Monthly Archives: February 2012

How not to conduct a job interview

Yesterday I had my first interview for a while. As explained recently (see here and here), I am losing my current job so have to now juggle jobhunting along with my normal job and training others to take over some of my tasks once I’m gone.

I managed to get a half day holiday in order to attend the interview. It took a while to get there as it was quite close to where I live. I allowed 2 hours for travel, though it only took 1 hour 20 minutes. So I was left wandering around for a bit beforehand, getting an earful of gentle abuse from the local schoolchildren who had just been let loose on the streets.

As ever, I ensured that I arrived a little bit early. 12 minutes to be precise. After this it all went downhill a bit. Having introduced myself to the receptionist and stated why I was there, she phoned the person I was to have my interview and merely said “There’s a young man to see you. He says he has an appointment for 4 o’clock.” This level of imprecision was not very good, in my opinion.

Then I was kept waiting. It’s one thing for an interviewee to turn up late, but given the interviewer was in the building and had been given 12 minutes’ notice, I really didn’t expect him to turn up 10 minutes late. So that meant I was waiting for 22 minutes in reception.

From the start, it was clear that he was totally disinterested. His handshake was limp and as soon as we had greeted one another he turned his back and mumbled “follow me.” We went to a little side meeting room, but he didn’t invite me to sit down or offer anything even so small as a cup of water. I think having been told I was young on the phone and seen my youthful looks (I am actually 28, but I do get ID’d in the supermarket occasionally) his mind was made up that I was not mature enough for the role.

His opening salvo to the interview was “Today’s been really busy. Monday is my worst day,” which I don’t think it’s unreasonable to interpret as “[I don’t want to be here. You’re taking up my valuable time.]” At the very least, it was not a ringing endorsement!

In most interviews, I would expect to hear a little more about the role and the company (which of course I would already know, having done my research) and about what they are looking for in a candidate. Instead, I was simply asked to talk through my CV. I did try to ask where he would like me start. My thinking was that I could go chronologically forwards or backwards.

He didn’t seem to care where I started, but then the rest of the interview he didn’t seem to care much about anything. The overriding impression I got was one of languid indifference. Part of the role involved accounting for derivative financial instruments. My current company doesn’t use these, so I have no experience in industry, although I did study them for my accountancy qualification. All I would need to do is go back to my textbook and notes and do a little swotting up.

I worded my response roughly as follows: “[I’ve not been required to do that accounting in my current job, so my experience is only in the theoretical at the moment. I would look forward to the challenge of doing this in industry]”

After this, he just seemed to want to end the interview as quickly as possible. I tried to carry on as best I could but given that he didn’t even make any notes, I was pretty sure he had lost interest. He asked if I had any questions, which I had of course.

Some of these revolved around the day-to-day working relationships (who do you work with, what format do your reports take, what’s the monthly timetable) but his reaction was sort of surprised antipathy as if to say “[why are you bothering to ask that?]”

Possibly the most revealing answer came when I asked the one question I ask everyone: “What’s the best thing about working here?” The response often tells me as much about the individual as about the company. All he could come up with was “it’s a big company” as though this were a virtue in and of itself (which I don’t believe it is). If that’s the best that one could come up with, then it doesn’t bode well. Is it not a joy to work with the people that you do? Is there no Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) scheme?

I don’t know if I passed their interview. I doubt it. Even if I did, they didn’t pass mine.

A brief up on the jobhunt

I thought I’d give you a little update on the job front. I’ve heard nothing more from my current employer as to my end date, so I am assuming it will still be shortly after Easter.

I saw this really great post from Morris Henshaw. I’d highly recommend you read it. He talks about being unemployed and how we view and define ourselves by our jobs, taking into account what’s really important. Please read it, it’s excellent (though it is quite long, so don’t read it while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil).

I’ve got a master copy of my CV done and have sent a trimmed down version to a local recruitment consultant. I’m starting my search local as I’d like to cut down my 3-4 hours of commuting per day, although I know this will also probably slow my reading. If I can get something local, I might even have time to learn to drive. Given that I’m rapidly coming up to 30 years old, I think I’m a late learner by anyone’s standards.

