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A Hiring Challenge.  

13 members have voted

This poll is closed to new votes
  1. 1. Do you think the challenge is reasonable?

    • Yes
      8
    • No
      5
  2. 2. Would you accept the challenge or walk away?

    • Yes
      7
    • No
      6
  3. 3. If you would accept, how well do you think you would do?

    • Poor
      4
    • Good
      5
    • Excellent
      4


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Vern asked the following question in a topic here..  I converted the topic question into a poll for him.  Please answer Vern's questions in the poll and add any comments in the topic.

Quote

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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(realizing that Vern doesn't want to hear this...)

If I'm one of the final 3 applicants and give a 6 hour/3000 word essay prior to being hired, there is a 2 in 3 chance that I just gave away valued work product for free, to a probable competitor (assuming I have a 1 in 3 chance of being hired from the exercise).    Being that the exercise is to write to a 101 level essay, the facts therein may not be very proprietary.  But the assembly and organization of it, and any insights, might be valuable to a company.

Hiring is a very litigious area.   As the hiring company asking this of applicants, I'd consider getting some kind of waiver from the applicant, and in exchange, I'd commit that their work would be destroyed if they were not chosen for the job.   I'd have a contingency plan in case one applicant says "sorry, my time is too valuable - I can provide one hour, or samples..." and in doing so, I'd have to review all these steps against my goal: to hire the best applicant.   Am I losing more than I am gaining?  

Funny thing, I like writing essays and would relish the exercise in my areas of knowledge.  But if I were the hiring company, I would find other ways to be creative, enticing and low risk yet thorough in my search.  

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Guest Vern Edwards

@jayandstacey

You made it clear in your very first post in response to my scenario that you do not like the hiring procedure that I described, and I appreciate your comments. But in the above post and the one immediately before it you've gone overboard.

LOOK, it is a thought experiment, and you've made your point.

Frankly, I consider your latest objection absurd. Pepe's claims aside, there are not many $180,000/year + benefits government contract negotiator/administrator jobs that come with an administrative assistant. There will be plenty of competition for such a job, were it to exist, and a corporation would have every legal right to set up whatever selection process that it likes that does not illegally discriminate under applicable federal and state law. If you were worried about misappropriation of your written product, you could put a copyright notice on it.

This is from an OPM webpage: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/other-assessment-methods/writing-samples-summary.pdf

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Is writing a critical aspect of the position you are hiring for? You may want to consider having applicants complete a writing sample. Writing evaluations belong to a class of assessments referred to as "work sample tests," which require applicants to perform the types of tasks performed on the job. They can be very useful when writing ability is identified as one of the most critical competencies for the position. As with any other procedure used to make an employment decision, a writing assessment should be:

  • Supported by a job analysis,
  • Linked to one or more critical job competencies,
  • Clearly indicated in the Job Opportunity Announcement so that job candidates are aware they may be required to participate in a writing exercise and at what point this will occur, and
  • Based on standardized reviewing procedures (e.g., all candidates receive the same question(s) or prompts, same testing conditions, same amount of time, etc.).

And from another site: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/writing-samples-for-job-applications-and-interviews-2061594

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When Do Employers Request a Writing Sample?

This is a common requirement for writing-intensive jobs in journalism, content development, publishing, public relations, communications, research, and consulting. However, you may be asked to provide a writing sample, or other examples of your work, for other types of positions. For example, if you are applying for a position as an executive assistant to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and he or she will need you to write some of their correspondence, your writing skills are key.

Here's from another: http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislative-staff/program-evaluation/writing-exercises-for-job-applicants.aspx

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We've used a writing exercise for many years. Each candidate who is invited in for an interview is first given a one-hour exercise consisting of 3 parts. All 3 parts are based on an actual audit we did a few years ago, but the information has been heavily fictionalized.

Part 1 is an "interview summary" with the executive director of the state's cosmetology regulatory agency. At the end, the candidate is asked a series of critical-thinking questions like, "Did any of the Executive Director's comments raise red flags in your mind? Did anything she said suggest possible lines for further investigation?"

Part 2 is a table of inspection data dealing with inspection regions, number of hair salons in each region, how many inspections were completed, etc. The candidate is asked to write a couple of paragraphs explaining what the table shows, demonstrating analysis and writing ability.

Part 3 is a series of spreadsheets dealing with timeliness of license renewals and inspections. The candidate is asked to answer a series of questions that demonstrate spreadsheet proficiency and ability to analyze data.

The exercise is timed, and cut off at 60 minutes. The interviewers are provided with a printout of the exercises and an answer sheet before going in to the interview.

