Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Who You Are Doesn’t Matter if You Want a Job

Fuck who you are! This is precisely how I feel every time they ask you on a job application: tell us about yourself. I mean, they want you to be honest and tell them what you are good at, but what is the point of such a question? None of us is going to start by saying “yeah I love sleeping in and hate having to work hard.” You already go into the application knowing the qualities which embody a good worker. All those power words and key words we’ve been taught to mention in our countless careers sessions are essentially enthusiastic, highly motivated cover ups for bullshit. Now I’m not saying we all aren’t motivated and great team players, as many of us are. But if you are like me, your visions of getting your one dream job or even a job within your ideal sector has fast evaporated and you find yourself applying for everything and anything. I understand that they only want people who really want to work for them, but what really annoys me when a store like Selfridges asks you why it would be a privilege to work for them, when all you have applied for is a Xmas temp role. That really gets me. Sure I can understand if it was a permanent position, but who seriously designs this crap. The best answer I could conjure up was that they were a high net worth store and I would be exposed to a different environment. My true reason for working was because I needed the money. But isn’t that most of our reasons?

Unfortunately it seems that the exhaustive application questions which are meant to determine the traits which they need for their business, often leave you feeling like who you truly are just isn’t good enough. The best example I have of this was on a recent set of psychometric tests I took. I had completed verbal, numerical and logical tests with above average pass marks so I automatically assumed “great I have some sort of chance” but then they asked me to do a personality survey which they stated would not be used to judge applications and that honesty would be the best policy. It was a section of 104 statements broken into groups of 3’s. From each 3 statement block, you had to choose one which was most like you and one which was least like you, leaving the final statement blank. This is apparently supposed to provide an accurate representation of your character. Anyways, trying to outsmart the system, I tried to keep my answers as consistent as possible until they started grouping all my “most like me” statements together. What to do now. What I would do, wouldn’t match up with what I think they are looking for.

Eventually, my naivety got the better of me and I answered truthfully. They sent me back feedback saying I was not driven enough but I was inclined to help others. What does this say about what they are looking for? And moreover, how stupid did I feel. I can again understand that my naïve behaviour to think that they wouldn’t check the personality questionnaire probably made me lose out on great opportunity in this case, but I’m more annoyed about the general acceptability that we have as a society, which allows companies to make us feel like we just aren’t good enough due to our beliefs. You can disregard people based on experience, and even grades as this is fair in my opinion, but not based on personality traits. Since young school days we are continually taught that we are inadequate, we are not good enough, and this is merely accepted. It’s so engrained in most of us that it seeps into every area of our lives. How many times, have you guys out there reading this, left a stunner at the bar because you thought you are just not good enough? Or thought that the Ralphie tee you had on was just not expensive enough for you to talk to her? It’s these indirect effects that tests like these have on wider society which really worries me. Yes, there are some people who are perfect for the jobs they are in, but I’m willing to bet that a vast majority were forced to fit into another mould, unnatural to them, to get the job they thought they needed.

What I really feel is that these sort of selective questions really expose a truth: unless you fit into the mould of society and do what your superiors ask of you, you won’t be getting anywhere anytime soon.
Nonetheless, I came across a job however for creative consulting; something I never thought I would have an interest in. Even so, with nothing better to do, I applied. This company looked different to me. It wasn’t the usual spiel of “we care about you and we care about more than just the bottom line.” This company had gone out of its way to be refreshingly honest and quite quirky with the website design and the story format which led you through the entire website. I looked up a role which was advertised as a bass player or drummer. Yeah I know what you’re thinking, I said consultancy, not rock band. The role was actually as a consultant but they had taken the ingenious approach of using analogies. As usual, I created a cover letter with all the standard bits of information which were supposed to wow my potential employer. Then, just as I was about to send it off, it occurred to me that maybe I should let my creative side flow a little bit and not stick to a traditional cover letter. Big gamble, but then again I told myself, I had nothing to lose. Having studied history at Uni, I finally found a way to make use of the elaborate writing skills I had developed; adding flowers, as my dissertation tutor would call it. I wrote from the position of an aspiring musician who had a ton of experience but no big gigs yet. I used language that laughed in the face of pragmatism, conjuring bright vivid descriptions which would surely get me blacklisted by any bank’s recruitment team. Even so, I sent it. It actually felt great. I had just done something I had never done before and it had been fun as hell to be honest. I didn’t even care about the outcome, because just knowing I had the balls to be different, was refreshing. Although I didn’t expect a reply, I got an extremely enthusiastic reply the next day. Unfortunately due to the nature of the company they couldn’t hire graduates but I did make a useful contact, who recommended me to her recruitment agents who are now helping me.

They always say be different, but it’s often very difficult to actually do that given the strict unwritten rules that exist. There are companies however nowadays which are becoming more and more in tune with the flaws of the current system and accepting different methods of application. Particularly the marketing and advertising firms, but that’s to be expected. This sounds like absolute cheese, but that song let your true colours shine through really was written based on some practical experience I believe. You might not get the job you want, but you might just get something greater. 

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