The First Thing We Do We Kill The Power Skirts In HR

How naive I was. Since I applied for my first graduate job nearly seven years ago, the recruitment process for white collar jobs seems to have become twenty times more complicated.

First, it now seems to be passé to send anything as simple as a CV and cover letter. Applications fall into two camps, the “case studies”, designed to identify who can write the best 500 words about a time they managed to meet a deadline, or, even more baffling “managed a quality service”. The prospective employers helpfully provide endless documents designed to explain what on earth “a quality service” might be, but if my experience is anything to go by, these tend to leave the applicant even more confused than when she started.

Second, there are the ads designed to hire someone who meets a ludicrously prescriptive “person specification”. I read one of these recently, for an innocuous job in arts administration which listed an eye-watering 22 qualities and skills – in the most forbidding corporate jargon imaginable. No fewer than three years’ experience managing the budgets of publications schedules, and so on and so forth.

In an absolute worst-case scenario, you’ll be required to complete something like the “work-style questionnaire” prescribed by the Civil Service Fast Stream: I like to work as part of a team, please choose a response on a scale between strongly agree to strongly disagree. My application ended with an email informing me that although my aptitude tests were perfectly satisfactory, I just wasn’t the right sort of person for the Civil Service way of working.

We need to update Dick the Butcher’s advice, obviously.

As Robert Townsend pointed out in Up The Organisation – one of the only three management books that are required reading, all others being contra-indicated – hiring should be done by the bloke, or assistant, personnel being there to fill out the forms afterwards.

This has macroeconomic implications as well. Today’s level of frictional unemployment – that amount that we’re going to have whatever because it takes time to get hired – is higher than what used to be thought of as a disastrous level of total unemployment.

Hire someone who looks vaguely right, observe and train them for a bit, if it doesn’t work, Oh Well, start again. Shorter and cheaper in the end…..

20 thoughts on “The First Thing We Do We Kill The Power Skirts In HR”

  1. I’d argue that all the bullshit is needed since the hirer can always be vilified, pilloried and crucified if HE (already proven utterly evil!!!!!!) doesn’t meet the endlessly increasing woke crap re sex, gender, skin colour etc etc etc.

    The paperwork contains so much contradictory garbage that it offers a way to dodge any accusation.

  2. Similarly with “training”. What started out as helping with skills to get a job, its absence has now become an impediment to even a chance of getting the job. No chance of trying out a job; you have to decide on a career and hope to break in somewhere. A sort of qualification inflation…

  3. Bloke in China (Germany province)

    A list of 22 qualities required is a sure sign that there is a candidate already hired and the advert is placed merely to fulfil some SOP on appearance of fairness. Meeting 21 of the 22 won’t help you (yes, this happened to me once, and I think it was 22/23 I hit).

  4. No, “the recruitment process for white collar jobs” is absolutely fine. Her problem is that she’s applying to the big, premium name companies that go in for this nonsense. Most companies I’ve worked in put a job ad in the right place, then the manager and HR woman go over the CVs then call people in they like the look of.

    One of the reasons I avoid large places as a contractor is that this shit takes too long. I’m finishing some work, I want to go into the next place, not spend a month waiting on HR. I’ve applied for software work and been working 2 days later in small companies.

  5. The idea of a lot of these questionnaires is a very feminine thing.
    The whole “we need to make sure you’ll fit in at our company” thing.
    Men just work together. I can’t think of anyone I’ve worked with who I haven’t been able to work with and who haven’t been able to get the job done. Sure, there are always going to be people who don’t get on, but they just minimise their interactions to the bare minimum. The job still gets done.

    I don’t need to like Bill, or have chats with him about his daughters Nativity performance last June, I just need the jib stress calculation figures, which he can email me.

  6. BiC(GP): A list of 22 qualities required is a sure sign that there is a candidate already hired

    Yes, although the other possibility is that the hirer has no idea what the correct spec is and a rag-bag of many and occasionally mutually exclusive requirements means that HR can’t subsequently be acccused of scoping the job incorrectly.

    Who hasn’t been contacted by a recruiter who is clueless about the assignment but very conscious of the commission?

  7. Bloke on M4,

    Government organisation paying for me as a contractor in one field, wants me to step sideways to cover another where they’re short of the needed skills. Three months left to run on existing contract, HR happy to transfer it across, no problem. Contract runs out, spend a couple of frustrating unpaid weeks waiting for renewal while various functionaries squabble (only then, not when it’s agreed this is what the organisation wanted) about whether it’s a renewal or a new hire and whether it’s got to be recompeted or…

    By contrast, smallish private-sector outfit get passed my CV, I get a quick phone interview, follow up in person, and have gone from “who he?” to “principal consultant” in six weeks (two of them being Christmas break) and am taking home as much as a permie, as I was contracting.

    Private enterprise does notice money draining away eventually, and smaller businesses feel the pain sooner rather than later.

    And Chernyy Drakon’s spot on – I’ve managed to work with some difficult types, by concentrating on the job we’re there to do. Might not have chosen to spend more time than necessary with them, but on the other hand had an incredulous “you got useful work out of Nick?” because I gave ‘Nick’ stuff to do that he was good at and needed doing, thanked him for doing it well, and treated him like a professional instead of an irritant.

  8. “the “work-style questionnaire” prescribed by the Civil Service Fast Stream”

    I got taken on by HMIT (as was) under that procedure. Two days of tests and interviews. They had one part where you had to put down a few view points or strongly held beliefs and then in the discussion you were asked to argue the case for the exact opposite of what you believed.

    You had the chance to be fast-tracked in three years to a level it might take 20 years to get to if you were a ‘regular’ employee, if you got there at all. Nearly 50% of the time in my first three years was spent on training courses.

