you have the written proof that they got it wrong; of course then they have no time to fit you in.
  • Companies who admit at the end of the interview that actually you never stood a chance of getting the job that you were simply there 'to make up the numbers' that their company rules require. [I was astounded that they were so callous as to admit this, I would have been happier to have been deluded that I was an actual contender.]
  • Companies who will not accept you because you do not use Powerpoint in your presentation even when it is not appropriate for what you are presenting.
  • Companies that tell you that you are over-qualified for a job. Who defines this? Anyway, maybe you are looking to downsize or have particular reason to want to work for the company (most people working in television and radio are over-qualified but want to be in the media) or in a particular town and surely, is it not a good thing for them to get a well qualified person at the standard rate. [Behind this is the widespread English (not Scottish) resentment of learning which is another topic for complaint].
  • Companies that tell you they are not certain if you will ever be a 'proper' lawyer/accountant/official/sweeper no matter how hard you try, as if there is an Elect that you are either born into or otherwise stand no chance of entering. [This was made clear to me at the company I had worked for on short-term contracts for 2.5 years after I had applied for 6 longer-term vacancies at the company. Though I had been doing the job it was felt I was told my answers were clever but I would not get the post as I was not a 'proper' worker for the company and should give up applying; with such attitudes I did. I heard them discussing another colleague in similar terms. They were uncertain if she was a 'proper' official and never discussed her skills or capability of doing the job.]
  • They tell you your CV was bad but never indicate in which way it is bad. If you ask them what was wrong with it they can never say. The weirdest incident of this was at a company which had employed me 2 years earlier on a 2-year contract and at the time said I was the outright choice. I applied for a job within the same company for another 2 years using the same CV as I had originally except with the addition of 2 years' experience working for them. They said this CV was terrible and when I asked why it was so much worse than it had been 2 years before when it had won me the job they did not know what to say and blamed it on 'fashions' in CV writing that I was oblivious to. Companies are supposed to give feedback on interviews and most promise it, but such feedback is frustrating and useless.
  • Your tie was not done up tightly enough in the interview (this at an internal job interview) so you did not get the job. Following this comment which was the only criticism and sexist as the women candidates did not wear ties, I actually had official training on how to tie a tie the British civil service way (and this was in the 21st century, not the 19th!).
  • Poor interviewing: people sitting so you have to twist around to see them; reading questions in a monotone from a list; paying no attention to what you have said; getting confused in themselves about their own roles in the company. People are supposed to be trained to interview. The interviewee has put a lot of work into performing at their best in an interview at least you can do is match it. Employers forget that the best interviewees are testing out the company too and may turn the company down even if it wants to appoint them.
  • Once you are in a post and ask if you will receive training now that new systems are being introduced being told that there is no need for you to be trained, they will simply employ someone in your place with the relevant skills. Again a very British attitude that training is always the responsibility of other people not the company and that staff are to be picked up and discarded with no concern for the human cost or the benefits of developing staff the company already employs.

Recruitment in the UK is handled very poorly and so wastes time and money for companies. There is a sense lingering from the 1980s that the companies that do best are those which can pick up and drop workers month by month, neglecting that countries like Japan which continues to prosper and upcoming economies like China and India, keep their employees and develop them, it is not only beneficial for your company but for your country's economy as a whole. As I age, it is going to get even harder to get and hold work and I envisage sitting here in 2016 having had at least another ten jobs and have seen a score more incidences of poor company behaviour when it comes to job applicants.

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