Job Lottery

The BBC  ran a story yesterday about three street cleaners in Edinburgh who have been temporarily reinstated after they were chosen for redundancy by drawing names out of a cereal bowl.

Edinburgh Council needed to get rid of seven of their 13 agency staff. They managed to select four based on their performance, but couldn’t separate the remaining nine, so a manager decided that drawing lots was the fairest solution.

This decision was made in consultation with the staff concerned, but of course this wouldn’t do for the trade unions and the dreaded Human Resources bods, so they’re having to start again. But seven people will still lose their jobs in the long run.

However, it did remind me of a couple of apocryphal stories from the past when bosses found simple and practical solutions to recruitment and selection that they wouldn’t dream of applying today.

The first concerns the fire brigade which was, and is, a very popular profession for fit young men to consider. You get to do exciting things, you’re often paid to sleep on the job and play sports to keep fit, and the girls love the uniform.

As a result, the brigade is inundated with applications whenever they are recruiting which these days involves all sorts of pre-selection physical and mental aptitude tests before getting the numbers down for the interview stage.

There was a time though when a simpler method was applied to the problem of being over subscribed by applicants.

As each application was opened in the Personnel Department, it was marked with one of those numbering stamps and then the pile of forms was handed to the boss. Depending on how many applicants there were, he would then select those whose number ended in five or five and zero for interview.

This solved a practical problem in a simple and entirely random fashion without having to resort to an unwieldy employment practices handbook.

The other story is the boss who took this idea one step further. When faced with a stack of job applications, he would simply randomly select half a dozen or so from the pile for interview and throw the rest in the bin.

When challenged about the practice, he would say that those who ended up in the waste were simply unlucky. ‘And I don’t want to work with unlucky people.’

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 26th January 2012

    Having served on more than my fair share of search committees, I know that winnowing is important. Once we had 70 applicants for 1 secretary job. we got rid of about 30 for typos, and a couple for weird stationery (one was purple), and a few more for ugly fonts.

  • Mr Parrot 26th January 2012

    I once had to sift through 120 job applications as the outside assessor and I don’t think that is a particularly fair process. Your reasons for non-selection become pretty arbitary because you know that the alternative is to sit through several days of interviewing.

  • Mr Pudding 26th January 2012

    As a Head of English, in my early years, we would receive many job applications and self-indulgent wordiness or bad English would invariably lead to the litter bin. In the noughties, our league table culture meant that schools in challenging areas became less and less attractive to would-be applicants so we were grateful for any applications we received – even for promoted posts.

  • Elizabeth 27th January 2012

    Ian, I’m probably being a bit simplistic about this, but the problem with the street cleaners was not selecting their suitability for the job, but rather, in finding a criteria to oust them from jobs they already had.

    It strikes me as akin to those endless training days where one would be given moral dilemmas such as ‘Grossly obese Robin has three toes on his right foot, a wife with congenital abnormalities, a mistress in the city and seven children, Nigel has smoked all his life, is a convicted criminal but provides vegetables from his allotment for the local hospital and organises boss Christmas parties for the Guatemalan orphans; which one is most worthy of receiving the one heart transplant that there is money in the kitty for this month? ‘

  • Mr Parrot 27th January 2012

    I take your point Elizabeth, but as I understand it — and I only have the BBC report to go on — the nine workers couldn’t be separated on the usual criteria of performance etc, which is why the manager suggested the luck of a lottery.

    I don’t necessarily agree with the idea, but at least it has merit in being transparently about luck, as were the probable urban myths I wrote about.

  • Rose78 27th January 2012

    Sad to say that i’m totally aware of these job lottery, But i think i need an additional thoughts from here. Wanna come back another time.

  • anja 30th January 2012

    These kind of blog will help each of us to bring such awareness to open their eyes on what lottery is to be.

  • devis raw 7th February 2012

    Thanks for sharing, i find this blog a very useful one i apply this to my self,its very well explain and glad that i found this post.

  • Maegan87 10th February 2012

    I agree that this is very useful…Thank you for sharing it to us here…


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