Thursday, 28 January 2010

Useful Feedback

You know how people tell you to get feedback from failed interviews and applications wherever possible? But you never actually do it cuz it will just add insult to the injury of your rejection? Yeah. I did that for a recent application.

The post was part time Communications Assistant for PYT Scotland.

I have been applying for Communications Assistant jobs since I graduated in June 2008, because the bulk of what you do is “ensure that our website, newsletter and social networking sites are regularly updated,” as well as helping out with the creative side of marketing the company (as opposed to the soulless sales side). Essentially it’s a way of writing for a living, which is what I’ve wanted to do since I was about 8.

There haven’t been too many vacancies of this type in Edinburgh over the last year and a half, but I’ve gone for the ones that come up, and been interviewed for a couple. But at this stage I’m starting to wonder whether I need to do another qualification, move cities, or just give up entirely. So when PYT told me we don’t want you, but in line with best practice we can tell you why you suck so bad ...’ Well, it seemed silly to waste such an opportunity.

The panel scored me out of six for each of the essential and desirable criteria. This was already potentially problematic, as I spent most of my time linking these criteria to the job description. No competency based bullet pointing for me, oh no. I went with overarching themes of interest in and ability to do the job. What a faux pas.

In confirmation of these suspicions, the email went on to say, “if you believe you have been scored unfairly on a skill that you perhaps do possess then we would recommend that you make this clearer in your covering letter and CV for future applications for a post with similar requirements.” Hm.

So anyway, the scores. For ‘working knowledge of content management programmes for websites’, the panel declared I had no evidence and gave me a 0. In terms of my letter and CV that was probably fair, although the 8 years of blogging means I have actually encountered a reasonable amount of coding, and I did point out my quickness and willingness to learn new stuff. It’s not like I wouldn’t have 4 spare days a week to do it in, as this is a part time position that would see me living on even less money than I do now.

‘Good understanding of / experience in marketing for the arts sector’, was one of the bits I was genuinely concerned about. I don’t have professional experience of marketing for the arts sector, I said to myself. Sure, I have a crapload of understanding, but I can’t very well say ‘my sister works for the Byre so I actually have heard a lot about marketing shows from behind the scenes’ or ‘my flatmate is in an up and coming indie band and talks a lot about the logistics of getting people through the door for gigs’. That won’t look professional, even though my knowledge is disparate and my understanding wide. Then I talked to some folk, and ended up putting:

“As well as writing and editing for the student press during my time in St Andrews, I created a number paper and electronic publicity materials for the student theatre community, averaging one play or musical per semester. I was also publicity officer for a society I co-founded to raise money for the Harbour Trust and the RNLI, which involved creating and distributing publicity materials for events, maintaining a database of membership information and writing an e-newsletter. I have built on these skills and interests in my current job by contributing copy to the libraries newsletter and blog, and by creating posters and leaflets for events being run in our library and other branches.”

So, did they concede even a small amount of knowledge/understanding? No they did not. I got 0.

Other zeroes were for:

- ‘relevant education qualifications’ (they never at any point specified what these might be but clearly not a 2:1 from St Andrews, which leaves you with no transferable skills after all)

- ‘working knowledge of the youth theatre sector in Scotland’ (“I have knowledge of the youth theatre sector in Scotland from the viewpoint of a participant and that of a reviewer. Growing up in Perthshire I was a member of the Scraphappy and Blairgowrie Players amateur dramatics groups, and contributed to local papers, reviewing several youth theatre productions. I continued to review gigs and plays for the student press at university, developing my journalistic skills as well as my knowledge of the arts sector in Scotland.”)

- ‘experience of event delivery’ (“as a proactive member of several university societies I assisted with the organization and delivery of a range of events, including gigs, film screenings and quizzes. Meanwhile in my current job I plan and run a lot of events for young people including craft activities, ‘Rhymetime’ sessions for mums and babies, and themed reading sessions with my primary aged reading group. I also support visitors to the library in running events including graffiti and art workshops, as well as information visits from youth workers.”)

I mean OK, reading over all this again I would change parts, but 0 seems excessively harsh, particularly re event delivery.

There were no 1s (minimal evidence) but many 2s (reasonable evidence) in:

- The ability to be creative within your work (I didn’t tell them about my book recycling activity, I suppose)

- Ability to work on your own as well as collaboratively with the core team (just… whatever. I am a good team worker and I’m fine on my own, I just am, it was in the cover and the CV and would be evident from references too.)

- Ability to multi-task (“I am also used to balancing competing priorities. As a student I learned to balance coursework with part time jobs and extra curricular activities and now, working in a busy community library, I manage daily administrative duties alongside planning and running events for young people, addressing challenging behaviour, dealing with enquiries and assisting customer use of technology.” – which translates to I still manage to do my job even when there are 30 kids running around shouting, jumping on couches, and asking me for different things. If they find a candidate who can multi-task better than I have to in that kind of environment, then hats off to them.)

- Understanding, enthusiasm and interest in theatre with and for young people (“Having worked a lot with bored young people in both a care and youth work capacity, I am hugely enthusiastic about the opportunities that Scottish youth theatre can offer them”...)

- And CRUSHINGLY, a 2 for my journalistic flair.

‘IT skills and self-sufficiency in using a range of software packages’ was better, gaining me 3 out of 6, which translates as ‘good evidence’. To gain this I proclaimed in my cover, “I have experience using Macintosh and Windows operating systems and am comfortable using Microsoft Office, Outlook, Photoshop, and Macromedia Freehand. I am also taking an evening class at ECA called ‘Introduction to Creative Digital Drawing’ to expand my knowledge and have recently started learning how to use Dreamweaver’." In my CV I also point out that I use TALIS, the database used in the libraries, and support customer use of stuff like Netloan (the crappiest piece of software known to man) and Comic Life. Any thoughts on extra stuff I need to be saying to get a 4, let me know…

Then there were 3s for my effective oral, written and on-line communication skills, and my GSOH. Yes, they graded me on my sense of humour, and I got 3 out of 6. Burn. This brought my overall score up to 19, which is nowhere near 30, as some of you may already know. And “anything scoring 30 or below indicates that the evidence of your skill base was perhaps just not relevant or diverse enough to be considered.”

So, there we have it. Competency based job application judges = stern. Stern but fair, like the Russian police.

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