I'm not sure how we'd measure a candidate's writing ability if we didn't do this type of exercise. Asking candidates for a writing sample has the obvious drawback that we don't know its provenance.

Now, I know my thought experiment goes beyond a simple writing sample, but it's a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. Get it? It's not real, and I haven't recommended it as a technique.

If a job candidate for a position such as the one I described were to voice your concerns to me as the hiring official, I would think him stupid. I know a lot of smart people, including myself, who would be intrigued by such a challenge and eager to take it on for a chance at $180,000 a year and an administrative assistant. I've always liked working for demanding outfits. The only people I know who would turn it down would be someone who thought he or she couldn't cut it. Six hours a waste of time for a $180,000 a year job? Hell, man, the old Civil Service Exam I took in 1974 was three or four hours, and that was for $8,500 a year. I spent three weeks trying to qualify as a paratrooper for something like $2,000 a year. You've probably spent more than six hours binge-watching "The Office."

Give it a rest. Please.

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

Give it a rest. Please.

Will do - Always good advice when the gedanken experiment takes an ad hominem turn.   

Have a good weekend!

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On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

Now, I know my thought experiment goes beyond a simple writing sample, but it's a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. Get it? It's not real

Vern, you proposed a thought experiment on a discussion board. People and frogs are proposing their thoughts and discussing it. 

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

The only people I know who would turn it down would be someone who thought he or she couldn't cut it.

Nah. Vern, presumably, you know some other big hitters. Not a single one of these big hitters would turn it down for any reason other than because he or she couldn't cut it? #FakeNews. You know plenty of people who could cut it but wouldn't think the juice was worth the squeeze. 

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

I know a lot of smart people, including myself, who would be intrigued by such a challenge and eager to take it on for a chance at $180,000 a year

Vern, if this is not just posturing to defend your position, you need to get in touch with recruiters, yesterday. If you are genuinely interested in jobs like this, they are available for you and you are more than qualified. PepeTheFrog is happy to help place you.

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

Six hours a waste of time for a $180,000 a year job?

You're considering this event in isolation, and ignoring other relevant factors. Again, someone in the running for a $180K job has other options. Those other options may lead them to believe that six hours is a waste of time and this employer is a hassle. Your thought exercise suggests an academic focus at the expense of the practical economics of the job market.

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

Pepe's claims aside, there are not many $180,000/year + benefits government contract negotiator/administrator jobs that come with an administrative assistant. There will be plenty of competition for such a job, were it to exist

PepeTheFrog's claim is congruent with what you wrote. There are not many of these prestigious and high-paying jobs, as compared to the larger subset of contracting jobs. There will be plenty of competition for such jobs, both between potential employees and between potential employers. The qualified applicants for such jobs have other options that don't involve this writing exercise. If you're a qualified applicant for such jobs, you can negotiate retention bonuses, extra days of vacation, and other goodies. You won't be subject to grueling writing tests. The employer is not in a position to demand this writing exercise.

Your writing exercise makes more sense for a "hungry" applicant. This writing exercise might actually work for a lower paying, less prestigious, more mid-level position. In that range, you can target and tempt the low-level and entry-level professionals into proving themselves to get that $120K job.

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

Hell, man, the old Civil Service Exam I took in 1974 was three or four hours, and that was for $8,500 a year.

You're considering this event in isolation, and as an isolated trade for merely one year of pay. But the Civil Service Exam also opened the door to everything that comes with federal employment, including great benefits, experiences, contacts, job security, etc. It was a barrier to entry for the entire world of federal employment.

If this six-hour test opened the door to a specific profession, like the practice of law for an attorney, or the medical practice for a doctor, many people would take the test. Indeed, many doctors and attorneys spend lots of time and effort to break through the barriers of entry into their respective professions. But this test is for one job, at will, for one employer, where almost every other employer doesn't require this stuff. It's not a test for an entire profession or career field.

Side note: How much smarter, conscientious, and capable would the federal workforce be if the United States brought back the Civil Service Exam? What a shame it was to get rid of it. Imagine a federal workforce that consists almost entirely of above-average workers in intelligence and conscientiousness. Think NASA in the 1950s and 1960s.

On 7/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Vern Edwards said:

You've probably spent more than six hours binge-watching "The Office."

That's what she said.

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Guest Vern Edwards

@PepeTheFrog @jayandstacey and @ others:

I understand that some of you do not like the idea of a six-hour test of knowledge, understanding, and writing ability. What I do not understand is your obsessiveness. jayandstacey has posted three times to say just how much he/she does not like the idea and why. My reaction is: OK, I get it. I expected that some people wouldn't like it. But, really, must you go on?

