Saturday, September 18, 2004

An article I wrote

I wrote this article. I have no idea why, but ho-hum. Feedback sort of welcomed. Target is an online magazine, sp!ked, which I discovered the other day.

To mark the imminent beginning of a new graduate recruitment cycle The Times has recently published a list of the top 100 graduate recruiters. I perused the list partly from sentimentality about my own graduation in 2000, but also because I am currently recruiting for a position in the team I manage and finding it difficult.

Management can come as a shock, but nothing quite prepared me for the recruitment side. A few years ago the idea of a candidate being so fussy would have left me gob-smacked. My perception – heavily encouraged by those top-100 lists – was that recruitment was a finely-tuned psychological experiment. The tiniest flaw, from a spelling mistake to an inappropriate tie, would result in my immediate rejection.

It came as a shock to discover that not everyone took this view. I leaf through CVs seven or eight pages long, flinching at a proliferation of spelling mistakes. Do they not care? Do they even want the job? Well no, in one case, he did not. In his second interview he reversed the roles and subjected me to all kinds of questions about training plans and employment mobility before deciding that he did not want to be employed by us.

It is not only the candidates who have fallen in my estimation, as a recruiter I am hardly the finely-tuned machine I would have been expecting. My questions are vague, my expectations uncertain; I forget to book rooms, do not offer coffee, do not introduce myself and do not ask about some of the core skills.

If anyone is being graded on their choice of tie it is me. I re-arrange meetings to fit-in their interview. I begin to suspect that the whole graduate recruitment process, from IQ tests to personality profiles, is the employers getting their revenge while they can. Perhaps all those articles in newspaper supplements are merely a plea for CVs where someone, anyone, has used a spell-checker.

The whole experience is proving highly disconcerting. My previous perceptions about employment protection in the UK – how pitiful it is, what a hire-and-fire culture we have – has been totally demolished. It is virtually impossible for me to fire anyone, if I wanted to and had solid evidence it would take at least six months. I am beginning to doubt everything I took as read about corporate giants. Far from being vast well-drilled corporate armies, the multinationals are rag-tag collections of disorganisation and confusion.

This does not mean they are not dangerous, they are like hurricane Ivan: prone to switch course and wreak destruction based on the random whims of a decision-making butterfly in an office. Huge corporations are frightening because they are seen to exert great power with one purpose, but this is a James Bond evil-organisation rather than a realistic picture of actual entities. Real organisations do unpleasant things often because no-one took the decision not to.

Arthur Andersen (the auditor) was felled by its involvement in corporate scandal and its dubious auditing history. The deals involved would have netted it a few million dollars, but the firm itself was vast. Is this a picture of a slick operator or simply of someone not making the right risk versus reward calculations?

The recent failure to prosecute any Railtrack executive for manslaughter with regards to the Hatfield derailment (in which four people died) disappointed many. The prosecution failed on the inability to find a “directing mind”. Yet this should hardly have been a surprise. Railtrack is often perceived as a single villain, an actual entity making decisions, but it appears to have been a whirlpool of incompetence that eventually sucked-in innocent victims and destroyed itself.

It is easy to dismiss corporations as entirely self-serving, yet items such as charitable contributions and sponsorship remain on the balance sheet. In terms of pure computation these do not make sense. Positive returns such as image, branding and marketing can be achieved in a more targeted, more cost-effective manner. Habit and culture also play a role – it is simply the way things are done – but one can also see the individuals within the organisation at work.

If businesses are thought to be acting unethically – regardless of their size – perhaps the concern should not be what they are doing, but who is expected to stop them doing it.


At 4:34 pm, Blogger Trinity said...

Your writing is excellent. Precise, to the point but with enough flair to make you want to read on. I know what you mean about job candidates. I've always been of the opinion the interview is a two way thing. I've turned down jobs, gone with a gut feeling it wasn't for me.
The tie business is a bit extreme though. Hmmm I don't know. I guess someone in a winnie the pooh tie might put me off.
Actually I'm quite bad at taking criticism but after an hour when I think about it, I'd usually agree with them. But you don't need to worry about criticism for your writing as it's very very good. xxx


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