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As a thought experiment, suppose that you have applied for a senior government contract negotiator/administrator position with a large, highly reputable, and very successful  corporation that provides top-level professional support services to U.S. government agencies throughout the world. The position is prestigious within the corporation, pays $180,000 per year and generous benefits, and has very good promotion potential. The job is entirely professional and includes no administrative or clerical tasks. The job holder will have an administrative assistant. You expect the application process to be highly competitive.

After a preliminary background check and a series of interviews and assessments, you are notified that you are one of the top three finalists for the job and have been invited to participate in the final stage of the job competition. The notification advises you that the final stage will entail two steps. The first step will be to report to the corporate offices at a specified date and time to write a spontaneous essay on a theme related to the job, which will be disclosed to you upon arrival. The second step will take place one week later, when you may be invited to discuss your essay with three top-level corporate officials, who will make the job selection recommendation. 

Upon your arrival you are instructed to write on the theme: Fundamental Concepts and Principles of Contracting for Long-Term Professional Support Services. You are given six hours in which to write your essay and one hour for lunch. Your essay must be at least 3,000 words in length about 12 double-spaced pages in 12 point Times New Roman but it may otherwise be as long as you wish. You are told to write as if you were talking to a newly-hired novice.

You must write the essay in an assigned room in the corporate offices. You will be provided with a laptop with voice dictation capability, a printer, pen, paper, and a dictionary. You will not have internet access and you will not be able to consult with others. The test is of your topical knowledge, insight, explanatory skill, and writing ability. Your essay will be evaluated for (1) demonstrated breadth and depth of knowledge of the topic, (2) understanding of and ability to explain fundamental service contracting concepts and principles, and (3) clarity of expression. 

QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

 

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I believe that in the real world, a "a large, highly reputable, and very successful corporation" will have some inkling of who's out there - by knowing who they've come up against.  Such a company would have the luxury of hiring based on observed, real world results; results they seen work well for other companies.   I also believe that such folks are hired for other aspects of the job, things like the ability to negotiate with management, to make compelling presentations, etc.   

To wit, such an exercise might in fact scare off the best-of-breed applicants.  Remember the company is also selling to the candidate, and at this level the company profile becomes more and more important.   And there is NO company that doesn't have a reasonable competitor alternative for such a job requirement - applicants will walk away from scenarios they feel aren't a good fit, even if the company is successful overall.   The best of breed applicant might look at this and say "really, you're going to lock me in a room for 6 of my valuable hours to write you a 101 essay that you're going to possess BEFORE you offer me a job?  Nope!"

Instead, I think the savvy hiring team gets (close to) the assessments you seek through a series of coordinated interviews combined with market knowledge.   The first interviewer asks a few questions to lead down the path of the essay topic.   The first interviewer shares notes and the second drills down a little further. Etc.  Maybe writing samples are requested (note - yes, they may have had help with their writing sample...but won't the successful new hire have help in their new position?)  Might still be the same 6 hours but is more flexible and less likely to scare off the candidate.   It also allows the company to remove candidates after the first interview or two, without the need to evaluate an entire essay.  

Having said all this, I think that such an exercise might be useful for existing employees to consider how/where to expand roles.   For instance, a director has a team of 5 managers and they are looking to grow their existing their long-term support services business.  The director uses Mr. Edwards' approach with the 5 managers to see who's a best fit for the new role AND to scoop up good ideas from the rest.   

 

Now to answer your questions:

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

  • Overall, no, not for experienced, external candidates.

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

  • I'd be really concerned about the kind of work environment I was getting into.   Unless unemployed at the time, I'd probably walk away from the concept.   It smacks too much of a company looking to get free work from me, or that has weird job requirements that I'm not able to imagine yet, or that likes to surprise the employees.  If I'm a senior level applicant, I'm not too interested in the possibility of workplace/HR experiments, particularly while doing government related work.    

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

  • On that particular topic, not well - it is not my background.  On others, fairly well.  

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On 7/9/2018 at 2:48 AM, Vern Edwards said:

QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

Vern,

1) Yes, its reasonable.  It;s a demonstration that a job candidate can perform in the waters in which the service contractor must swim to effectively compete for so many of the potential awards.  A lot of service acquisitions have become essay contests. 

2) I would accept the challenge.

3) I will think I did well on the essay, but have a high degree of uncertainty about the accuracy of that opinion..  After the interview, my uncertainty may lesson and I will probably think I did well overall. On the job, I expect that I will do very well. 

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Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

No, it's "unreasonable." 