I was not trying to sell the idea of a six-hour writing test. I just wanted to use it to see if people would accept such a challenge. There is a theory that you can attract some people to want a status by making it hard to get. They want to be among the special ones and work with such people. The tougher the membership challenge, the more they want to go for it. Others will walk away. Certain organizations in our world, including some schools and business organizations, think that way. They think it's a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Such organizations want the ones who want the challenge. They don't care about the ones who don't. I wanted to see how the denizens of Wifcon would respond.

Twelve people out of the Wifcon membership have responded. It is clear that most of them didn't like the challenge that I posed. It's interesting though, that although Q2 is obscure because of the way Bob posted it in the poll, it's clear that some of the ones who didn't like the challenge would accept it anyway. I think I've learned what I wanted (and expected) to learn and I doubt that the poll percentages would change much as a result of more responses.

I think my scenario was poorly designed and I give up on it. Among my failures was that my scenario wasn't clear. For example, I didn't mean that you would have to write for six hours, only that you would be given six hours to write. You could leave whenever you were done.

But some of you can't get past the scenario itself and keep coming back to say just how much you don't like it. You can't seem to accept it as make-believe. It's as though you fear that someone might think it's a good idea. You would like the job, you just don't like it enough to devote six hours of your time. I get it.

I abandon this thread.

Thanks very much to all who responded.

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On 7/15/2018 at 1:38 AM, Vern Edwards said:

But some of you can't get past the scenario itself and keep coming back to say just how much you don't like it. You can't seem to accept it as make-believe. It's as though you fear that someone might think it's a good idea. You would like the job, you just don't like it enough to devote six hours of your time. I get it.

Believe it or not, I love the idea in concept.  

It achieves your stated goals.  It creates that "earned it" mentality you mention in the post above, where an employee will be a little more bought in to the company for having invested in the challenge of getting the job.   It is well established that writing samples (typically in a shorter format) are an accepted, proven hiring tool.   The concept has merit.  

You provided parameters that seemed to invite an application into the real world... a specific salary, a specific type of hiring company, etc.  In fairness, I just think (in the spirit of a thought experiment) that an application of this approach in the real world would have some challenges to consider, and might not make it past the HR folks.   Having conducted somewhat similar hiring, and having tried creative approaches when doing so, and having consistent resistance to such, maybe my spirit is just sullied.    You didn't ask that though...you asked us to put ourselves in the shoes of an applicant, and I rather like the exercise as an applicant in the abstract.   If it were tailored to my particular expertise I believe I would do very well, thanks in part to the aforementioned nuns.  

Sorry for ripping into it.  

 

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Late coming on this discussion but it was an intriguing post.  I have taken such exams in similar scenarios (what you describe is like qualifying exams and orals for a doctorate program).

My immediate thought was what would I write on this subject and how would I approach it?  If the topic was Fundamental Concepts and Principles of Contracting for Long-Term Professional Support Services what would I draw upon to answer this question, and could I defend the approach taken (or after thought, decide the approach wasn't correct and why)?

In 6 hours I would spend the first 20-30 minutes thinking about the question and laying out a framework.  I would think that I would cover basic contracting principles, bridge in private sector supply chain practices as applicable (strategic sourcing), define what is meant by professional support services in the context of the industry that I would be applying in, and note some additional concepts involving negotiation techniques to accomplish a goal with some notations on behavioral economics as a justification for taking unconventional negotiation practices beyond the rote "getting to yes" style of negotiations.

I would then spend 4.5 hours writing in 30 minute increments taking a 10 minute break in between to think though the next few paragraphs.  I would go to lunch, come back and ensure that I keep writing in single space 12 point font until I completed about 5 pages.  I would target this being completed with 1 hour remaining.  Then I would take a walk for 15 minutes to clear my head, come back in, and edit and clean for the next 45 minutes.  In the end, I would then bump it up to double space, and submit.

One additional step, would be to have the three participants come in on a different day and then ask them about what they had written.  If it was me I would have left, then thought about the flaws, and then try to account for what I had missed or not been clear on.  In the interview I would get into a logical back and forth on my positions, acknowledge where they were weak or unclear, and then supplement the information that had been lacking in my response.

Believe it or not...this process could be kind of fun (for people who have a slight screw loose like myself).  In terms of the compensation, I would need to know the location of the position.   If this was a major contractor based in TX or FLA, that would be a VERY compelling offer (no state tax, lower cost of living).  If it was in NYC, DC, or Boston....maybe (though I may look to work out of their NH, TX, FL offices as a negotiation factor ;).

Nice thought experiment Vern.  That was fun.

 

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