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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training


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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes

RECRUITMENT AND
RECRUITMENT AGENCIES

Over the past few years, employment agencies have flourished, their role facilitated by the expansion of the internet and mobile communication devices. Employers use them, large and small, to offer their vacancies to a worldwide audience and to offer various levels of pre-screening. Job-hunters in the meantime, get lots of jobs opportunities to look at and can often also use agency website to find out about general salary levels in their industry, details of various major employers and suchlike.

Recruitment Agencies

Do employment agencies have a role in the asset integrity industry?

Yes of course they do. Most have well-organised websites and easily-searchable for jobs and employers. Asset integrity is a small specialised industry but at any time you can normally find a fair selection of job opportunities listed in the NDT, inspection and integrity fields. Some agencies cover all job disciplines but others concentrate specifically on the engineering industry or specialist offshoots such as oil & gas nuclear or QA/QC.

The difficulty recruitment agencies have

Agencies normally only get paid when employers successfully fill a position advertised on their site. Industry regulations make it extremely difficult to charge job-candidates for finding them a job so it’s the employer that pays.

Agencies have fee targets to meet, which means that they can’t afford to be too micro-specific about the types of jobs that they host. An agency hosting only asset integrity jobs would be unlikely to produce sufficient revenue to pay the bills and keep the owners interested, however good a service had been provided to job-seekers. To keep their employer clients interested, agencies need job-seekers on their books too, hopefully more than an employer could hope to access by themselves.

The agency business model is not a complicated one:

  • More vacancies + more candidates = greater statistical chance of a match
  • Greater chance of a match = more revenue

The difficulty faced by agencies is that the wide variety of industries and job disciplines they are forced to cover produces a technical knowledge gap between them and both the employers and the candidates. In specialist technical disciplines, agency staff can’t be knowledgeable in many of the job fields they host so to achieve a successful placement they have to rely on direct contact between employer and candidate to sort out between them what they want from each other. Employment agencies therefore act mainly as facilitator between the parties. a true agency role

How does this work for the job-seeker?

Employment agencies are successful in placing many job-seekers in jobs, that’s for sure. Agency activity has increased several-fold as the asset integrity industry has become increasingly reliant on contract/freelance workers (the so-called Gig Economy) [l1] to provide its day-to-day activities on plant sites.

But what is the job-seeker experience actually like? You can’t beat a bit of market research we thought so, armed with a list of agencies, and a couple of our website contributors, Matthews Integrity Hub: HEAD OFFICE, decided to test a few of them out.

RECRUITER RESPONSE; here’s how it went

We chose a small representative selection of agencies, some who were members of responsible regulating bodies and balanced them with some that looked smaller and more specialist in the engineering field. We looked through their lists and sorted out a CV to send them.

CV / Resume

First a bit about the CV. It’s a genuine CV; it belongs to one of our contributors; a real person currently working in a mechanical plant inspection job. They’re not specifically wanting to leave their job, but are always interested to hear of opportunities, like we all are. There’s a few interesting things about this CV;

  • Its oil refinery-linked …so the current salary could be difficult to better
  • It’s a static, long-serving position on a single plant site, so weekly travel or overseas postings might not be exactly this person’s cup of tea.
  • The person was originally not from a traditional engineering background. They got, and kept, their current job on merit, not on the back of academic qualifications They are therefore weak by many ‘conventional’ assessment standards that require a degree, institution membership and whatever
  • Just to add a specific point; they don’t fit the UKAS RG2 qualifications criteria for the job they are currently in.

After a final check for spelling mistakes, we added a few extra-curricular hobbies to make it sound interesting; an avid interest in insects (entomology), music, walking and a spot of hang-gliding. Imagination knows no bounds when it comes to CV-writing.

Time for the FIND JOBS boxes on the online application form …we entered UK as a geographical area and inputted the following search terms in a few of the agency sites;

  • Plant Inspector
  • Integrity Engineer
  • Mechanical inspector
  • In-service inspector

The results popped up instantly. Quite good we thought, well presented, and from the descriptions it seemed clear what most of the jobs were. The search terms threw up a few curved balls but we manage to dismiss those to do with production line manufacture, vehicle technicians and QA jobs and ended up with 10 possible vacancies to work with. Four were quite within the applicant’s existing role, four distinctly marginal, and two totally unsuitable.