In the abstract, sure, it seems like a challenge that will provide a reasonable assessment of knowledge and experience. 

Practically, it is not reasonable in that it goes way beyond the typical requirements for such jobs. At that salary, you're dealing with seasoned professionals. These professionals can get other jobs at $180K or much higher-- without going through this challenge. What's so great about this corporation? Why would the top performers go through this six-hour ordeal?

There would have to be some sort of "prestige factor" for working at this company, but PepeTheFrog thinks that is a rarity in the government contracts industry and a rarity for these types of positions. The positions are just as fungible as the corporations. Is it really that cool to work for Boeing, Raytheon, Palantir, or SpaceX? (Not in these positions.)

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

Walk away.

Walk away and find other jobs at $180K or much higher that don't require this challenge. Too much hassle. Not a good indicator of the corporate culture or the hiring managers and recruitment office. 

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

After reading PepeTheFrog's essay, the corporation's CEO would immediately resign and install PepeTheFrog as CEO with triple the former CEO's salary and benefits.

 

Note: If the original post is meant to float this idea as potential advice for a client, PepeTheFrog would not provide that advice (recruitment strategy) to a potential client. 

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QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

No in the way of using it as a hiring tool at the senior level described. The idea of submitting a writing sample might make sense in an entry level job to see if candidates might perform or not. Entry level jobs probably don't have a lot of applicants with a record of success or failure yet. I had to submit a writing sample and a spreadsheet with basic excel formulas for my first internship once. I wouldn't expect to have to do it again even at a mid-career level. 

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

Walk away. Why the secrecy, why only six hours? It would be one of my first impression of the organization's culture. Surprise!!! It's Friday afternoon and here's something I need done by Monday morning, a recurring thing in our organization. I don't think I'd want to be a part of that organization. I suppose that might be expected of you though as there aren't a whole lot of $180k/year jobs that are just given away. 

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

If I did accept, i'd probably do below average. If I had a day or two to think about how I'd write that essay, I might actually produce something useful. 

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@PepeTheFrog 

37 minutes ago, PepeTheFrog said:

At that salary, you're dealing with seasoned professionals. These professionals can get other jobs at $180K or much higher-

I'm glad to hear that contract administrators make so much. I thought that $180,000 would seem too high.

37 minutes ago, PepeTheFrog said:

Why would the top performers go through this six-hour ordeal?

Why do Harvard and Yale law school graduates prepare for months for a two-day California bar exam?

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On 7/8/2018 at 10:48 AM, Vern Edwards said:

QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

1. Yes

2. Accept

3. Very Well

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Lurker here.

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

This challenge is selecting for professorial types.  If writing and big-picture exposition are important for the work to be done in this position, then its reasonable.  The essay challenge matches pretty well with the second and third evaluation factors - explaining fundamentals and writing, respectively. However, I don't think this method is a particularly effective means of evaluating for the first factor - 'demonstrated breadth and depth of knowledge of the topic.' 

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

Walk. This is far, far away from my areas of expertise.  

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

Not well.    

 

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On ‎7‎/‎8‎/‎2018 at 10:48 AM, Vern Edwards said:

QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

No.  Addressing the subject I am fine with but the idea that it is a professional challenge escapes me when the requirement of 3000 words, etc. is attached to the challenge.  Evaluation "3)" is a disconnect with such a requirement in my view.  Let my ability in writing stand on its own especially if I could say it in 2000 words. I almost get the feeling that even though the position "includes no administrative or clerical tasks" throwing the 3000 words, etc. requirement in there is measuring on a clerical element.

Accept as I need the job!

Adequate with hopes it is recognized through interviews that I will bring other attributes to the position that make me the wanted candidate.

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1 hour ago, C Culham said:

No.  Addressing the subject I am fine with but the idea that it is a professional challenge escapes me when the requirement of 3000 words, etc. is attached to the challenge.  Evaluation "3)" is a disconnect with such a requirement in my view.  Let my ability in writing stand on its own especially if I could say it in 2000 words. I almost get the feeling that even though the position "includes no administrative or clerical tasks" throwing the 3000 words, etc. requirement in there is measuring on a clerical element.

That's a good comment, Carl. Thanks. However, the specification of a minimum or maximum number or range number of words gives the writer some idea of the scope and depth of what is required. For any author, the size of the manuscript also suggests the organizational challenge. The lengthier the article, the greater the challenge of organizing the topic. Two thousand words is a different organizational challenge than than 3,000 words.

