Monday, 12 December 2011

Please read between the lines…

Please read between the lines…
I have been coaching a great chap who has been looking for a new job. He wants to be a Chief Executive and he works in local government. So we have been smartening up his presentation and applications.
Last week he rang me as he had seen a role for a CEx in the midlands, lovely part of the world.  So could I review the application. No problem.
The first line on the person specification was ‘senior management  experience in a large, complex, public sector organisation’ . My client duly started his application with a description of the senior civil service  role with 3500 staff, big budget and lots of departments, computers etc etc. Well that is a large, complex  public sector organisation. But is it what the £17m turnover district council is thinking of?
Probably not, they are more likely to be scared off by the scale of this. I can hear the phrases ‘oooh would he know how to operate in a district council? Will he be hands on enough with so few staff? How would he cope with the little budgets we have here? He probably had a chauffeur there; won’t be like that here!’
You see when people write person specifications they may not mean the same thing as you or I do. When they wrote this they probably (I don’t know who did write it but have sat in the room when such things have been discussed) were thinking; we don’t want someone from a Parish or Town Council, we don’t want someone from a small housing association, we don’t want someone who has not managed a range of services… There are quite a lot of public sector organisations that are smaller than this District Council. I don’t suppose they wanted a self employed accountant or a manager of a corner shop, or the marketing manager of a food manufacturer, or even the production manager of the local cheese factory.
Another client was thinking of applying to an international human rights pressure group. He felt he could meet the criteria ‘have influenced opinion formers and politicians at all levels’. And whilst undoubtedly they had done that in a local charity.. had they done it on the  international stage, had they been and done presentations at the UN? The context of the job was not really described by the person specification.
So when you are reading the person specification just read between the lines. What will the people in that organisation be thinking about? What do they mean by small? Who are the politicians that need influencing?
With my first client we were able to identify a different experience which was in another District Council, similar turnover, rural, tourism dependent and in a National Park that was going to press the buttons of the prospective employer. In the second, she was not successful in getting an interview.
When reading person specifications you have to read between the liens and understand the context of the job, anticipate the mind set of the authors and put yourself in their shoes. I could yet be proved wrong.. maybe they were looking for a former senior civil servant with a multi million pound budget and 3500 staff… but I suspect they will like my client whose experience is very directly relevant.

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