Monday, 28 July 2008

The Interview Experience Part 2

As I alluded to last week I had to back to see the NPS (National Probation Service) for a second interview for their clerical officer's job.

The timing of this could have been better. It was the morning of July 24, the very same day I was due to travel up to Gretna for my sister's wedding. With an interview in Waterloo at 9.30am and a desire to get to Gretna before the late afternoon traffic rush I was on a tight schedule. It didn't help then that the interview was scheduled to last 45 minutes, nor that in the event it went on for over an hour.

You could look at the duration of the interview as a positive or a negative. Well you could if you are a glass half empty merchant masquerading as a realist. Which I am. On the one hand you could say that I lasted so long because I gave full and interesting answers to the eight questions I was asked about my previous experience in administration. On the other you could suppose that I am a rambling imbecile and that the interview panel will have gone away from my visit with an aching desire to shove cutlery into their eyeballs.

In an amusing, ironic or even quite unfortunate twist it turns out that the two ladies on the interview panel are people that my other half knows quite well. Rather like my hour-long monologue, I get the feeling that this could go for or against me, depending on the nature of the relationship between all parties. I felt it better not to seek too much information on the subject. As far as I am concerned Jan and Liz remain strangers for now.

Just as an aside Burlington House in Waterloo is one of the hottest places in Europe. For the entirity of my interview I was gasping for liquid, a thirst satisfied only by a small glass of water placed on the table inbetween me and my interrogators. By the time I got out I was in grave danger of spontenously combusting, so spent another ten minutes in the reception area drinking large glasses of water poured from an ice-filled jug that lay on the table.

While there I exchanged pleasantries with the next candidate, a middle-aged, quite posh-looking woman who looked a little less than confident. But they're always the dangerous ones aren't they? 'Don't worry' I said, 'It's easy in there'. What was I talking about? I don't know. I am in no position to suppose that it was 'easy in there' and it would be a poke in the eye for my smugness if I was not selected for a role after all. I was trying to reassure this woman, but who on Earth would do that when in reality she is not a nice, middle-aged, quite posh-looking lady, but rather a rival for a job I am particularly desperate for. My actions defy logic.

Agonisingly, interviews are carrying on all of this week, and so I won't know my fate until August 4. In between times I have discovered that I have an August 11 interview at Liverpool JMU to fall back on, but it is not unrealistic to suppose that my surly mood this Monday has something to do with my impatience on the matter.

Aswell as my post-interview alcoholism at my sister's wedding.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Interview Experience

Yesterday I went for an interview for a job with the NPS (National Probation Service). It was the fourth or fifth interview I have had over the last few months, and it might just be that I'm starting to get better at them.

Not to say that I'm going to get the job (though God knows I need to), but if I don't it will be because someone else has come along with bags of experience and who performed well at their interview. It won't be because I buggered it up like it might have been in the past.

Yet the fact remains that no matter how good I get at interviews I will always hate them. They present you with an entirely false situation, and as such are no good indicator whatsoever of whether a person is suitable for a particular job. I was asked four simple questions about the NPS (living with someone already employed there certainly helped), but most of my answers came as a result of a little internet research. As long as it could read and was good with a mouse you could have trained a chimp to learn what I needed to know.

I don't really have any alternatives to the interview process as it stands, but let's kick a few ideas around anyway. Perhaps they could film candidates carrying out tasks related to the job and broadcast it on Channel Four. When everyone's examination has been viewed you could get the moron population who are hooked on reality television to vote for who they think should get the job. Or else they could bring in some Alan Sugar-esque administrative Big Shit to judge the hopefuls on their clerical skills. One by one he could fire those who failed to cut the yellow stuff leaving the remaining, successful candidate to become his administrative apprentice. They could film that aswell. The idiot masses would be glued to it.

There was a practical side to all of this. I was asked to complete a short data entry test aswell as a little examination of my copy-typing skills. If I fail that I'm in serious trouble. I didn't go to University for three years to get a degree in journalism to fail a tin-pot copy-typing test. The copy was littered with mistakes which the sub-editor in me felt compelled to correct. Now I'm worried that they'll penalise me for not typing the thing out exactly as it was on the paper. Still, if they want a workforce who dutifully copy everything robotically regardless of whether it is grammatically accurate then I guess it is not the job for me.

All of this was done using a headset for instructions. That was the best bit about it. At the end I thought for a second of emulating Ron Atkinson, roughly removing my headphones at the end of the task and chucking them haughtily at the nearest cameraman. We're on Channel Four or BBC2, remember? By the time I post this blog I might actually find out whether I have got through to stage two of the interview process. That's a 45-minute interview aimed at finding out how I would deal with specific scenarios. Badly, I hear you cry.

On the way home I saw a transsexual on the train. Wearing a short skirt, covered in fake tan and enough make-up to transform Anne Widdecombe into Helen of Troy, she(he?) was nevertheless clearly an ex-man. With a voice as deep as the Indian Ocean and clearly visible facial hair, I was left feeling sympathy with her for the botch-up of her surgical transformation. It was about as convincing as Hugh Laurie's American accent.

You hear so many stories about men incandescent with rage having been fooled by sexual partners who turn out to be not quite what they seem. No danger of that with this one. If the voice or the beard didn't give her away, then surely the Adam's Apple would. Of course, I say this having crossed her path in a state of sobriety. Had I been plied with lager at the time I might have taken a different view.

Time to get the drinks in.

Friday, 11 July 2008

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker. There, I've admitted it so I am half way there.