I usually write for money. (According to Samuel Johnson, ""No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." So I guess that makes me a blockhead sometimes.) Almost every periodical and many book publishers specify their requirement in terms of a minimum, maximum, range, or specific number of words. See, e.g., the submission guidelines for Writer's Digest:

http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines

Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/page/submission-instructions/

Defense Acquisition Review Journal https://www.dau.mil/library/arj/ARJ/arj84/ARJ Authors Checklist 5-23-2018.pdf

So, while I understand your thinking and appreciate your comments, I do not agree that in this case the specification of a minimum number of words is a "clerical element."

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21 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

I'm glad to hear that contract administrators make so much. I thought that $180,000 would seem too high.

The titles, duties, and compensation of contracts professionals in the private sector interests PepeTheFrog. It's a mess. They don't always line up as they should.

The titles for these types of jobs are all over the place, but the one you describes sounds like a contract administrator/negotiator who would be called a Director of Contracts.

Roughly: Junior Contracts Administrator, Subcontracts Administrator, Contracts Administrator, Contracts Analyst, Contracts Manager, Senior Contracts Manager, Director of Contracts. There's all kinds of overlap and the titles are often misleading. Contracts positions are hard to source and hard to seek because of the confusing and misleading titles. 

Directors of Contracts can make anywhere from $120K to $250K at the high end. One you move from $200K to $300K and beyond, these Directors of Contracts usually become "Vice President, Contracts." 

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Got it, thanks Vern. 

I think I wrote and still write for money.  Published no, but still for money I think I can say.  Likewise for educational recognition challenging 48 upper division credits at Portland State University for which I received the full 48.  No font, no word limitation, etc.  but still a success on the subject of acquisition.

Make my view right or wrong or yours?  Nope just how I see the world.

Thanks for the brain exercise.

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On ‎7‎/‎8‎/‎2018 at 1:48 PM, Vern Edwards said:

QUESTIONS

Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

 

Answers:

1. I believe the challenge is reasonable.

I base my answer on a long-standing belief that if you want that job with the firm, then you do as the firm requires.

I do however think this is a horrible way to attract talent to an organization. Acquiring talent and retaining it is one of the biggest factors facing any organization. Also, a "professional" may be able to target several areas of their respective career fields and write something intelligent down on paper, but that does not mean that that person is talented.  Example: A lawyer may be able to receipt laws front and backwards for hours on end, but can't win a case in a courtroom.

There is to often a very large divide in our profession, and many others, of the workforce being "highly trained," but not "highly skilled."

2.  I would accept.

3. I think I would not do well on that specific topic. I have little experience in the area.

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Pepe and Carl, Please move on from this thread. You're off topic.

Bob, Please delete Pepe and Carl's last posts.

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This scenario sounds like an all-too-typical government solicitation asking for more than it should.  There are more efficient means to evaluate prospects at this level like past performance and reviewing historical work products.

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Vern:

Your question should have been a poll.  A poll would have given you answers to your 3 questions without any text.  If someone wanted to comment with text, they could have added it without affecting your poll results.

Do you want this to be a poll?  I think I can move your initial post over there and set up your poll myself.  

 

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@bob7947

I wanted to make it a poll, but couldn't figure out how to do it, even after calling Don Mansfield. Please just leave it as it is at this point. Thanks for deleting the wandering posts.

Vern

@jwomack Thanks for the comment.

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Vern:

Your going to get a variety of answers.  With a poll, you have a chance to get clean answers.  I'm quite sure I can do it fairly easily.  You might as well let me try to do it now.

 

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Whatever. Go ahead. But I've like most of the comments. It's just that if you don't cut Pepe off at the pass you end up with a new trail.

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Go Ahead is satisfactory.  I forgot to mention.  When the poll is closed in the future I can move it back here.  I can do it here.

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Kind of reminds me of an episode of "The Office" where Dwight Schrute is training/evaluating Ryan, who wants to get into sales.   Dwight takes the Ryan to his barn, straps Ryan into a chair and begins to grill him.   At the end of the questioning, Dwight declares that to really sell, one must overcome fear.   And as Dwight yells the word "fear" - Dwight's cousin jumps out of hiding, into Ryan's face in a threatening manner, wearing the word "fear" across his sweatshirt.  

Ryan gets up, shakes his head and walks out.   

I mean, yes, Dwight was right.  His methods were just a bit unorthodox.  

 

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I closed this topic and converted it to a poll with the same name.  Whether you have anwsered them or haven't answered them, please complete the poll so Vern can have a complete poll.  You can add any comments over there.

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