The next stage was to take a second look at the job descriptions. We wouldn’t say they all said the same thing but a lot seemed to say that they were market leaders in their highly competitive industry, operated at a dynamic pace, were always looking to recruit the best people and so paid something called ‘competitive salaries’. None said what this so-called competitive salary actually was, making the opportunities, as an economist would say, unpriced. Read our article Why don’t job ads show salary level?[l2]  if you want to know more about this thorny little subject.

Flushed with curiosity we looked again at the ten opportunities (4+4+2 remember), pressed the SEND CV button for all of them, ordered four pizzas and the KFC mega-bucket (they were priced), and sat down, wondering what response we would get, to wait.

The results

The interesting about the results was just how variable they all were. Of the six marginal and unsuitable ones, we got no response at all from four of them, so didn’t know where we were with those, presumably nowhere. A couple of the others sent automated responses confirming that they’d receive the CV and confirmed an extension of closing date. From the ten applications sent, none of the responses actually mentioned any of the idiosyncrasies in the CV; we graciously assumed that these would be aired at a later date if we got near an interview.

An email was received from one of the agencies, actually about one of the four jobs we had considered of marginal suitability to our CV’s experience. We received some further details and a questionnaire to fill in, asking what kind of job we were looking for (contract -v- staff status, salary expectations etc) This originally looked hopeful but after three weeks of perseverance we had had actually got nowhere near achieving a face-to-face interview. There seemed hope of a telephone interview but we were guilty of not accepting the opportunity of ringing in to book it. It seemed unlikely from the job description that it was the kind of thing a person with our CV would want to change jobs for.

The disappointment was that most suitable job advertised really looked too-good to be true. It could be home or office-based-based, involve some travel but not too much, offering a broad scope of responsibilities and a flat reporting relationship etc, so why hadn’t we had a response about it? our CV seemed to fit the bill. We telephoned to chase it up, but were told they’d had a large response so would contact us if they wanted to take it further, otherwise have a nice day. Maybe our CV wasn’t well presented? or the job was so good that everyone would like it and send their CV in? We just weren’t sure.

So that got us thinking, in roundabout sort of way, about the shadowy world of fake jobs


Round Two: Matthews Integrity Hub: HEAD OFFICE-v-the Job market. Off we went to search for …..FAKE JOBS

Fake jobs

Fake jobsFAKE JOBS are doubtless never intended to be fake; they’re just well-intentioned job wishes that have suffered a bit of ‘mission-creep’. They’re certainly not employment agencies’ fault; agencies respond in good faith to job requirements and descriptions provided by their client employers and advertise them as asked.

Here’s how employers may occasionally end up offering them (if in fact they do). The employer feels a general ‘wish’ to improve the qualities or abilities of their staff. This may be in response to feeling that they are falling behind technically in some area or in anticipation of some expansion of their activities, new contract etc that they haven’t actually got yet. Either way they’d like to know what is available to them from the employment market so the only way to find out is to post some job vacancies and see what turns up.

Behind the scenes there may not be a budget approved yet to support any new appointments, but there again, there’s no point in getting a budget approved if there are no suitable candidates, is there?

These factors are what drive the practice for ‘blanket’ advertising for jobs with descriptions intended to draw in the maximum number of applicants, without (at the time) a specific position being there to be filled. If a good candidate turns up, goes the argument, then a position can be created to accommodate them and everyone will be happy. So, the job may exist after all, but it also may not; it’s either a fake or a non-fake, depending on what transpires.

Fortunately, we think we found these fairly easy to spot during our little search. The use of ‘blanket’ generalised descriptions for jobs across the industry from NDT technicians to inspectors and integrity engineers didn’t seem to fit the industry that well, which is good news. Compare that to marketing or sales or similar high staff turnover businesses however where it seems more common.

