Welcome to Part 3 of my recent foray into the public service recruitment process. I’ve discussed the selection criteria and the written assessments, so today we finish the tour with the panel interviews. I interviewed for all three departments that I applied to and witnessed some very diverse styles of inquiry. In each instance, the questions were given 5-15 minutes before the interview, to allow the candidate to make a few notes. I was incredibly well prepared for Department ‘A’ and Geoscience Australia and was able to weave my skills in with their existing programs. I had a clear understanding of each departments strategic vision and an arsenal of examples that showed how I ‘fit’ within these directives. At both interviews there was much smiling from the panel, as they scribbled notes as I ticked all the right boxes. My weaving was elegant, I had clearly done my homework and if they didn’t want my basket of skills then that was okay with me, as I don’t think I could have presented them any better.
Then there was Department B, where rather than weaving it was more like throwing balls of yarn in random directions while laughing maniacally. I kid you not, it was that bad.
Once again, I feel the need to reiterate…I had finished writing my thesis at 2am and the interview was at 10am of the same day. I had hoped to have already finished but alas, I worked down to the last minute so that I could participate in a camel expedition. So while I did attempt to make some notes, I forgot them. I also did curious things like stopping at green lights en route to said interview, arriving with less than 30 seconds to spare because I somehow missed the giant entrance, writing a horrible written assessment where I saw the sign for the cliff but walked over the edge anyway, then sat my interview.
Part of the problem was clearly my state of mind. I’d JUST finished. I was so tired, and delirious, and relieved and PUNCHY. The other problem was that the questions had clearly been written by Human Resources. They had nothing to do with the department, nothing to do with my skills and seemed SO ludicrous relative to scientific research that I barely kept it together. To ‘break the ice’ we has a practice scenario where I was to pretend that I was sharing the elevator with my future boss, and had 30 seconds to sell myself. What would I say? Now rather than me listing the qualities I would discuss, the interviewer set his timer, covered his face with his hands, then did a peek-a-boo like gesture. That’s right he uncovered his face, revealing a crazed grin, then AS I WAS TALKING covered it back up again after the 30 seconds was up shouting gleefully TIMES UP! The interview went down hill from there. For example:
Q. Kelly, pretend I’m your grandmother, I want you to unpack an iPhone for me, you have one there, why don’t you use that as a prop?
A. So there are two problems. First, both my grandmothers are both dead so I don’t think either of them need an iPhone and second, you’re a man.
After sorting out that these points were largely irrelevant and ‘please just deconstruct an iPhone’, we moved on to a ‘judgement’ scenario.
Q. Your boss has left for the evening, his boss comes in and needs to brief the minister in 30 minutes on the statistics of a report that you have only seen early drafts of weeks ago. Your boss is not answering his phone, what do you do?
– For this answer I need you to imagine me speaking faster and faster as I get more agitated, and the pitch of my voice ascending to a frequency only heard by dogs.
A. Do I need to actually perform the statistics or have they been done already? If so do I have the data and what software is available to me? Am I familiar with the software? And are we talking simple statistics, multivariate or more complex modelling? Is it even feasible for me to calculate the statistics? Is the boss meeting the minister in person, or do I need to plot it for presentation? Do you want a Powerpoint or are you just interested in numbers and uncertainty? How large is the project? How much would have changed and how complete was the early draft? Do I have a copy of the early draft or did I just see it? Are there shared files in our group, could I access the report? And look to be honest in some groups it would be fine to sidestep the office hierarchy, in others it would be tantamount to career suicide! I mean really, I’ve never worked in your department and have no idea of employee expectations! How can I answer this with such little information!?!?
For most of this interview the look of absolute horror on my face was impossible to mask. Unless I too had started playing peek-a-boo. I completely understand that there is a process, but my head was really in the wrong space to be answering what felt like asinine questions. I don’t think I could have looked more like a lunatic. Where the other panels scribbled furiously, in this interview pens barely touched paper. However while I have titled these posts the ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ guide, I was offered all three positions, from Department A, Department B and Geoscience Australia. Perhaps Department B took pity on me as I was clearly exhausted, or perhaps they too felt the questions written by HR were a little ridiculous. In any case I can’t accept their offer as I fear they are willing to employ lunatics.
So I am delighted to announce that I shall join many previous RSES students at Geoscience Australia. Unlike the other departments, here I can continue to operate as a scientist, even if it is a slightly unhinged one.