An employer is me!

An employer is me!

I had my first job interview the other day – on the other side of the desk, I mean. It was an invaluable experience… one I wish I’d had 20 years ago. It was both comforting and horrifying – comforting because I realised the crap-shoot element of the interview: you could be the nicest person in the world (all the people we interviewed were lovely), and answer the questions really well, and still not get it because it’s a numbers game and the person who did get it had just a bee’s dick more insight than you. (Of course, this is also horrifying – I don’t like gambling at the best of times, and especially not with my income.)

The horrifying element was just how much we as interviewers didn’t really have our shit together. We interviewed five people and our learning curve took place over the three hours that we did the interviews. In the public service everything is supposed to be standardised to make it fair for applicants – a principle I wholeheartedly support, speaking as a mildly autistic weirdo. But the resemblance between the first and the last interview was pretty remote  as we realised that the questions we’d chosen from public service boilerplate would be easier for candidates if we rephrased it a bit.

The other thing was that we chose our second candidate as soon as we interviewed her. As soon as she walked out the door my boss and I looked at each other and went “Her”. So all the other people were interviewed under the shadow of Super Girl – I like to believe I was interviewing with an open mind, but it was really “I’m in love, and now you have to prove you’re better than Super Girl”.

I wonder if there’s any lesson to be had here about interview times? If your recruitment agent or prospective boss offers you a swathe of interview times on the same day, should you take the very first one, in the hope of making an impression that will overshadow all who follow? Or should you take the last one of the day, hoping that the interviewers will have worked out how to get the most useful information out of their victims?

I met a goal!

I met a goal!

That may not seem like much to you, but for the first time in my life, I’m in a position where I’ve actively researched, targeted and used my networks to gain a job. Previously I’d always fallen into a position with relatively little knowledge of what was involved, motivated mainly by a need for money and a desire to have a job, any job. More recently this has been “any job that isn’t shitkicker for Toenail Branch at the Dept of Silly Walks”, which led me to the interesting but not too successful stint described in recent posts.

I’d become quite depressed in the previous role – partly because I wasn’t doing very well at it, but also because I couldn’t see any way to a better position. What further education should I do? Is there anything that even interests me? I had a mini- meltdown at my desk, and was rescued by exec assistants bearing tea and biscuits (I love youse guys). They suggested urban planning, which does interest me, but triggers my commitment-phobia – I really, really like keeping things open-ended. Not that that’s why I have a liberal arts degree – that’s just another example of falling into a situation without any planning.

But I’m currently employed in our Not Stepping On The Cracks In Case The Bears Get You branch. I’ve been grilling people from Bears branch for months now, asking them about their day job, how they got here, what the branch does and so on. The position became available because the person in it got promoted, and when I came down for the handover I realised I’d already met him at a function for our clients, which I’d attended to learn more about our crack-avoiding activities. So it was quite exciting to see how all my loose ends were tying together.

Even better, I got the position because I literally wandered around my office saying “you want policy officer? I got briefs and corro and MS Project.” One of our exec assistants (a different one to my knights with tea and biscuits) heard of this at the same time that Andy got kicked upstairs, and left me a post it note with his phone number on my monitor. The rest is yahda yahda yahda. Yes, I have given her a box of Godiva. Be nice to your secretaries! They know where the bodies are buried, and whether they hide pirate treasure.

My secondment as a project officer is coming to an end, and I return to Toenail branch within a couple of weeks. I’m trying to keep my spirits up by reminding myself that, with the complete lack of important work to do, I’ll be free to look for more career-oriented jobs, and it’s MUCH easier to go to interviews WITHOUT the stench of desperation that comes with being unemployed.

Still, it’s hard to view this as a “learning experience”, even though that’s clearly what it was. I learnt that our large and diverse department has highly fragmented policy, with many units who are semi-coordinated. I learnt that the “policy” section struggles for relevance in this environment, given that individual units can pretty much tell it to get stuffed. Having said that, I haven’t worked in enough other divisions to realize how they might use our “services”.

What I mostly learned is that I really don’t get along well with Statements. You know the ones – Adverb Conjunction Noun Colon Policy Area Statement. Just once, I’d like to see a government release a Statement that says “we will slash productivity, ban exports and ship jobs overseas”. They’d last two seconds but at least it would be a change from bipartisan motherhood faff. (Ironically, there’s a fantastic job being advertised at the moment managing, you guessed it, a Statement. It’s a pay grade above my ability and I’m gnashing my teeth because I know I *could* do it… if it was at my current pay grade.)

So, I need to get into some program delivery. I hear rumors that there’ll be a bucketload of money thrown at the boondocks (there always is, but there’ll be MORE) and they’ll need people to roll it out. In the meantime, I’m feeling unqualified and helpless because I don’t have, and can’t easily get, any kind of qualifications in specialized areas. To make matters worse, I have an alarming tendency to flit from idea to idea like a bumblebee in a sea of daisies. Oooh, courts policy! Oooh, urban planning! Oooooh, gambling regulation! None of which I have any expertise in, and none of which are likely to sustain my interest enough to get a degree in or any bulk of expertise.

Help me out here – am I being utterly precious? Is there a cadre of public service units screaming out for people with enthusiasm and rolled-up sleeves but no particular expertise? It strikes me that being a specialist would be fab up to a certain point of middle management, after which you’d have to go generalist again if you wanted to climb any further.


I put my hand up for the Department’s mentoring program recently. They’ve matched me up with someone a couple of levels above me and working in an area that I’ve been interested in, which should at least allow me to check out exactly how green that grass is.