We did spot a few fake job suspects in the integrity industry however. Here’s some clues to look for:

  • The positions are advertised more or less permanently. Six, twelve months or more is not uncommon, advertised across the online platforms and hard-copy magazines and journals.
  • The job description is generalised and so phrased that everyone in the target group can feel it applies to them. Look also for the words that make the job sound attractive to ‘striving’ applicants who like to feel they have more to offer than their current job is giving them.
  • Job conditions, locations, hours and working arrangements sound like they can be almost whatever you are looking for. Restrictions, reporting hierarchies and matrix management squabbling are airbrushed away (for the moment) so as not to frighten anyone off
  • Finally (this is a strange one) the employer often seems to be looking for the ultimate in employee altruism. Real-world contradictions don’t seem to be a barrier to this.They’d like someone to work from home but still support all the staff in head office who they never see, or donate their own initiative from head office to self-employed freelancers who don’t have any.  Nothing wrong with wishful thinking I suppose, but these job positions do often seem to carry a slight air of unbelievability about them, which is not difficult to spot.

As an employer, the good news is that posting these types of job ads will probably do you little long-term harm. Remember that you probably don’t actually know that you are doing it; they are just genuine ‘job-wishes’ that have been subject to a bit of mission creep. As a job seeker the worst that can happen is that they may falsely increase your expectations and waste your time. Just learn to recognise them and you’ll be fine.

What about the job applicants?

For every ‘blanket job advert’ there are undoubtedly hundreds of applicants who apply for it, emailing their CVs at the touch of a button from the far corners of the earth. In the online world, CVs have developed a life of their own; there’s traditional, chronological and hybrid CVs, skills-based, functional and creative ones and even ones with videos in them. Who would want to be a CV-reader? Employers have to do it, and soon find out that not all of them are, how shall we put this? entirely true. Well I never….

So, to finish the story and balance the books: Off we went to search for …. EXAGGERATED CVs

Exaggerated CVs

Exaggerated CVsLet’s get a bit formal here. One published, respected personnel industry study, a couple of years ago, involved checks of 10,000 CV applications received in a three-month period. It found that 35%+ of them contained incorrect information about a grade, course, qualification or date of education, 30-40 % up on the previous study the year before. More than half (50%+) of candidates’ CVs contained at least one glaring inaccuracy, with 30%+ making false claims about their employment history. Over one-quarter (28%) contained false information about professional qualifications and memberships.

This doesn’t make good reading. These were just the obvious falsehoods, before even opening the lid on the more subjective claims for job achievements, responsibilities and ‘I increased departmental profit by 50% whilst increasing safety performance’ types of claims.

Fortunately, here at Matthews Integrity Hub: HEAD OFFICE, we haven’t got far to go to look for CVs. Three of our five contributors have run their own companies in the integrity industry (two are still doing so); the others work for larger companies and so all are well-used to advertising positions and interpreting CVs. So, we looked at a current recruiting campaign run by one of them and dug out a selection of CVs that had been received for a current vacancy. It was for a permanent onshore position, graded at about the level of Senior Integrity Engineer, looking after mainly pressure plant on several sites spread around the UK. One CV stood out above the others.

Welcome to The Oracle

WOW, was this CV impressive or what? The applicant is certified in API 510,570,653, 571,580, SIFE, SIRE and 936 (refractory), all supplementing a degree/MSc in corrosion engineering from a UK university we’ve all heard of. In addition, there’s a list of no less than eight NDT certifications (up to levels 2-3) and certificates from courses on PD5500/ EN13445 design and the PED, finite element analysis and design by analysis (DBA). To top it all, from the world of QA, certification as a Six-Sigma practitioner (green belt), validated by their Product Champion, no less. All of this led to us being obliged, with full justification, to rename this applicant The Oracle.

If you are looking for quality staff, The Oracle looks like what you need. So, rather than pussy-footing around with telephone interviews we decided to make a big decision…. we just had to meet The Oracle.

 

The meeting

All meetings benefit from comfortable business-style surroundings and atmosphere (a bit of corporate image-reinforcement). Not to be outdone by any rival recruiters we chose the ambiance of the Knutsford Services on the M6, on a Monday morning. The Oracle was visiting someone nearby that week, as were our two interviewers, so it was convenient for all. Arrangements were made, seats taken near Burger King, and promptly at 1030am, in walked The Oracle, better dressed than us, I have to say.