This has given me a couple of leads, which I’ll look at over the next few days. I’m not sure the jobs are right for me, but I’ll try to get an interview (not usually a problem, as my CV is fairly strong) anyway. You never know, but past experience shows my interview technique gets rusty quite quickly. So I normally need a couple of interviews as practice to get myself back to presentable and professional standards. I’m not saying I’m unprofessional normally. It’s just that to get a job you have to be flawless.

I’ve also opened a profile in Linked In as this was recommended to me. I’ve started asking for connections from lots of old work colleagues and uni mates, which is quite interesting as I’m not a great one for staying in touch. Careers and lives certainly go n different directions from those you expect them to.

If you have any hints and tips, please do drop me a note in the comment box.

The language of christians

Having looked at the language of Jesus a couple of weeks ago, there ensued an interesting conversation on Twitter. If I can find the all the tweets in my history, I’ll try and transcribe it for you sometime. The verdict seemed to line up with my post, though it did get embellished with the grand title of ‘the educated Rabbi theory.’

What I want to do here is try to apply the principles drawn out of that. Specifically, the issue that motivated me in writing this couple of posts is clear communication. Regular readers will be aware that I often make grammatical errors, changing my sentence structure half way through, so I am as much chiding myself as anyone else.

If Jesus spoke in the everyday vernacular using down-to-earth examples, why shouldn’t we? As Kenneth Bailey puts it in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes:

Both Judaism and Islam have a sacred language. Christianity does not. This fact is of enormous significance.

Although different churches have their nuances, something I notice across denominations is that there is often a failure to use straightforward English.

To give a few examples:

1) High churches will often use the transliteration ‘Eucharist’ to describe a communion meal. Of course, ‘communion’ is not the most common of words, and there is a proliferation of other words used to describe the same meal. The lack of a straightforward word, commonly understood, can act as a barrier. Other words such as “mass” then carry connotations that not everyone finds helpful.

2) Lower churches will often throw around words like ‘salvation’ and ‘redemption’ without properly defining what they mean. As these words are in more common use, but with different connotations, there is a risk of being misunderstood. This can be a greater risk than the obfuscation mentioned above.

3) Some churches I have been to insist on using some translation of the bible whose language is no longer the lingua franca of today. The most common of these is the King James, though I find the language to now be archaic. As for the 9 appearances of unicorns…….

This is something I can get quite passionate about, as I think the church ought to make as much effort as possible to communicate the gospel as clearly as possible. While I choose to accept the gospel, as I understand it, I don’t force it on anyone else, but I do think that if someone is going to exercise their free will to reject it, that christians should do a good job of educating the world; so if the gospel is to be rejected (or accepted) then it should be done so for the right reasons.

So if we preach sermons, write articles or chat to friends using obscure or antiquated words, then we are asking them to use a dictionary just to understand us. This is the antithesis of good communication. Surely it’s better for us to be the ones putting in the efforts so that others can be in possession of the facts and ideas in as clear a manner as possible, so they can choose to make up their minds based on the best information.

Anything which separates people from God is a bad thing. I’m opposed to turning christianity into a religion, where ritual (which may have originated as trying to get close to God) is now a major turn-off or else the ritual is mistaken for being the entirety of the faith, rather than a symbol pointing to something greater.

One word that has crept into the vocabulary which describes the alienating words used by christians is “christianese.” Kristin Tennant has written a few really good pieces on this at her Half Way To Normal blog (Should all Christian jargon be taboo? & Trimming back the Christianese) and at the end I’ve included a video which tackles the issue in a very tongue-in-cheek way.

This is not a new issue. When Jerome produced the Latin Vulgate his aim was to make the bible understandable in the common tongue. Long after it became outdated, its continued use became more a tool of social and political control, since the ordinary person could no longer understand it and relied on their local priest to tell them what it meant.  William Tyndale translated into a more modern vernacular and was murdered for doing so.

