Saturday, April 11, 2009

#122: Sixteen Tons (Slightly Altered - More Like 14 Tons)

One of the questions I’m asked during interviews these days that often catches me off guard is a simple one, “How do I get your job?” I used to wonder the same thing, but now I just answer with a wry smile, “Trust me, you don’t want it.” That generally shuts people up and returns the attention to where it should be – on the problem at hand. It has got me wondering though, just what have I learnt about getting a Government job?

Nothing. Nothing at all. With that in mind I thought I’d share some thoughts for anyone who actually reads the positions vacant sections in the newspaper and are thinking, “Jeez, I might go for that job.” Here’s the first piece of advice: if it’s a position that involves service delivery then you don’t want the job. Trust me. You don’t need the aggravation.  Sure there’s a lot of people who’ll support you, and there are free headshrinkers on hand if you need them (for a limited time only) but, for the most part you’re screwed and on your own. Deal with it. You’ll soon work out who you can rely on and who just doesn’t care, and you’ll move yourself towards those who care accordingly. The biggest problem is when you work with senior management who fall into the just don't care category. Thus if you’re highly strung, then you don’t want the job. You’re better off cleaning toilets. Less stress and probably better cash. Work as a cleaner, after hours. More fun, and you can use the IPod freely.

Now, if you are silly enough to want to apply here’s the second piece of advice: don’t apply for anything you’re qualified for. If you have loads of experience then the odds are good that you won’t land the job. After all the department you’re applying for already has an entire section full of people who are better than you, and the last thing anyone wants is some smart arse waltzing in big noting about their experience. Get stuffed, no-one cares. They don’t. By all means have a basic understanding of the position – if it’s service delivery then have some background knowledge and experience in that area. However, and here’s the key, if the position is say in housing then a background in social work would be more advantageous than tenancy. If it’s social work then a background in housing or police would be brilliant. Applying for the police? Get a background in social services or, better yet, come straight from the dole office. All of that additional knowledge that you might think is useless is better for you than you think. I mean, Jesus, if you have a basic knowledge in an unrelated field to the job you’re applying for, even a mail-away TAFE degree, then you’ll be guaranteed a job interview. Most panel members are dazzled by certificates and degress. I kid you not. So don’t limit yourself to what you know.

By now you’ve probably picked a job you want to apply for. Now here’s the third piece of advice: go and find a book titled ‘How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria’ by Dr Ann Villiers. There’s more useful information in that book than anyone can ever want or need. If you follow that book from start to finish then you’re guaranteed to win a position. It’s like the KLF book, ‘The Manual’, in that you cannot possibly fail to land a job, even if it is a short term contract, if you follow exactly what Dr Villiers says. If you do follow it and don’t gain a position then I’ll refund your money – if you can find the book. Here's one example: there’s a good clue in the book to writing selection criteria, it’s an old trick but one that not many people share so here it is. When writing selection criteria remember the following phrase: STAR.
stands for:
Situation: What was going on?
Task: What did you do?
Action: How did you do it?
Result: What was the outcome?
Sounds like wank? Don't you believe it pal. Follow STAR to the letter when you’re writing to a J&P and you won’t fail.

If you’re now sitting there asking just what a J&P is then you might as well leave and go find a porn site. You’ll have more fun.

The kicker is finding out if the job actually exists. Just because a position has been advertised doesn't necessarily mean that it actually exists. A lot of Government jobs are advertised out of procedure, not because a position is actually vacant. Sometimes a job will be advertised that already has someone acting in the position - in most cases the incumbent will be slotted in once the process is finished. Look at the J&P - if it's full of specific jargon then you can be fairly assured that it's not a job at all, it's just paperwork. Call the person listed and ask if anyone is acting in the position. If the answer is yes then you might as well move onto the next advertisement. Don't waste your time on applying for a job you're not going to get anywhere near.

Once you have the interview then the fun starts. Here’s the fourth piece of advice: no-one will tell you this but your chances of landing the job all hinge on your presentation. Seriously. You’ll be told that your application, interview, presentation and referees all count, but the ratio is clearly geared towards your interview. You can walk into an interview knowing absolutely bugger all and ace the job just by knowing exactly what verbs and nouns to say at the right time. A few years back I saw a guy land a job that knew nothing about the job at hand but said all the right things at the interview. He was an utter failure as a worker, but by gosh could he spit out buzz words like they were going out of style. He once sat and spent an entire day just reading emails, such was the level of his incompetence, but because he could say phrases that’d see him win Office Bingo easily in front of the boss he remained where he was. Last time I looked he was still there. Knowledge of the workplace is important, but not as vital as being able to use the right verbs. Dr Villiers book has 180 verbs that you can use in place of words that you normally use. Instead of writing, “I saw a problem and asked a co-worker to fix it,” you’ll soon be writing, “I uncovered a potential situation, and after analysing the error, I advised a co-worker with my recommendations and achieved a suitable outcome.” That works for everyone. The more words the better. Dazzle the panel with paperwork and verbs.

