Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#124: Working On It

One of the hardest ways to obtain a job with the Government is via an external agency. There’s several reasons for this and right here, right now, I’ll cover a few of them. Just for the sheer hell of it all.

The first thing an external agency will do is make you jump over more hurdles than a 100 metre track final. I kid you not. In a standard Government job the procedure goes something like this: you apply with a cover letter, address the J&P and include a resume. You’ll get a letter either saying your application will be considered or you’ve not made the first cut. If you make the second cut, and are shortlisted for an interview then you’ll get a letter stating so with the time of the interview. The interview will generally be a week after the letter has been sent, so you’ll get a few days to prepare, as is the wont. Do the interview and you’ll either be offered a position or not, and then offered feedback.

Feedback here is an important thing and if offered then you should take it, and it will be offered. However some feedback will be misleading – if the panel was stacked or clearly wanted an internal applicant then the feedback might not be what you’re expecting. It’ll be something along the lines of, “You did really well, however you weren’t successful.” Its then up to you to ask as to where you went wrong with your application or interview. The process can be appealed if you feel that you’ve been taken advantage of, but you cannot appeal the appointment, so be very careful as to what you do next. Immediately after the interview it’s always a good idea to make some notes about how you feel you went. You’ll soon know if you did well or not. Expect to score lower for simple things – I went from first to third in an interview simply because I failed to mention one key point. Seriously. One little point saw me ranked down the list and as such I was offered a pissy contract where I prayed for an extension. Still, that’s another story, but the point here is that if a department is doing its own selection then they’ll generally play fairly. No-one wants the union or anyone else for that matter poking about in their selection process. Too much paperwork and no-one needs that black mark against their name as they’re trying to climb the corporate ladder. Each interview will consist of the same questions and scenarios – there’ll be nothing different. You’ll only be asked questions that are appropriate for the job at hand and no-one is tripped up – it’s entirely fair and equal. Really, it is. Remember that, it’ll come in handy down the track.

An external agency doesn’t play fair, nor does it need to. It doesn’t hate you, it doesn’t care enough to hate you. In fact it just doesn’t ever recognise you, unless you win a position or you can benefit them – but more on the latter shortly. Remember how the process worked a few paragraphs ago? Here’s the same job, with the breakdowns, as done by an external agency:
Application – cover letter, short J&P and resume – all on-line. From there you'll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be sent a link to an ‘aptitude’ or ‘personality’ test to complete on-line where you’ll be complete a test somewhat akin to being hooked up to a monitor to see how high your midi-chlorian are. From there you'll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll get a phone call to for a verbal interview. This will be conducted by someone reading a script somewhat
Like
This
Slowly
Word
By
Word
Get
The
Point? They don’t have the time to waste and will rush you through each and every scripted question. These people are paid by the hour with attractive bonuses for each person they get out of the way during the day. Thus they don’t give a crap about your qualifications or questions and will simply ignore anything that isn’t part of the script. They’ll notate your responses and if you answer with the right buzz words then it’s onto the next stage, which is...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be asked to come into the agency for an ‘assessment’ and interview. By now you’re thinking, “Hang on, I’ve done this already,” and if you are then you don’t know shit. You’ll be asked to put aside a few hours, no exceptions. I once tried to re-schedule one of these due to a combination of a family emergency and a persistent nosebleed that I’d carried throughout the day only to be told that if I didn’t attend then my application would be considered withdrawn. Again, the agency could care less for you.

Once at the agency you’ll be shunted into a room with other idiots, usually between seven to eleven. Nine is usually the number as a few people will invariably fail to attend. Someone will stand there and introduce the agency and patronise you, after which you’ll be given a group exercise to do. My favourite was a murder mystery which I solved within two minutes out of the fifteen minutes allocated only be shouted down by three know-it-all cretins whilst the other five people sat quietly and clearly waited for the agency people to walk back in. I gave up discussing the mystery as the people involved were clearly those ones who believe that the way to shine during such group exercises is to utterly dominate them to the point of violence. Oddly enough my guess of the killer was right, not that it helped. During this exercise you’ll be monitored from another room via camera, and generally laughed at, with the best bits making a blooper tape – even better if someone hauls off and belts the living suitcase out of another participant.