It seems that nowadays you're nobody if you're not social networking. Everyone's at it, and what's more we are doing it with people with whom we have the most tenuous connections. All of which makes it sound like some kind of sordid method of experiencing casual encounters. The only difference is that nobody out there seems to mind who they encounter, nor even which gender they pick up.

Collecting Facebook or Myspace contacts is the modern equivalent of going everywhere with a pencil and a little black book, and asking everyone you see to volunteer their telephone number. It's impossibly intrusive, yet I have come across very few people who have been unwilling to add me to their list of 'friends'. Except they're not friends. Not really. I have a ludicrous 136 people on my list of friends. Of those I interact regularly with around eight, and have had one or two conversations with two or three more. That leaves around 125 people lurking on my friends list with whom I have had no online interaction. I can foresee precious little prospect of that changing in the near future.

So who are these nameless, increasingly faceless majority? Some are old friends from my student and school days (they are the ones I keep in touch with the most), others are people I have met down the pub. Indeed, I speak to these people far more often in the more civilised environment of the local battle cruiser than I do online. Yet more are people I met while playing basketball (something I no longer do at present). As for the rest, the awful truth is that they are just friends of friends of friends of friends. People I might speak to if I were to cross their path, but whom equally there is every chance of never laying eyes on again.

The depth of pointlessness of Facebook goes further still. Some of my contacts are family and my closest friends. People I have absolutely no need to speak to via the gift of technology when I could just as easily pick up the phone or pop round for a brew. To illustrate the point, the woman with whom I share my home is another of my Facebook friends. Absurd.

Absurd, yes, but far from the most absurd facet of social networking. Thankfully I am yet to be caught in it's grip but there are plenty of people out there (and you know who you are) who indulge in the practise of sending virtual items to their online chums. Fancy a pint? Don't be going down the local in the pissing rain, just whack over a virtual beverage to Dave from down the road. Before you know it he will have returned the favour and sent that same pint to at least 243 people that he never actually speaks to either. I wouldn't want to be left to wash that glass.

Yet for all it's peculiarities Facebook is strangely addictive. Despite myself, I log on at least two or three times a day to find out who has joined the latest 'group' (a collection of individuals who have something in common, for example loathing Cristiano Ronaldo or loving pies) to which I belong. From these groups my list of friends only ever seems to expand, as I trawl through needlessly to add yet more people I will never speak to online.

I'm also incredibly keen to see who is online when I am, or whether anyone has placed a message in my inbox. Then there is something called a Funwall, on which people write the same things over and over, or place the same hardly amusing videos or smug mottos which they have found on the back of a fag packet. Funwalls are nothing but a breeding ground for wannabe Oscar Wildes, or a playground for lazy bog humour or low quality pornography. And yet a day hasn't gone by for weeks without a thorough inspection of my Funwall. It's become a bit like picking my nose. It's a disgusting, pointless habit which benefits nobody but somehow I find myself unable to stop at times when otherwise boredom may set in.

I'm constantly being warned that Facebook may have to shut down owing to some legal wrangle or other. Every time I read the warning I shudder slightly, terrified of losing my futile network of anonymous online comrades. And then I'm reliably informed that people are always scaremongering about the prospect of the site's closure. At which point I breathe again safe in the knowledge that I will still be able to find out who is Hot or Not, who owns me (you what?), or who wrote what on which wall.

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker.

Stalked By The Overly Helpful

I shouldn't really be doing this. I'm 32 years old. Conventional wisdom suggests that I should already have a steady job, be married with two children, own a Vauxhall Vectra and a St.Bernard called Cunningham. But I'm not and I don't.

I don't want to make excuses for not conforming to society's tedious values. But I will. The trouble is that when you have a disability, and are therefore entitled to Disability Living Allowance and Income Support, there is precious little incentive to go out to work. It was only when I moved in with my other half, thus losing my entitlement to Income Support that I decided that I really needed to get out among the workforce. Actually, she might have had some input in that decision if I'm recalling it correctly.

It's not all that easy to get a job when you are in your early thirties and have precious little experience in the workplace. That's why I took a 12-month contract at Liverpool Community College. They hinted at interview that they would probably take me on permanently but that turned out to be something of a smoking gun. Despite the fact that the HR department is desperate for someone to do my job, I find myself on the scrapheap once more. Shoving a further turd up my drainpipe is the fact that I am not entitled to Jobseekers Allowance because I have only worked for one year, rather than the two you need to have been paying National Insurance contributions. It's enough to make a bloke vote Lib-Dem. Nearly.

So anyway I've been updating my CV. I got a call from a Scottish man called Russ (or Ross) asking me to visit Starting Point to carry out this update. Why? Why can I not just update my own CV? Why do they have to continue to poke their noses in? Dutifully I turned up and met Sarah, an incredibly helpful woman but who nevertheless made a contribution which was quite unnecessary. She asked all of the usual questions; Are you looking here? (I was looking at her cleavage actually) Have you tried there? What about this? What about that?

What about it? I learned more about how to go about getting a job in 12 months in HR than I would do if I spent every waking hour for the rest of my life at Starting Point. They're just that, a Starting Point, so why do they insist on staying so closely in touch? They're like a holiday romance that has suddenly turned a bit sinister. By Christmas they will no doubt develop slightly psychotic tendencies. I'm relieved that I don't have a rabbit for them to boil.

The best thing about finally getting a permanent job (I have an interview next week) will not be the money, nor the opportunity to get away from this keyboard or daytime television. It will be the fact that I will be able to email Russ (or Ross) or Sarah and tell them that I won't be needing their input any more. Or their cleavage.