I’d like to think that no one these days would kill one another for democratising faith, though use of ecclesiastic and religious terminology, which may have been useful in another era, now serves to distance people from God, rather than help bring the two together.

The idea of God coming to earth in human form (incarnational theology) has a strong emphasis of God meeting us where we are, which transformed the Jewish paradigm of ritual purity before approaching God.

So my proposition is that christians should extend this courtesy likewise. We need to be aware of the language that we use, recognise where definitions commonly interpreted by modern folk differ from the interpretation we have and also to refrain from using turns of phrase. The gospel may be hard to accept, but it shouldn’t be difficult to understand. Let’s not put any obstacles in another’s way by our use of language.

Unity, conformity & Lent

Public Domain

I was having a think the other day about where to draw the line between unity and conformity. To be honest, I don’t really know where to draw it. My ethos (and I think a lot of people’s) has as part of its make-up the general notion of unity=good, conformity=bad. But where does one drift into the other?

For example, let’s take political parties. It can be good that people come together believing in a common cause, and have the same aims for society. They will want to put aside their differences and work towards a common goal. If every disagreement resulted in a different political party, you’d end up in the Popular People’s Front of Judea.

On the other hand, party membership leads to the existence of the party whip, which I have written about before. You can end up sacrificing something which you passionately believe in simply for the sake of fitting in, or being able to have influence in a given arena. I know people who have joined political parties and have been aghast at seeing them turn their backs on their principles because they thought it was more important to toe the party line for now, hoping they will be in a position to change it in 10-20 years’ time.

I am often critical of those who, as I see it, suspend their better judgement in order to simply do what they are told. In social media platforms such as Twitter & Facebook I do exaggerate a little, mainly to get the point across, though antagonism is not my aim. One item in particular that I find to be anachronistic is a thing called the lectionary, which is timetable used by high churches (particularly Anglican) which dictates on a week-by-week basis what passages of the bible should be read and what the subject of a sunday sermon should be.

Having grown up predominantly in non-conformist churches, I have been used to having the church pastor decide (usually with the help of some elders) these things, so that they can actually cater for their particular church. So it will not be uncommon to have a series of sermons either working through a particular book of the bible, or looking at a particular theme. To me, this just seems more logical.

Some elements of the lectionary creep out into the wider world, and one of these is the idea of Lent. Normally, the only notice we get is an article BBC Breakfast on how to make pancakes on the morning of Shrove Tuesday. Usually, I don’t have the necessary ingredients to hand, so tend to miss out. This year, however, I was a given a heads-up by the Artsy Honker, who told me it was starting on the 22nd of February.

Lent is often seen as a time when you give something up for a while. My understanding is that it’s supposed to be ‘give something up’ and ‘take something else up’ in its place. Typically, it’s supposed to be giving up something that is bad for you and taking up something good. For example, you might give up smoking and take up jogging in its place.

Where I get a little jittery is the idea that this is a particularly ‘christian’ idea. It seems more of an add-on to christianity and anyone can take part in it without the least let or hindrance. I know the end of it is due to coincide with Easter and that the habits given up and taken up should stick, but it is simply not a command that one will ever find in any of the books of the bible. It is a tradition that has built up (I’m not sure of the origins; if you can enlighten me, please comment) and become entrenched in various christian and quasi-christian denominations. The Wikipedia article could be seen to demonstrate a wide variety of opinion on the matter, though I think it just looks a bit of a mess.

So why do lent? I can understand that there are some good reasons for doing so, but none of those reasons are particularly linked with my christian faith. I see it as an active and living relationship, not a ritualistic religion. So by doing Lent, what message are we sending out? I can’t escape the conclusion the overwhelming message is this: I follow this ritual because that it was what my church tells me to do.

Here is where I come full circle and come back to conformity. Of all the things that people do during Lent, I cannot see any good reason why it has to be done at the particular time of the year dictated by the lectionary. If you want to give up a bad habit, just do it. Don’t wait until late winter/early spring.