Do your research. Write down a pile of scenarios and rehearse them in front of people. Rehearse them in front of the mirror. I once read that Freddie Mercury would sing and prance about in a room of mirrors just to see himself in action, and look at what he achieved. Other than the fact that he’s now dead, he was, and still is, considered to be one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived. Big bands and artists like Kiss, Coldplay, Pink and U2 tape every show they perform and watch them back on the night of the concerts, just to see what worked and what didn't. You could stand next to Mick Jagger on stage and set yourself on fire and nobody would notice. You don’t think he built that charisma up without rehearsal now do you? Rehearse, rehearse and when you’re sick of it, take a break and rehearse some more. Print out your job application, resume and make copious notes and bring them into the interview. More likely than not you’ll be given the questions beforehand so you can refer to your notes and prepare yourself even more. Use the last two minutes before you walk into the actual interview to clear your head. Think of aphids. That always helps.

Once you’re in the interview room remember what Zaphod told Arthur Dent: Don’t Panic. The people in there are the same as you. They might have had a shitty day already. Get their attention and keep it – the last thing you want to see is someone on the panel looking out the window and wondering what they’re going to eat for lunch. And yes, I’ve had that happen. I once did an interview where I had two panel members in the palm of my hand but the third just couldn’t care. I could have explained the theory of evolution with an emphasis on where Darwin was wrong and proving the existence of Satan but not God and he’d still would have been staring out the window. He only perked up when I turned the interview away from the job and into a philosophical debate about the semantics of art appreciation, Monet vs Manet, Picasso and Daniel Thomas (not the kidnapped Queensland toddler, but the ex-director of the SA Art Gallery). For a split second I thought I’d snared the job, but nope. I couldn’t have done any worse if I’d violently passed wind and attempted to lay all of the blame on a non-existent canine. Keep the panel's attention by making eye contact with them all, read your notes but speak without reading from the page (this is where the rehearsal comes in handy) and if you need a break take one. Have a glass of water. Take a deep breath. Don’t swear; don’t even say ‘Damn’. Keep your language squeaky clean, even if the panel members swear. Don’t get sucked into any traps that a loaded panel will set.

Suck up to the panel but don’t crawl. Some places love hiring sycophants but the bulk of them can’t be bothered. What they want is someone who wants to work badly enough that they’ll overlook any disadvantage that the workplace might bring. Ask questions but, and this is a biggie, if it’s a government job DON’T ask how much you’ll be earning. Only an idiot would ask that. Look at the level of the job you’re applying for (ASO2, ASO3 etc etc) and work it out for yourself. Asking starting salaries shows that you’ve not done your homework. By all means ask when the position will be filled and if the starting date is set. That’s fair.

Always remember that no mater how good you are, no matter how good you present, there will be panels who know exactly who they want to hire. Even if that person isn't that good, but answers the questions with the right dot points then they'll be hired over you. The feedback will be something along the lines of, "You did really well, and we'd like to offer you a short term contract, but you were pipped at the post." This kind of a panel is referred to as being a 'loaded panel'. The loaded panel is set with co-workers and/or immediate line managers who want a contract worker win the position. If you get into the workplace you'll soon discover where you really came in the merit list just by talking to the winner. If they're a dud then don't be upset, that's life in the Government - things are rarely fair and equitable, and always remember, positions are filled by the panels recommendations and the managers discretion. Both of those bows bend a fairly long way and are broader in scope and definition than most highways.

Be careful what you wish for - you might just get it.

Now that your brain is overloaded I’ll leave it there and come back later with more insider tricks…wait for it.


Pilgrim. said...

That is one of the most accurate and helpful guides I've seen.
Thank the gods I haven't had to do it recently.
This deserves wider distribution.

JobSearchNinja said...

Every applicant should look closely at their resume and make it stand out to be noticed by their prospective employer. To top the competition resume should be adequate and compelling.

One must focus and move in the right direction. Never let obstacle interfere with job search.

Zaphod Beeblebrox said...

Oh great! Spam.