I’ve had… interesting experiences with mentoring. The first was cross-departmental group mentoring. The idea was, four new hires from completely different departments would be matched with a senior executive from yet another department. I guess the idea was that we’d have fertile cross-pollination of ideas and viewpoints. In practice, we had one meeting where the executive, a nice enough guy, spouted platitudes and bragged about his golf handicap. Not long after our one and only meeting, he was sacked/left under a cloud because his staff basically stole every single phone, laptop, PDA, pager, radio, stick drive, Sticky Note and stick of charcoal that wasn’t actually in his hands at the time. Basically, if you could communicate with it they stole it. I hear a few blankets and bundles of kindling went missing.

My next encounter with mentoring was through a professional association, and could be considered anti-mentoring. At first, I fell head over heels in love, as I have a bad habit of doing – “OMG we’re like TWINS!!1!”. Unfortunately, the main benefit of this experience was unintentional. I’d asked the mentor to help me with my professional conduct – the fact is that while I have a few very close friends, I’m widely considered obnoxious, which is why I’m a junior public servant despite being in early middle age.

This turned out to be the one thing my mentor absolutely would NOT help me with. Happy to tell me what I should eat, buy, rent, wear, etc, but not to help me with my one specific goal for the mentoring. It was didactic, condescending… and obnoxious. The lesson learned was “holy shit – people think I’M like that??1!?”. Which, to be fair, is an extremely valuable lesson.

I’m currently reading First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, by Ann Demarais and Valerie White. It’s extremely good in that it breaks down into very basic components the factors that make people like you (and the converse). It’s like the parts of speech – you use the building blocks all the time, but you use them more effectively when you know what they are. The best part of them being building blocks, of course, is that you can choose the ones you need.

I’d like to think that my non-posting habit is related to being hardworking and busy, but it’s not – I’m lazy and tired and prioritising going to the gym over writing. Going to the gym has to be done, of course, but I have to THINK OF MY CAREER!!`!!1! In the meantime, here’s some interesting public-sector related links.

Public Sector Blog

Google’s official Public Sector Blog discusses tools for both election campaigns and public administration. This post on Web Analytics emphasises the importance of asking the right questions of your website visitors and making it easy for them to give feedback.

The Public Administration Collective

A collective of public policy blogs from the UK and US, ranging from news and opinion to management theory.


A blog of politics and policy by a Masters student at Holy Angel University in the Philippines. Some of it’s a bit dense and clearly entry-level, but that may be exactly what you need.

Whitehall Watch

British politics and civil service blog by a Professor of Public Policy & Management at the Manchester Business School. His area of interest is in performance measurement (we call it evaluation out here in the boonies), so be warned, may not be suitable for beginners. I actually think meaningful performance measurement is of paramount importance, but jebus it’s boring.


The newsletter of the Institute of Public Governance & Management at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. I’ve linked to the English version, but it’s also available in Catalan. I have to admit to being particularly intrigued by the suggestion that “[t]he willingness of public sector workers and managers to accept lower pay in return for … a more meaningful or enjoyable job translates into lower returns on talent in the public sector compared to the private sector.”

Undercover Economist

I’m not an economist. I work in an economic development agency. IT HURRRRRRRRTS. This blog is less painful than economics usually is.

Charting Transport

Are you a graph nerd? Close the door for some furtive one-handed browsing of this impressive collection of visual analysis of just about everything in public transport in Australia – demand growth, drivers of use, fare structures, travel data… talk nerdy to me!

Games about the public service are usually lame. This is an unusually hard-hitting documentary.

Screenshot for Zeebarf Comedy Central game "Citizen Ugly"


Yes Minister meets Alice in Wonderland, Myles Peterson

This piece did ring a few bells with me. I would however like to raise a couple of points:

Our section was under-budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars, necessitating we blow all the unspent money before the end of the financial year. Unfortunately, ”training” did not mean I would finally get some training. ”Training” consisted of hastily booked, dubiously relevant conferences and courses, most of which were conveniently located a long way from Canberra.

Nice work if you can get it – my department is cracking down on employee travel even though we have the same amount of spare budget. We won’t waste your valuable taxpayer dollars on sending lowly public drones to the only place they can get specialised training! (I’m not bitter.)

We were not the only ones wasting money. Associated with our section were those boffins who create public health campaigns, the ones that appear on television with increasing regularity: nights out turning into nightmares, measure your fat stomach, wash your hands – that kind of thing.

I was surprised to discover the minds behind these campaigns were not health professionals. They had backgrounds and degrees in marketing, communications and advertising, not medicine.

This is actually pretty reasonable! When was the last time you changed your behaviour because of a fact? OK, a heart attack is technically a fact, but a health professional isn’t ethically allowed to actually induce a heart attack or emphysema, so they tend to say uncompelling things like “the prevalence ratio of Type II Diabetes in overweight and moderately obese women is 3x that of normal-weight women” (closer investigation revealing that the prevalence is less than 8%, so 92% of overweight and moderately obese women don’t actually have this problem).

Hence it falls to the marketing bods to come up with ever gorier images of your heart or lungs turning black under the influence of your lazy, filthy day-to-day abuse, in the vain hope that you will actually wake up and realise that incremental changes to your lifestyle really do help. I lost over 50lb, not after being informed that obesity will shave 3.6 years off my already-likely-to-be-90+ life,  but because I was the oldest, fattest slob in a graduate intake of spunky young things whose mere existence made me grind my teeth with jealousy. Could those boffins who create public health campaigns could convey that in a 15-second spot?