Although I’ve taken part in many interviews as an interviewee, I’ve only been on the other side of the table on two occasions: in my capacity as Team Leader in Tinplate R&D, and later as part of the Operational Research team.

There was a clear difference in approach between the two sets of interviews. In Tinplate R&D the interviewing team consisted of David Jones, one or two Team Leaders and an HR representative. In a way it gave you the feeling that, whatever the outcome, you had at least selected your preferred candidate. The best example was when we were recruiting for two technicians: There were between 8 and 10 candidates, of which both Brian Bastable and myself selected our own preference, and both of us were eminently satisfied with these additions to our team.

In contrast, the graduate and functional trainee recruitment process was both far larger, more amorphous, and more regimented in its approach. It took place in place like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, and in the later days an outbuilding of Margam Park. On all occasions there had been a pre-screening by HR, both from the CVs and completed forms, and from subsequent telephone interviews. The recruiting day itself consisted of the candidate giving a presentation to 2 interviewers, a group discussion and a proper interview where 2 interviewers subjected the candidate to a standardised set of questions.

Each of the components of the interviewing process (including the telephone interview conducted prior to the recruiting day) were given a number of points, the candidates ranked, and then given over to those who had positions on offer for the final selection of their preference.

I must say that I have my reservations of at least three parts of the whole process. First of all, anyone who doesn’t have a good telephone manner is likely to do badly, and consequently may not even make it to the final recruitment day. In the case of Operational Research this has the potential of weeding out geek-type candidates who may be very good at the technical side of the job, but lack the social finesse to make the grade in the interview.

Secondly, the group exercise makes it very hard for anyone to come out of it smelling of roses: it’s very easy to come across as overbearing, not being a team player or being too passive and get marked down for each of those perceived defects. And last but not least, standardised questions, whilst good to make an easy comparison between various candidates, does not allow for looking for specific abilities that might highlight a candidate with a specific ability in Operational Research.

In addition, I’ve seen how certain interviewers frigged the system to bring their preferred candidate up in the rankings by changing their ratings in the subsequent analysis. In short, whilst the process may be designed to recruit a generalised graduate, it is far less suitable to identify someone with specific abilities useful to Operational Research: from three graduate and two functional trainee interviews we added over time two graduates and one functional trainee, none of whom lasted more than a year before they moved elsewhere for jobs that they found more to their liking.

Presumably this deficiency in the recruiting process must be known (although maybe not officially acknowledged) in senior management circles, and my replacement must have been identified using a route that was specifically designed for someone who would not only be comfortable with, but also thrive on the type of IT work I had been doing throughout my time in Llanwern and Port Talbot.


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