The idea of preparing oneself for Easter is one I find a bit odd. I do think that of the 2 main christian festivals, Easter is more reliably timed than Christmas, but I don’t see why it should be a once a year celebration. My entire faith is grounded on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and I try to live in the light of those events every day.

So will I be partaking in Lent? I don’t know yet. I haven’t made up my mind. Jesus didn’t exactly conform to religious stereotypes and questioned the wisdom of his day. Shouldn’t I follow his example and do the same?

Bideford council and the 2 views of secularism

I have written before about what I believe to be the proper meaning of secularism. Last week, a ruling was made by the High Court about Bideford Council to the effect that prayers would no longer be allowed as an item on the agenda at the start of their meetings. The complaint had been brought about by the National Secular Society (NSS) under a claim that a former council member had been forced to partake in prayers. 

The High Court eventually ruled on an issue that was not brought up by NSS. So far as the case went that had originally been brought, the NSS lost. The former councilor’s human rights had not been breached as had been claimed. The judgment hung on the fact that prayers were not explicitly allowed by an earlier Act of Parliament. They were therefore not considered to be part of the Council’s official business and so the judge ruled against the council.

By extending the logic used in the ruling, if the serving of tea and biscuits at these meetings was not explicitly allowed then they too ought to be banned from council meetings. As has been pointed out by others, the ruling is not as landmark a case as the NSS would like it to be, as the scope is extremely limited.

What it has done is stir up a renewed interest in the role of state and religion which often seems to confuse people endlessly. This, I believe, is that while there is are loads of people who couldn’t give a toss either way, as well as many reasonable moderates, the loudest voices are those with an agenda to push. In this case, we have the NSS on one hand and we have conservative christians (such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey) on the other.  

My own view is that moderate secularism comes about as a consequence of the Golden Rule. Bideford Council never forced or coerced anyone into participating in prayers. Had they done so, I would not have been in support of their defence. If we are to do to others as we would have them to do us, then we should never impose our beliefs or specific “religious” practices on anyone. 

The fallacy that has been used by those who supported the NSS’s case can be demonstrated as follows: Let’s say we have 4 individuals, all with different beliefs. 

1. Prays to Jahweh
2. Pray to Allah
3. Prays to the Flying Spaghetti Monster
4. Prays to no one. 

By misrepresenting the Bideford case as a compulsion to make someone pray to an entity they did not believe in, the NSS portrayed it as person 4 being forced to comply with person 1’s beliefs. This did not actually occur, but if it had then there would be very minor human rights issue (how often have the NSS campaigned against human trafficking?). So while the moderate secularist would advocate that no one party can impose their views on another, the NSS seek as a default that person 4 be allowed to impose their views on all others. This is done by grouping together 1,2 & 3 as being “religious” and then seeking a non-religious alternative as being the view that ought to be predominant.  

In other words, the ultimate aim is to create an out of sight, out of mind political culture. As an aside, it is interesting to note that while it may be reasonable to state that we live in secular culture, the same cannot be said of our political system. One phrase I often hear used to describe Britain is a liberal, secular democracy. Of these 3 words, I don’t think any of them accurately describe our politics. We presently have a Conservative-led government which is demonstrating that it values the pound more than the person, thus dispelling the myth that government is liberal. The head of state, the queen, is unelected and is also outside of the jurisdiction of some laws (for example, she cannot be sued), which shows that the idea of democracy is a joke. Then, to top it all off, the queen is also the head of a national state religion, which puts pay to the idea of the state being secular.

Conclusion 

I don’t buy into the rhetoric that says that christians in this country are being persecuted. If so, then you might as well say that a fruit fly buzzing past your ear is a persecution. It does a disservice to those places (and here I am thinking of the Sudan and Nigeria) where people have been murdered for being christians. The particular case in Bideford is really of limited importance. What is important is that the extreme and intolerant voices be exposed for the folly that they put forth, and to actively push to change our politics to become more liberal, secular and democratic, so as to be a fair reflection of the society it purports to serve.