You have to be careful when doing interviews. It’s far too easy to see what you want to see based on initial impressions. This results in you pursuing a line of questioning designed to elicit the types of responses that reinforce your own pre-judgements. To pre-empt this, we used an initial technical questionnaire so as to ask objective questions. The answers were discussed by one interviewer for their technical correctness, nothing else. This interviewer had also seen The Oracle’s CV, with all its qualifications and certifications. Following this the second interviewer, who had not seen the CV was to ask general experience, career expectation types of questions, and draw their own conclusions.

Here are three of the (seven) technical questions. We figured they were more than well covered by the qualifications/certifications on the CV.

  1. Can you name five different types of stress that exist in a pressure vessel?
  2. What would you say was the common approach of API 510,570 and 653 towards damage mechanisms?
  3. How do new construction pressure equipment codes differ from post-construction codes in their coverage of hydraulic and pneumatic pressure testing?

We didn’t think these are unfair questions, an Integrity Engineer is a technical job, you need to understand the technical details of what’s going on.

Revelation

You would think, would you not, that an interview for a technical job might just involve being asked some technical questions? Well, The Oracle seemed rather taken aback by the whole concept. Nevertheless, in the atmosphere of not being given a choice, they had a try…

‘Can you name five different types of stress that exist in a pressure vessel?’

 ‘Well there’s internal pressure, stress, strain, ASME VIII and PD5500’

 ‘No, its types of stresses I’m asking about. Pressure is not the same as stress, and neither is strain’

 ‘But I have a PD5500/EN13445 course certificate’

 ‘Ok start with membrane stress and think about four more’

 ‘OK, well, there’s membrane stress,er… strain, stress and PD5500’

I would like to tell you the full two-hour story, but it’s just too long to hold your attention. After jumping to questions 2 and 3, just to give a fair coverage, the type of answers above just repeated themselves and kept on doing so. There was little point in continuing.

The Oracle was a friendly enough character but not for us. The CV and the reality just didn’t match. What is strange is that this is not an isolated case, despite years of accumulated experience it is difficult to understand why, after all that training and certification, a candidate couldn’t make a valid attempt at simple technical questions like these. In fact, they seemed not to expect to be asked any technical questions relating to all those industry certifications on their CV.

Maybe there’s a valid reason; if you know what it is, then we are sorry. We were unfair, and will look on jealously as The Oracle comes to work in your plant. That’s the one containing all the stored energy, explosive gas, pyrophoric chemicals, corrosive and poisonous H2S, the Naphtha and the HF.

Best of luck.

Are you puzzled by comprehensive-looking CVs when the candidate doesn’t seem to match up? Have a look at our article :Beware of TICKET COLLECTORS

DID YOU FIND THIS ARTICLE USEFUL?

Who are we?

The Matthews HEAD OFFICE website is here to provide you with an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries. It’s for technical job-do-ers new and old, job-movers, the job-curious, the ambitious, the mildly-complacent, the dissatisfied, the mid-life lane-changers, the recognition-hungry and the slippery ladder-climbers amongst us. If you are working in the asset integrity industry, then it’s for you.

We are not part of any government body, association, institution, agency or employer. Nor do we officially represent any of them, so you can be assured that we can provide you with an objective viewpoint. We can’t comment on individual companies and employers of course but are happy to discuss general asset integrity career situations or issues that you have.

We are always keen to discuss engineering and technical issues also, because that is what lifework careers in this industry are all about. Here’s some types of things may want to talk about:

  • What roles can I do as an independent contractor?
  • How suitable am I for a career move?
  • I feel my career is going nowhere…what can I do?
  • How relevant is a particular certification exam or qualification?
  • What does a particular type of inspection/integrity engineer actually do?
  • I have to prepare a presentation on Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC). What should I put in it?
  • What code should I work to for a welded repair on a pressure vessel?

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CONTACT US

Tel: 07746 771592  help@matthewsintegrity.co.uk