They want me to apply for my own job

The Civil Service are doing it, Local Authorities have done it and the NHS will be doing it. Public sector organisations are cutting the size of the workforce by reducing the head count at each tire.

 The new structure is announced and your job has disappeared, been given a grand sounding new title and additional responsibilities or been combined with another post either way there are more people than jobs. Posts in the new structure are to be filled by competitive interview. You’re too young for early retirement, you can’t afford to accept voluntary redundancy, you need to apply for a job in the new structure. You don’t have recent interview experience, you’re nervous about the idea of psycho metric tests and unfamiliar with in tray exercises, the new style job description with its language of competences is off putting, and you suspect that this whole process is really designed to get rid of people like you who have been around for a long time.

 This is a situation an increasing number of people find themselves in. They describe it with some bitterness as “having to apply for their own job” and they feel that the organisation is treating them badly after all their years of loyal service. Not surprisingly such individuals do not come over well at interview. The organisation can’t afford to reject them all and go to external recruitment. Do you take the best of a bad bunch knowing that even those appointed will still feel bitter about having been made to go through the process?

This whole process seems destined to do long term harm to the organisation, undermine efforts to change the culture and further damage morale.

How can the individual increase their chances of getting a job in the new structure? How can the organisation use this opportunity to improve the quality of people in post and energise the transformation of services?

On the positive side those making the decision know you and your work so everything does not depend on your interview performance. On the negative side this may mean your colleagues have a fixed view of you that it may be hard to shift in a 35 minute interview.

It may seem obvious but you should treat the process seriously .Prepare for your interview as you would if you were an external candidate going for a job you really want not someone who has reluctantly turned up to be interviewed for a job you think you should have been offered without having to jump through these hoops. It goes without saying that this is not the occasion to express your doubts about the new structure or the direction the organisation is taking. Your strength is your experience and your interview strategy should be to show how your management skills are transferable and your previous experience relevant to the new role. This starts with your supporting statement you may not have to submit an application form but will be expected to say what you can bring to the post. Don’t make assumptions about what is known about your work and simply list posts held provide evidence of your achievements. If you know the motivation behind the restructuring is to improve financial controls and introduce new ways of working then draw from your experience examples of how you have delivered budget cuts, met financial targets and persuaded staff to adopt new practises.

If you’re on the other side of the interview table do you really want to keep those who are good at interviews at the expense of those who are good at their jobs? Which candidates have and recognise they have transferable skills? Have we got some good people in the wrong jobs? Square pegs in round hols? Some hidden gems held back by an unsupportive and over critical line manager? One of the best appointments I ever made followed two disastrous redeployment interviews with the same candidate. This individual had put themselves forward for posts they didn’t really want but were at their current pay grade their failure to secure a post in the new structure left them demoralised and cynical. Only following a brutally blunt feedback session did I discover where their real interests lay. This person could easily have been lost to the organisation instead he was given some project work his expertise was quickly recognised and his renewed enthusiasm propelled him into a series of senior posts.

Just as it is all too easy for the disillusioned member of staff to enter the process in a half hearted and cynical manner with predictable results it is tempting for the organisation to take a ridge approach based on interview performance alone and miss the real talent.   

Blair McPherson author of People management in a harsh financial climate published by Russell House



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