Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Thoughts on interviews

Pond at Winterbourne House
Forgive me, it is many days since I last wrote my insignificant thoughts. There has been a weekend, I have had a slight cold, I have planted daffodil bulbs, and we are having trouble with the TV.

The aerial cable seems to be dodgy, and the second-hand Freeview box has turned out to be rather temperamental - it takes several seconds to acknowledge any command it is sent, if it acknowledges it at all. If we want to watch a program (and there have been just a couple) then we need to start trying to change channel about 5 minutes before it is due to begin. I think Mr A would do something about this if he were not revising full time, but I don't care enough about broadcast TV to get involved. I'm happy with our DVDs, which are terrific - we finished the last series of The Wire, which was incredibly good, and are in the midst of the BBC version of I Claudius from the 1970's, which isn't bad, and surprised us with a young Patrick Stewart (with hair), and how much better they can do makeup nowadays - the old Claudius looks like he's wearing a Halloween mask.

I have been working on my teaching session, and yesterday I discussed it with the main tutor of the course I will be contributing to - she likes it a lot, and suggested how we might do the role play, as she has plenty of experience in that area and I have none. I also spent an hour with two experienced dietitians, talking about how I might improve my job applications and interview technique.

I am getting myself a bit worked up about interviews. Recruiting basic grade dietitians through a 30-minute interview seems to me to be a way of selecting the people who are good at doing interviews. Acting skills are rewarded almost as much as depth of knowledge, and I am not and have never been able to act. I can think of many people who would be a nightmare to work with, but whose ability to think on their feet and come up with a confident answer is outstanding.

This view may be coloured by the horrendous last interview I had before leaving my previous job, which took the form of an 'Assessment Centre' - a whole day of different types of activity designed to test different aspects of personality. The only thing that it didn't seem to test was a sound knowledge of the area of work involved, which was what I knew best, having done the job for some time. The successful candidate was the internal 'ringfenced' candidate who had been made redundant from another area, and she did a pretty bad job for as long as it took her to find a way to get out. One of the candidates had had enough by lunchtime and didn't stay for the afternoon. I met another of the candidates a few weeks later, and he told me that not only would he not have accepted the job if it had been offered to him, but he wouldn't even consider applying for any others in that organisation based on what he had gone through.

I have been on the other side of the table, as a recruiter too, and I'm not much good at that either. It seems to me that with a huge pool of unemployed graduate dietitians, all of whom will meet the essential requirements of a basic NHS post, it would save an enormous amount of time and effort if applicants just submitted their names and referees and one applicant was picked at random from all those meeting the essential criteria, given the job on a 6-month temporary basis, and then kept on if they turn out OK. We wouldn't have to spend ages on writing applications and undergoing stressful interviews, recruiters wouldn't have to spend ages reading applications and interviewing people, and I bet that 90% of appointments would turn out OK.

Anyway, the outcomes of my discussion about applications and interviews was mixed. They thought that I could be more succinct in my application, but suggested that I be more specific about why I want that particular job, even though both I and the recruiter are well aware that I don't really care what job I get at this stage. They thought that I was perfectly presentable, but perhaps should dress a bit smarter, to the extent of wearing low heels and a suit, even though this was understood by both sides to be an interview thing and any dietitian wearing heels or a suit in the real job would be classed as probably slightly mad, and definitely overdressed.

In terms of 'model' answers to questions, which seems to be the essence of interview success, I struggle. Of course I know a lot of stuff, but it might actually be easier if I knew a bit less, because I have trouble picking out the stuff that the interviewer actually wants to hear. Of all the things you might tell a person who has been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, what are the two most important points? My first reaction is always: 'It depends'. Tell them to cut down on sugary drinks - what if they don't drink any? But my reservations apply to the real world, not to interviews. In interviews, you have to say what they want to hear, in black and white, and not enter the grey and murky world of 'it depends'.

So I have all the answers in my head, and my main problem is that faced with a question, I have trouble retrieving the answer and delivering it as required. Of course, all this deliberation is hypothetical until I actually get an interview - there have been no suitable jobs advertised since the run of five last week, and although four of those five vacancies are now closed to applications, I have heard nothing yet.

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