The group interview seems to be increasingly in vogue. I can see their appeal to employers as they are a great way of sifting through the field with a minimum of fuss – after all it would take the best part of a day to see 10 people individually, but in a group interview it can be wrapped up in just over an hour. Plus they’re a great way of ascertaining how people interact with others.
For an applicant of course it’s an added hoop to jump through as a more in-depth traditional interview will follow for anyone clearing the group stage, but there is one interesting thing; you can see who else is applying. In the traditional interview you may steal a fleeting glance at a nervous applicant in the waiting area as you are ushered to the desk where you hand in your pass. You may even hear another’s voice tinged with nervous laughter through a cardboard partition wall as you wait your turn, but ultimately secrecy prevails.. you’ll never know who that ‘more experienced candidate’ who ‘just pipped you’ was.
As a result I found yesterday, my first ever group interview, was an interesting experience. It was at the call-centre I’ve previously dubbed ‘call-centre paradise’ and even the HR bod jetted in from a distant office to lead proceedings called it ‘pretty nice..for a call-centre anyway.’
So who was vying for a chance to work there? It seemed everyone from every walk. The ages ranged from a wet behind the ears 19 year old with acne who destroyed his chances instantly by referring to his previous job stacking shelves in Tesco until 4am as ‘tortuous.’ It may well have been, but the golden rule of interviews is never ever criticise a previous job or employer. Hopefully he’ll learn. The oldest in his room must’ve been a chap in his late 40s. Formerly of the job centre I winced at the horrible irony that he was now himself pitched into the world of jobseeking no doubt by government cut-backs. I spoke to him afterwards as he seemed like a nice fellow and as I have also spent some time in public service myself. He told me of another group interview he’d been to which lasted all day and was he said ‘dog eat dog’ a thoroughly unpleasant experience, but today was not like that. “You did well today” he told me which was nice and reassuring.
The day consisted of two exercises. The first was to interview the person next to you then after 10 minutes about their background, why they want to work here and an interesting fact then present your findings to the room. I got paired with a guy who was likeable, but more interested in chatting about football as if we’d just been introduced in the local boozer. I struggled to keep focused on the task, but got far too sucked in learning only that he had previously played in the Dr Martens league and had played American football professionally in Europe. We also totally missed out on the crucial why you want to work here section. Hearing the other, mostly slick, presentations I figured we were somewhere near the bottom just above the pair of 19 year olds.
As I was ruing my combination of inexperience and bad pairing I was hearing all about other people’s desire to work in a call centre. Almost all cited ‘career advancement’ which they believed wasn’t on offer in their current posts- for those who held one at least. The most interesting was a salesman in his mid 40s. Short and bald with shaved grey hair he sat as his partner recounted that he was top-salesman among 2500, or somesuch impressive number in his firm. My immediate question then was why was he was leaving? Surely as the top salesman he’d be feted within the company taken to a lap-dancing club on the company credit card and allowed to sleep off the hangover in a Travelodge on the edge of Swindon. Thats what happens right? As I was pondering this he was returning his partners favour, claiming he’d found it “very admirable” that she had previously combined work and study. Salesmans charm I thought to myself. He looked relaxed as he soaked in his round one victory. Then his mobile rang.
To anyone thinking that a university education would spare them the call-centre the stories emerging from the first exercise would have shattered their illusions. No fewer than five of twelve or so people in the room had a degree. Considering that two were 19 then just think about that percentage. Two of them may have been in ‘sports studies’ from the local ex-poly, but still think about that percentage. Three years and who knows how much debt for a job, even a whole industry, that is largely indifferent to that expensive piece of paper.
A lot of people in the room, including the graduates also seemed to be working in sales related jobs. Sales it seems is the one part of the economy which never stops hiring – on the way to the interview I passed loads of people in matching bright blue t-shirts. At first I thought these were chuggers and kicked in with my chugger defence mechanism, zig-zag to the other side of the street keeping people as a buffer between me and them at all times. If no people are available maintain a steely stare straight ahead and do not respond to smiles and waving arms. Then I noticed their clipboards reading ‘Work available £7.50-10.00 p.h’. A closer look revealed that the lettering on the T-shirts read ‘home fundraising’ ahh so they’re sort of chuggers, trying to recruit phone-chuggers. Luckily I’m not that desperate yet that I’d sign up for a job which involves abuse and rejection from clocking-on to clocking-off.
Maybe next week?