    So, yes, they were going to spend a lot of time and money training you and wanted to weed out whiny self-entitled people.

  9. Chernyy,

    It’s an interesting observation that has some merit.

    As companies shift from garage startup, to SME, to national and then multinational, you see a growth in useless women. I’m not saying all women are useless, but that there are useless women. That software startup might have a couple of women doing some useful admin on reception, HR and accounts. But as they grow, you get more women working in the internal support in a company, like purchasing, HR and so forth, and they build an enormous process around them, including as many tick boxes as humanly possible.

    They aren’t just a waste of space, with purchasing charging more for laptops than if the people just went to Dell, they create drag throughout the organisation. You need a thing to do your job, you can’t just go and buy it, you have to raise a non-standard purchase order with purchasing, then have meetings about it, justifying why you need it. All for something costing £50.

    And the thing is that no-one really notices the problem because the company is still printing money from all the work done a decade or so earlier. Like HP was still making nice profits in the mid-2000s from all the work on laserjet and HP-UX.

  10. Chernyy Drakon said:
    “The idea of a lot of these questionnaires is a very feminine thing. The whole “we need to make sure you’ll fit in at our company” thing. Men just work together.”

    My vague belief on this, if we accept that our subconscious is still influenced by the Stone Age experience, is that it’s down to the difference between hunters and gatherers.

    If six of you are looking for berries to gather, you’re all better off splitting up; you’ll cover more ground that way, and when you do find a bush there probably won’t be enough berries to go round.

    So you’ll only go gathering with someone else for the companionship, which means it’s got to be someone you like well enough to spend the day chatting with and like enough to share any berries you find with her.

    But hunting rewards co-operation. If six of you go out after deer (with primitive weapons) separately, the chances are none of you will catch one because the buggers will run off before you can get close enough. But if the six of you work together you’ve got lots more options (surround them, drive them, Bert sneaks round the back while the rest of you distract them, whatever), so you’ll probably all end up with more venison each than if you’d each tried it alone.

    With hunting therefore it’s better to work together, even if you don’t like the other buggers, because it means more venison. A bloke’s got to be really bad before you’ll give up the gains of working together just to get rid of him.

  11. Yes, indeed Tim. But how do we make that happen? This is a serious question. We need people at the top of organisations to grow backbones.

    When I visited WA – my home state in Oz – last week I had a chat with one of my cousins who does a lot of charity work with the venerable Country Woman’s Association (think something like a cultural institution once more important than the WI). She was complaining that her group had just had to unpick tutus from hundreds of teddy bears destined for emergency packs for girls accompanying their mums in crisis accommodation. Apparently the powers that be in the government agency taking the packs insisted that there could not be gender stereotyping in the teddy bears, so they rejected them.

    The CWA was once a powerful force in Australian cultural life. Where is their Board? Why aren’t they pushing back twice as hard and saying to the government agency that they have seriously lost sight of their prime mission?

    A few libertarian/classical liberal/ left liberal voices across the world are saying the same thing – Michael Malice and Tom Woods for example, Toby Young and others at the Free Speech Union, Quillette, the likes of John McWhorter and Steven Pinker signing anti-woke pro-free speech letters. But we need far more going out on a limb.

    And yet here I am signing off with a pseudonym.

  12. The answer to a lot of this is much simpler: weeding out applicants.

    With email and digital attachments, winging out your email to all and sundry is far easier – and cheaper – than the old method of typing out a CV & Covering Letter and then walking to the postbox down the road to mail it.

    Companies now get multiples more applications than they did in the snail-mail days. You need a method of winnowing.

  13. Young niece recently applied for a moderately serious position with a well-know international bank. Had to negotiate five tiered interview boards before winning out. Life’s too short for this sort of shit. In the old days you just hired the offspring of people you knew, on the basis they’d turn out not too dissimilar to their parents.

  14. I feel sorry for the younger generations. In my day I just applied to where I fancied on the university milk round and then ignored the offers I got when, out of the blue, two outfits approached me and offered me jobs. I chose one of the latter.

    It seems that I had developed a skill as an undergraduate that was rare and in demand. Yet some loonies claim that luck plays no part in life.

  15. I may have mentioned it before that it seems more and more firms insist on applicants filling in their custom form (which if online is then transferred straight to the HR database) rather than just accepting a CV and covering letter. I hadn’t considered Recusant’s point that this is a ploy to winnow the field of applicants.

    Also, regarding BoM4’s point, this is Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of bureaucracy writ large.

  16. Andrew C- and yet for all their graduates and training courses HMRC are a shite organisation who–under the rule of Bottler Fucking Brown– managed to absolutely destroy their own organisation and replace it with a shower of computerised bullshit.

  17. An old mate of mine was the chief programmer for a very large DP department in a multi-national. Part of his job was interviewing for new staff. He reckoned that he’d got the interview down to one salient question – “Do you like Monty Python and/or The Goons?” (depended on the age of the applicant, and this was some while ago). If the answer was “Yes” he reckoned that they were going to be OK, those that answered “No” had their CVs redirected to the accounts department. 🙂

    I’ve noticed ever since he told me that, that all the shit-hot programmers that I’ve seen seem to have a zany sense of humour allied to an appreciation of the internal logic of much of that humour – “Seagoon: Eccles! What are you doing here? Eccles: Everybody’s got to be somewhere..”. 🙂

  18. @ Baron Jackfield
    M’Lord – the need for good programmers to see the logical result and not to allow fashionable beliefs as to what “should” happen to blind them is totally compatible with enjoying “The Goon Show”.

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