In which I get feedback and practise some self-denial …

Advent may seem like a strange season in which to start practicing self-denial. But, as part of my new cunning plan, I have introduced some greater discipline over my job-hunting. And it feels great … er, and terrifying.

Everyone I have spoken with who is involved in recruitment tells me we are now entering a period of job famine. To everything there is a season and this famine is expected to end in the second half of January.

In the public sector growing clarity over budgets for 2011/12 onwards will become available over that timeframe. Many private sector organisations with December year-ends will be cautious too as they wait to see how deficit reduction hits their customers’ confidence. So maybe it’s not so hard to practice self-denial in a job famine.

Well, I’ve found my inclination has pushed me in the opposite direction. Eagerly scanning the job boards and my email alerts for anything with a vague whiff of congruence with my skills and aspirations. I have already narrowed my areas of focus after previous reflection on how my job hunting was going so I am scanning shorter lists of opportunity anyway. Even so there’s quite a few roles that come where my first thought is to give it a go.

But I have also had the feedback from the recruitment consultancy which handled the last job I applied for. It was the one where I felt I most closely met the person specification amongst all the jobs for which I have applied. I wasn’t shortlisted and had my wobble.

So what did the feedback tell me?
Well, I was one of fifty applicants only seven of whom got short listed. So I was in good company. My CV was too long and repetitive yet needed more detail on my achievements. It didn’t add up to a persuasive explanation as to why I was exactly the person the client was looking for.

The statement against the person specification was good in that it gave detail. Unfortunately the detail did not help. I needed more about what I had done and achieved. More tangibles, more specifics. And less pages. I needed to be much clearer about how my small-scale examples demonstrated skills transferable to another employer.
Don’t despair, I was told, the application was quite good, just not good enough. I couldn’t help but think that’s a refrain that a lot of us will be hearing over coming years. 

I thought the feedback was helpful though. And at least I got some feedback which is more than a lot of folks get. In summary I’ve got to say more, in less, about why my achievements are relevant to the job being filled.

My biggest learning point though is that I might have been able to sort some of these problems out before submission if I had pressed harder for interim feedback on the draft application. Doh!

I also learnt during the conversation that there may be a reason why I haven’t always heard from consultancies with which I have registered. In the discussion it emerged that I had a red flag on my record. I was startled. What for? What have I done? Who did I upset?

But it was nothing like that. The flag was there because the consultancy had done some work for my organisation and that meant they had a 12 month bar on approaching any of its staff to discuss opportunities. Hold on, I said, we’re being booted out of the door. That seems a bit unfair. So we’ve worked out a way to work with that restriction. You may want to check though if you are suffering under a similar flag.

I have had some excellent feedback and advice from another source – you know who you are – that has also informed my new mood of self-denial. They said three things about job applications that I have been meditating on.

  • thinking yourself into the role: really understanding what the job is all about and working out what you would do in the role – a top tip here was doing a mock plan for how you would spend your week;
  • putting yourself in the place of the people doing the hiring: every appointment represents a risk, so what risks do you present as an appointee and how can those be mitigated and managed down to an acceptable residual risk; and,
  • be aware of your bias: none of us are strong in every area and we each come from a particular area of expertise so force yourself to think about the aspects of any role where you are not strong because these may well be the ones that are vital to this particular client in this particular role.

I took all this feedback and applied it to another advertised role, a near neighbour to the one for which I wasn’t shortlisted. On the face of it another close match to my skill set. Applying all the advice I have described told me something different however. Some focused work revealed some core things about the role where I had little to offer and where the risk of appointing me would have made me twitchy let alone the people I was asking to hire me. So I have said, ‘No’. Self-denial in action.

Doing so has saved me time that I can use on other projects. Talking through my reasons with the consultancy handling the application has, I hope, given them some idea that I am not an unthinking desperate man who will apply for anything – even if I am. Completing the analysis did identify a set of issues, based on my expertise, that I think the hiring organisation should think about.  So I have dropped them a line.

I’ve explained how I was interested in the advertised role but felt after some research that I was not the person they were looking for to do this particular job. I have told them that in doing my research I was struck by the importance of three areas critical to their success where I do have expertise. (And I’m available.) We’ll see. But at least my time investment has helped me clarify my thinking around similar roles that may come up.

At least self-denial in Advent will make me fit for Lent.

About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
This entry was posted in feedback, Job applications, job hunting, Public sector, Public service, recruitment consultancies, Redundancy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to In which I get feedback and practise some self-denial …

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention In which I get feedback and practise some self-denial … | A redundant public servant's blog --

  2. HR Gal says:

    Wow, loving the clarity of advice you have received there from your unnamed source, and for the self-discipline you are exercising. If nothing else it shows your ability to separate your emotions from your critical thinking, which in itself is an excellent skill!

    I hope the response you sent the consultancy will fall on fertile ground, both in filling the role but in making you memorable for the next opportunity.

    Congratulations – I think we will all feel like the mother bird when the baby leaves the nest when you land that perfect job!

    • Dear HR Gal (or should I say Mother Bird),

      Thank you for the comment. I think it is really important to separate the thinking from the emotional side. But as you say that gets hard. But if you don’t learn from history you’re almost certainly doomed to repeat it.

      best wishes


  3. localgov says:

    That ‘red flag’ issue is incredible – makes me wonder how many other hidden barriers are lurking beneath the suface to trap unwary unemployees…

  4. Andrew says:

    Advent is not the season of not self denial but of looking forward and by self examination preparing for the coming Christ Child. So for you it is looking forward and by self examination preparing for the coming job applications. Lent is self denial time – easy when the salary has stopped – but by then you should be looking forward to your new job (appendages crossed).

  5. Trucks says:

    Hi RPS

    It sounds to me as though you are learning from your applications and getting constructive feedback which is so important. Many applicants receive no feedback, either being afraid to ask in case a negative response knocks their confidence or end up receiving the “it was good but someone else was better on the day” brush off which doesn’t provide anything constructive to work with.

    Despite having worked for several years as a careers advisor i still feel daunted as i await the fall out of our consultation period (next staff meeting tomorrow!). Applying for work in the current climate is challenging, as the normal rules don’t apply when wholes swathes of similar roles are also being deleted.

    You sound like you are learning through each process and identifying improvements which i am sure will get you where you want to be soon. One point i would concurr with is quality over quantity and really challenging yourself “am i right for this role” and more importantly perhaps “is this role right for me”. It is far more productive to focus on one or two high quality thoroughly researched applications per week on roles you are really suited to than throwing applications around in the hope something sticks!

    Wishing you all the best of luck RPS, your blog continues to be a source of solace for me and many others


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