You Know Nothing – My Favourite HR Memory

“To Know, Is To Know That You Know Nothing. That Is The Meaning Of True Knowledge” (Socrates)

I thought a fitting way to start my blog site was with my favourite HR memory, which as it turns out, was also the day I learned that I knew nothing.

OK, not quite but it was certainly an enlightening episode and an experience that probably taught me more than several “courses” that i’ve attended.

I had recently been appointed in my first Advisor position which was a promotion within an international manufacturer, and one of the areas of the site that I was responsible for providing a HR service to was an engineering workshop. We had a vacancy for a welder in the workshop and I had designed a suitable selection process. At least I thought it was suitable. We didn’t have any issue attracting candidates as our total remuneration package far exceeded those of our competitors and so we were always inundated with applications for our vacancies. As such, our selection programmes had to be optimal so that we could shortlist the best talent for interview and ultimately appoint the best person for the role.

I was very new in this position. I had worked for this organisation since I was 17 years of age and had grown up in this company. I was promoted into this position after having worked my way up through various junior positions including that of being a HR Apprentice – a novel way to start my career and one I am so massively proud of. I did however have something of a chip on my shoulder which emanated from my fear of not being taken seriously. I was very aware that I had matured during my time in the company from the teenage joker, who lived for the weekend and counted down to 5pm so that I could head straight to the beach and go surfing after work, to someone who cared deeply about developing myself and progressing my career in the profession that by this stage I had grown to love. More on that later i’m sure.

So I was out to prove something. I wanted to do things properly. I wanted to set my stall out to show that I deserved the role I had been appointed into and that I could put my qualifications to good use. I wanted to demonstrate my credibility to the internal customers I was responsible FOR supporting and so I had arranged a competency based final interview for a handful of candidates shortlisted. A panel of 3 interviewers had been arranged, myself being one, accompanied by the workshop manager and a senior planning engineer.

On the day of the interviews, the workshop manager informed me that he was required elsewhere and so an experienced welder was going to take his place on the panel. This slightly disappointed me as I wanted to impress and build a relationship with the manager but these things happen.

I also thought it felt fundamentally wrong. I had this preconception that those who are interviewed for a role should be interviewed and selected by someone in a more senior position than that of the role being interviewed for. A preconception that you’ll be glad to hear has been marked in my brain as ‘remember that thing that you were really wrong about?”.

I met with the other assessors half an hour before the first interview and we prepared the room. I outlined the process that we would follow and we agreed the question set that we would use. I explained the need to stick to the questions as much as possible and I explained the scoring matrix that I had drawn up, including how the matrix connected to the questions. I noticed one of the assessors clutching what appeared to be a postal tube but I didn’t think too much of it.

The first interview went really well. All questions were asked and the assessors broadly stuck to the  question set, only slightly deviating with pertinent and inquisitive questions. It was becoming clear that the candidates strengths and weaknesses were coming to the fore and I could see the process working. At the end of the interview I explained that we had asked all of our questions. Then I could see the ‘substitute assessor’ who was a very well experienced welder reaching for his postal tube. i looked over to the senior planning engineer who was expressionless, on the basis that he was unsurprised by what was happening. I didn’t know what was going on.

In the interests of professionalism and I guess to save face, I didn’t ask what was happening. I went with the flow.

The assessor popped the lid off the postal tube and pulled out a rolled up piece of paper which was marked and smudged as a result of it being handled by dirty hands, an occupational hazard in the workshop. He rolled the paper out across the desk in front of the candidate and I could see written at the top of the page ‘Engineering Drawing’.

He asked the candidate whether he had seen one of these drawings before, to which he confirmed he had. The assessor then asked the candidate to name 5 things that the drawing was telling him. The candidate remained quiet. Very quiet. What felt like an eternity passed, but it was probably only about 30 seconds. The assessor broke the silence with a question.

“What is the scale in this drawing and where does it confirm this?”

The candidate took another look at the drawing and explained the scale and pointed to a box in one of the corners where this could be translated from.

“What else can you tell me?”

The candidate pointed out the degree of the angle that the weld would need, the chemicals that the welder should be aware of and other key elements that would appear to be hidden in the engineering drawing from those who were not suitably qualified to understand it.

In summary, this test, was an essential element of separating those who would be substantially ill-prepared to carry out the role that we needed. And I hadn’t factored it in at all.

Throughout the interviews, some candidates sailed through the question set and couldn’t understand the same drawing at all, whereas others answered the questions poorly but knew everything there was to know about the engineering drawing.

When it came to scoring at the end, we decided that those who couldn’t interpret the drawing should be discounted from the process as understanding these drawings was a critical requirement within this particular workshop. We applied the scoring matrix to those who could interpret the drawing and we appointed the welder we needed.

I learned a few things that day. Not least, that I should never operate in isolation when designing HR programmes. I learned that I had so much more to learn and that HR professionals could learn a great deal from those we supported. I realised that I needed to understand as much as I could about the work of my internal customers so that I could operate as effectively as possible. I realised that if the activities I was working on wasn’t enabling my internal customers to be successful, then I was acting unsuccessfully.

OK, it wasn’t that I knew nothing – it was that I still had a great deal to learn.



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