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For hire

Sarah Dean

The past few months of my working life have been dominated by CVs, job ads and application forms, since we have been recruiting at work. I've been involved in recruitment throughout my career and it is always a fascinating, odd and amazingly flawed process.

Aside from inane candidates on The Apprentice, I believe most people can't be bothered with the risk and stress of lying on their CVs, but writing a job application is less about providing an accurate record of your employment and more an exercise in spin to persuade a stranger to meet you. Even school careers teachers give the advice that if you are asked to describe your weaknesses, always answer with something that is actually a strength: 'My main weakness is I care too much'; 'I work too hard';' that I'm a sociopath and I have no friends, which means I am always available to work at weekends and evenings.'

I got to read lots of acting CVs when I worked in theatre. These are nice and concise, just a list of the roles the actor has played with the names of the director they worked with and the theatre or TV company that produced the show. There is very little room to exaggerate, lie or pad things out. That said, plenty of actors are happy for a bit of confusion in their favour - for example the actor who stated that he played Hamlet in a production for the RSC did not think it necessary to clarify that he was referring to the Richmond Schools Company as opposed to a more famous homonym.

An acting CV always comes with a 10 by 8 photo of the actor, so you can tell pretty fast if the person at least looks right for the role. This isn't foolproof either, though; most casting directors have an awkward story of calling 'Next' and an elderly actor or actress appearing to try out for a part with the 'playing age of 30 - 50', which of course is what they were the last time they updated their picture.

Recruitment for office jobs has its own set of problems. Consider for a moment this question: Who is best placed to comment objectively on a candidate's performance in the work place and tell you what they are like in a team? a) The candidate themselves, desperate to get the job, possibly not that unbiased; or b) the people with whom they actually work? The answer seems obvious and yet the standard steps in a recruitment process mean that often the only point when you speak to the colleagues is when you're obtaining the reference. By then you're so far down the road of hiring a person that the reference would need to tell you something pretty bad for you not to take them on!

Despite big business throwing money at psychometric testing, handwriting analysis or personality profiling, no-one has managed to refine this process much beyond two people looking at the whites of each other's eyes and deciding if they can tolerate being in the same room every day. Looked at objectively, modern recruitment is so haphazard, that it's a miracle anyone ever gets hired. For those of us doing our best in small organisations, charities and churches ,where money and resources are tight, that's reassuring as reliance on the miraculous, unknowable and illogical is all part of our job description.