Past experience with Job Seekers’ Allowance

Source: US National Archives and Records Administration

In a previous post I made about my job situation, I made a reference to assuming that I would not receive job seekers’ allowance (JSA). This was based on my experience of this 6 years ago, after I graduated from university.

Having had all but one of my applications to study for a PhD ignored (the other being rejected by the university I was already studying at), I tried to apply for a few jobs but these were all met with rejections. I think the reason was that I had not been properly prepared for “competency based interviews” which were all the rage then. Every question began “name a time when….” and you were expected to give an example applicable to a workplace environment when all I had experience of was academia. It was only through repeated trial and error that I eventually got a job offer.

However, by the time that happened, I had already graduated. So, being unemployed, I did what any 22 year old would do, I went to stay with my parents for a week or two. The trouble with that is that they live in a dead-end town with no decent transport links. There are no jobs within the town and if you get a job elsewhere you have to have a car. For a town with a population of 35,000 to not have a train station is scandalous. The nearest mainline stations are a 45 minute bus journey away.  

I soon made my way up to my sister’s house where I was able to use her high speed internet to start filling in online application forms and sending emails all day long. It was while I was here that I tried to see about signing on for JSA. When I phoned, I was told I had to go to a local office to sign on. The difficulty with this was that my sister lived in a tiny village many miles from any large town. So I could not sign on while I remained here. Instead, I had to go back to my parents and sign on at the office in the town where they lived. My task was then to apply for jobs and to come back every fortnight, at a pre-arranged time to catch up on what actions I had taken. Knowing that it was pointless staying with my parents, I then went and moved in briefly with my other sister, who lives in a city which has good transport links. This presented a few new difficulties, as she had a baby and a toddler at the time, and I could not get over the feeling that I was a hindrence to them and a drain on their resources. 

One of my interviews clashed with one of my appointments at the job centre. I informed them that I would not be able to attend but was happy to make the appointment the next day. The Job Centre weren’t having any of this. They took a very “rules is rules” approach and said I *had* to attend. The interview was 60 miles away from the centre where I originally signed on, and would take a couple of hours to traverse London in order to make the appointment. I suggested that I sign on at the centre nearest to where my interview was, which seemed to be the most logical solution.  

They um’d and ah’d about this for a while before eventually agreeing, though it had to go through some form with a special name that made it sound like a generic mobile phone model. It was a Form XP27F or something like that. So I ended up going to an interview in a town I had never set foot in before, only to then go to the job centre there to sign on. It was very noticeable that I was the only person there in a suit! After further interviews, I did eventually get this particular job.  

As soon as I received a formal offer, I informed the job centre to say that I would no longer be claiming JSA and could they please remove me from their books. In response, they told me that I shoul keep claiming up to the point I actually started my job, which was a couple of weeks’ away, but I didn’t think this was morally right, given that I was no longer seeking; I had found a job. They agreed, but thought I was an idiot for sticking to my principles.  

In all this time though, I had not actually been paid. When I signed on, they told me that it would take a few weeks for the payments to start coming through, so it didn’t really bother me that much. Having just finished being a student, I was pretty skint. I’d had to move house and buy loads of stuff that I had not previously needed. The JSA would have come in very handy. In order to pay for a deposit and for my rail fares to get around the country I was borrowing money and relying on the hospitality of members of my family. After our first day of induction in the office, we had to travel up to the midlands to attend a conference for all the graduate starters in the firm. Even though we could claim this on expenses, I still had to borrow the money for the train fare to get there in the first place. To this day, I can’t remember if I have actually paid back all of what I owed. 

Once I started to get paid, I forgot about the JSA for a while, as I was more concerned with the emergency tax code they put me on, which meant that more was being deducted from my salary than was actually due to the Treasury. It was only after I had been working for 2-3 months that I received a letter from the department of work and pensions “enquiring” as to why I was claiming JSA when I was currently in full time employment; in short, I was being investigated for benefit fraud. I sent them back a very strongly worded letter which laid out in a matter-of-fact way much of what I have written above. In response, they dropped the investigation and sent me a cheque for the full amount of JSA that I had been owed. This arrived just a couple of weeks before Christmas, which was also the time my tax code was corrected and I got a massive rebate from HMRC.  