One the group fun is over the group will be divided into two and you’ll generally be shown into another room where you’ll either wait to be called for another interview or subject to either an aptitude or a skills test, or both and possibly a role play. The one-on-one interview is always fun as it’ll involve one of the agency people and hopefully someone from the department who’ll be hopefully hiring you. After three hours have passed you’ll be at the end of it all and you’ll either be...
Shortlisted or rejected via email.
If shortlisted then you’ll be asked to attend another interview, this time with the department you’re applying for. This will be the standard interview and you’ll either be...
Hired or rejected via email.
As easy as that really. Selection via attrition.

Having said all of that here’s the stumbling blocks to watch out for. Agencies don’t need to be fair or equal. They have a rough idea as to who they want for the job and here’s one of the biggest secrets out there, one which, when I reveal it, I doubt I’ll ever land another job via an agency: they cheat for money.

I once applied for a job at a phone carrier in the dark ages when I really needed the cash. I went through the process and did the role play and was stunned. During the role play I was faced with an angry caller who refused to engage with me and basically told me to fuck off no matter what solution I suggested. There was nothing I could do to obtain a positive outcome, so I adopted the ‘angry caller’ syndrome and believing that this was a test of my ability to cope with a difficult customer, gave the three warnings and terminated the call. I then wandered back into the main room where five others waited. We discussed the calls and I learned that four out of the five had very easy calls, easily resolved, no abuse. Myself and one other had abusive, non-resolvable calls. I went home and waited for the inevitable rejection. I stated that I felt that I’d been harshly treated as the assessments were not fair and equal. I was given another chance, same result. It was then that a close friend who was working for an employment agency caught up with me for lunch. We discussed what had gone on and she told me, “Oh, you’d not get that job if you’re not signed to the employment agency.” I asked what she meant and she told me this secret:
Employment agencies exist with the assistance of federal Government funding via Centrelink and other little job network funding. They’re generally paid for each person that they can sign up and land a job for. Thus if you come into the agency for an assessment and are on their books and are successful then your employment can mean a few grand more in funding for the agency. If you come into the agency and land a job and are not signed to the agency then you’re worth bugger all in extra funds. As such they’ll push, and push hard, for the people on their books to gain any form of employment and an even harder push to ensure that those people not on the books to fail. Once the person has failed to gain employment the agency will often contact the person and attempt to sign them up.

Good rort isn’t it? You get your arse it is.

Feedback from external agencies is about as meaningful as hearing a $20 hooker saying that you’re the biggest boy she’s ever seen. They’ll call you and just say, “Sorry, you didn’t get the job,” and cut you off if you ask why. I remember once getting one of these calls and attempting to explain why I did poorly (loss of blood, emotionally charged week) only to have the agency person on the other end of the phone actually say, “Look, I don’t care. I have twenty more of these calls to make before I knock off. You didn’t get the job mate,” and with that he merely hung up. Great feedback. Very helpful. What it did do was ensure that I’ll not go anywhere near that agency again.

Agencies also couldn’t care less for any experience that you might have. Again, just for shits and giggles, in the mid 1990s I applied for my own job via an agency only to be told that I didn’t have any on-the-job experience, despite me having worked in the role for over two years. Go figure.

The lesson in all of this is as follows: if you apply for a position directly via the Government department in question then you have a better than good chance of landing the job. You’ll be treated as fairly as could be expected and despite some of the hurdles I’ve mentioned previously you’ll have a good shot at it, especially if you have the right buzz words as we’ve discussed previously. If nothing else then you’ll get some decent feedback, especially if you get someone who is willing to go through your entire application and offer suggestions as to how to improve your overall application – I once spent an entire hour with a senior manager on the phone as we pulled apart my application section by section. The end result was the next job I applied for, incorporating her suggestions, I landed. However if you go through an external agency then anything can happen. If nothing else you’ll be working hard before you ever get near the job. And that’s entertainment!

More to come.

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