My first (Ad)Venture

This entry could be really short, or said differently, my (ad)venture turned out to be very short. After getting up at 5:30 in the morning and a lonely trip to Brussels, I reported to the front desk around 8:30am (just in time for my appointment). Responding to what seemed like a personal invitation from one mayor Dutch Bank turned out to be little more than a en masse group event – about 8 Flemish candidates and a number of French speaking solicitants turned up. First the French speaking candidates were called to enter the building. Half an hour later, a mere gray presence announced him in an even more grayish style. We were being taken through a labyrinth to a room full of computers. “Coffee can be bought outside the room”, and yes, this is a bank, “reload your debit card at our ATM Machines”. Once finished, the last candidate would have to call through the internal telephone system the responsible recruiter to declare that “we all finished the test”.

Our first test consisted out of calculations on bananas, inflation, life expectancy and basically would test my abilities to operate a calculator. I was presented with about 50 questions to be solved within a time frame of 35 minutes. Ok, so I did my best. Relaxed, but not without any stress. It was important, or this I deduced from the comments from our very enthusiastic HR consultant, to find the balance between answering correctly every question and going against time. Did I mention that during the exercises they still used statistics from West-Germany? Anyway, I got started with my calculator (a very basic one) and solved those mystery problems about… bananas.

Second test was a language-logic test (or what they preferred to call it). I had to read a couple of small texts and affirm whether the four statements that followed this text were true, untrue or… (guess what) not verifiable. I could easily have answered untrue or not verifiable to more than half of the statements mentioned, but after giving it some thought (and stopping myself from thinking too much) I went ahead not knowing where I would end up.

Two hours later, without seeing anybody, I finally could press the last button on an old keyboard. I finished my tests.

After about 10 minutes a young woman would call my name and I followed her into a small room, barely illuminated, while she asked me: “how do you estimate yourself?” Basically I replied “I am who I am”, adding that a test like the first test reminded me of my first exam micro economics (which was, if I think of it now, way more difficult than this one). Without getting to the point she said I “got a 4 (out of 10) on the calc exercise” and a staggering 8 out of 10 (she still could not understand how that was possible) on my language-logic exam. To make an uninteresting conversation short: (a) I failed my basis calculator ability test (one has to have 5 to pass – I probably didn’t recognize the difference between an 9 and a 6 nor do I appear to be able to make the distinction between a price index and a percentage point) and (b) that my results would be saved into my personal file for two years. “This means I cannot work for this company for the next two years”. The girl looked very surprised at my clever I might add, interpretation of her polished sentence. She admitted. I replied I was very “happy to know that the management is certain on how the situation will be in about two years … to know that they never will need me”. She looked even more surprised when I mentioned that Germany has been a unified country since 1989 and still was a member of the European Union (as opposed to the statistics used in our tests).

Maybe the most disturbing to this ordeal (and partial waste of time) is that nobody wanted to have a conversation with me to find out… who I really am. But on the other hand, who would want to speak with a candidate who cannot correctly answer 50 questions about the inflation on bananas. I was sent home, minutes before company lunchtime.

When leaving the company I touched with my eyes the “HR – Great company to work for… 2004” plate just above the front desk. A lot can change in just 3 years.

Human Resources and the Information Age

Would I exaggerate if I state that finding a GOOD job is almost impossible if you are to follow all the web interfaced profiling? (you know, the forms) A neat looking interface (probably very expensive as you rightly guessed) that barely permits exposing your capabilities nor gives any candidate the opportunity to present him or herself in a personal way. Most of the time those interfaces are poorly designed, have little room for the not-standardized-ICT-engineering-administration profiles preventing Recruiters from FINDING the right candidate. The mandatory categorization is a burden from leaving the average pattern, especially for the young graduate with lots of knowledge but little hands on experience, to position him or herself to exceed the boundaries of just one or two categories.

Could it be that HR departments cannot find anyone but fail to mention that they cannot maintain a personal contact with potential employees. And personal contact, gentlemen, means establishing a relation from one person to another human being using a communication technology (such as telephone, e-mail or even a plain old letter does the trick).

Sadly enough every job seeker gets bombarded with automatically spit out badly customized messages. If after all most companies are serious in stating that human assets are the most valuable a company has (this still is the information age, remember?), then why is there so little space for personal contact between a company and the potential employee? Is everything to be decided by standardized testing? Is every risk evaded by administering the miracle drug called “Assessment”?

Every company willing to grow in this day and age should leave the trail of that horrible human resources vocabulary. It is a vocabulary that only pretends hiding impossible deadlines, the loss of quality of life or the mere underpaid jobs behind useless marketing catchphrases that claim challenges, the abilities to take risks and the promise of endless opportunities. Are we really that stupid to fall for this? Apparently we have little or no choice, as anyone who refuses to be categorized is left outside in this new information age.