So in the end, it worked out OK, and I was able to get nice presents for all the family (I hope they like them!). So what does this experience mean for the future? Well, given the manner in which I am losing my job, I will be claiming JSA, provided I have not managed to obtain a job offer before that. However, I retain scant hope of it being paid in a timely manner and will not be relying on it at all.

Singles in the church

By: clarita

Following on from Batty Towers’ excellent couple of posts [first post & follow up] about being single in the church, I thought I’d try and write down some of my thoughts on the matter. I wrote about something similar before, though I have purposely not re-read that post, as this is meant to reflect my thinking at the present time. Bear in mind, that my experience covers a number of different churches that I have been to over the last 10 years or so, so anyone from my present local church should not necessarily take it that everything I say concerns my present situation, unless otherwise stated.

In my experience, the overriding ethos regarding singles in the church is that they are a problem to be solved. Questions are posed like, “what shall we do with the singles in the church?” or “how do we try and incorporate singles into the church?”

The commonest way to solve the problem is to make sure there aren’t any. In other words, try and marry them off to someone. Then they can be a family unit and fit in, just like everyone else. I have left several such Stepford churches with some haste. The flip side to this is to simply exclude singles from many aspects of church life. While I have never come across a church that has been seen to do this explicitly, this does happen implicitly a lot.

The methods by which this is mainly achieved are by making everything “family focused” so that there is nothing on offer for those who are not part of a family. The other one is to time things so that non-family people can’t attend. As a working professional, my availability is very limited. Being unable to be everywhere at once is one of the reasons I choose to maintain an online presence. The majority of my day is spent at work or commuting to and from work. So making weekday meetings is a major hassle. To some, the idea of “it’s only 2 hours a week” doesn’t really chime with me, as that can be 50% of the spare time I have between Monday and Friday. Or having meetings as early as 7:30pm rules out people like me, as I’d have to take a half day holiday in order to make it on time.

One point Batty Towers made in her first post was that there is sometimes an assumption that single people have more time than others. In fact, the opposite is true. A problem shared is a problem halved, but if you live by yourself, there is no one else to rely on. If I don’t cook, I don’t eat; no one does it for me. I can’t “take turns” or anything like that. For me, the little spare time I have is a precious resource, so I have to use it carefully. The idea of casually being asked in church “do you want to come over for lunch?” is the worst example of this. If you had wanted me to come round to lunch, then why didn’t you ask me several days ago? Taking any kind of time out from a weekend needs careful planning, or else the household chores will just never be done. By all means, asking someone round for a meal is a friendly act, but by giving no advanced notice it’s inconsiderate.

I’m not saying here that churches should bend over backwards to help single people out. Quite the opposite, in fact. What they ought to be doing is allowing the time and space for single people to serve the church. By being overly family-oriented there is a risk that a significant set of resources and skills are being missed. As Batty Towers brought out, the church is a place to *be* family, not just a place *of* families.

However, I would differ in some respects. For example, I would never use the word lonely to describe my circumstances. I am content as I am. I commented on this to mypastor on Sunday when he inviting me for a session on “relationships” being run by friends of the church. There’s a session for the singles on a Friday and one for the families (particularly aimed at parents) on the Saturday. I did, however, wryly point out that putting a meeting on a weekday evening will mean I’ll probably have to take a half day annual leave to make it on time. I have not, at this time, decided whether or not to go. I think the pastor was quite keen for me to go, as I make up quite a high proportion of 20something single male demographic in the church!

With all that said, one cannot but look at the calendar and see the forthcoming tide of consumerist tat that is Valentine’s Day. While I would very much like to have gone to a Jurgen Moltmann lecture entitled “From Physics to Theology – a Personal Story” I think the evening will spent at home alone, with a glass of port and a DVD of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.