Thursday, 25 April 2013

April Interviews - Part One

Sometime at the end of February I refreshed my LinkedIn profile, the CVs I have on Monster and Total Jobs, and sent an e-mail out to all the agents I have ever contacted since 2000. The mails got a couple of replies and about ten bounces confirming that Andrea Smith no longer works at Wherever Recruitment. Refreshing CVs on Monster and Total Jobs got a bunch of calls from agents who work entirely on search terms that they probably don't really understand, and that gets irritating quickly. 

Then I got two leads through the guys at Salt. One was for an analyst's role at Barclays Business, the other for a "data scientist" role at EE (Everything Everywhere, the T-Mobile + Orange merger mobile operator). Salaries were at least 20% more than I'm making at the moment. Barclays is based in Docklands (okay commute, lousy for easy access to West End after work, sterile location) and EE in Paddington Basin (okay commute, reasonable access to West End after work, sterile location). Both recruitment processes started with telephone interviews.

Who thinks those are a good idea? Where the hell do they think the candidate is when they take the call? During working hours as well? Since I work in a full and busy open-plan office, there is no way I can do an interview there. We don't have spare meeting rooms. I had to go down to the impressively marble but cold foyer of the building to take the call. I'm on a mobile, not a land line, so reception isn't always good, I spent some of the time praying they didn't think I was deaf. One of them even asked me "what gets you out of bed in the morning". My answer was "fear of poverty, a need to pay the bills and I can't lie still. So seriously, I blah blah blah". They still wanted to see me.

Barclays have a two hour interview (three if they add a test). I had twenty minutes to prepare my thoughts on acquiring a portfolio of credit cards. The tricky bit was calculating the interest charge on cards that paid off in full ten days after the bill. The math isn't difficult with one simple assumption about the spending rate, but it's tricky when you're trying to assemble the full P&L and think about options for working the portfolio as well in twenty minutes. We had a good stand-up discussion in which I didn't hold myself back ("Ah yes, competition. They really must introduce that into retail banking one day"). While I have the option, I'd rather not pretend to be different. They accepted I knew what I was talking about, which permanently surprises me, as I have and no formal training in this darn industry. It's all hearsay and rumour. In the end they picked up that I could live without ever working in financial services again, and had issues with people who thought it was cool to stay at the office until seven in the evening, and gave the job to someone else. Quite rightly.

Next step with EE was an online intelligence test. Again, where the hell do they think I'm doing it? At home after a long day and commute? I did it over the wifi in the Eat near the office. Thirty minutes and I was exhausted by the end. I missed a couple and didn't complete it. However, that's okay, as these tests are usually age-adjusted. A long while ago I knocked Raven's Progressive Matrices so far out of the ballpark for my age that the guy running the course looked at me funny for the rest of the day. Since I was up against, at least, some Polish programming hot shot, I more or less wrote myself off as a worthy tryer. So they told me the hot shot flunked the test and I did okay. Would I take an interview? It would be a SAS test, an interview and a group exercise. 

At that point my SAS was scrappy at best. I had about five days to do something about that. Old school. Books. Notepad. Pen. Write write write. I suddenly found reasons to use SAS at work. I had been reading Der and Everitt anyway - an excellent book. Suddenly the syntax of PROCs became clear. I could remember that the table after DATA was the output table and I needed either INFILE (path), SET or MERGE to define the input table. I even remembered %macro (name)… %mend (name). I had done a lot of this before, but it had slipped onto tape memory. I revised in the pizza place across the road from the Roundhouse before seeing Nofit State, I revised on trains, at home, everywhere.

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