By Chris Gandy
Everyone experiences some life defining moments in their time. One of mine was just before Christmas in 1969.
I left high school a month earlier with not a care in the world. Had no career ambitions, didn’t bother to enrol with a University, but hey I was prepared to work as long as the job didn’t intrude on my social and sporting lives.
Back then jobs for school leavers were relatively plentiful and within days I was offered a clerical position at the Steelworks in Port Kembla. On my first day I learnt that I had been placed with a group of newbies which included Alex, a friend from school and semi-professional football player just arrived from England – how cool was this, they must allow plenty of time for sport!
A couple of weeks later Alex surprised me by saying he wasn’t happy with his job and had applied to join another Company in the steel manufacturing complex – John Lysaght (Australia), as an Electrical Engineer.
Now at the time Lysaghts had the reputation of THE place to work in the steel industry. They were at the ‘cleaner’ finishing end of the steel making process; were reputed to pay a little more than other companies; and they had two recreation/sporting centres for their employees. But there was a catch. You had to sit an “exam” to get in. I was all over exams at this stage but the idea of the recreation facilities was alluring and I asked Alex about the application process.
He said they were recruiting for Engineers and Metallurgists. I was sure I could do whatever those guys do, so I duly applied. A week or so later Alex and I were invited to undergo “aptitude testing” on the Wednesday evening before Christmas.
I recall the day we did the test was stifling hot. And to make matters worse, we had no transport so had to walk about 5 klms after work to get there. I whinged and moaned all the way and wouldn’t have gone through with it if it wasn’t for Alex’s determination. He just kept walking at a fair clip totally oblivious to my protests.
We arrived in a lather of sweat with 3-4 minutes to spare. Found a seat among 40 to 50 other engineering hopefuls and then we where into it.
Three and half hours later the administrator said:
“That concludes our testing. If you wish to remain to get your results you are welcome but that could take another 2-3 hours”.
The process was a complete blur to me but I had never experienced anything like it before. I was running on adrenaline and said to Alex:
“I need to find out how I went”
Which I remember to this day was completely out of character for nonchalant me.
Alex had enough and said they could let him know how he went after Christmas – he as out of there.
I was the last candidate to be interviewed and I joined the affable looking man who actually administered the test.
He opened by talking about the Company’s recruitment process.
“For all our positions our aim is to recruit the best people possible….and we do this on the basis of eligibility and suitability”
Here we go more words I didn’t understand but I nodded my head as if in complete agreement.
What he then went on to say floored me:
“From your school results and other pieces of information we have about you, you probably have the raw ability make it as a metallurgist or engineer. But it is entirely likely you won’t succeed because you are totally unsuitable to both types of work”
He explained that the testing we had just undergone focused on my personal fit to a career in either engineering or metallurgy. Did I have the interests, work preferences, values, interpersonal skills, attitudes and motivations attitudes to a career in these areas.
I an attempt to salvage something out of this whole seemingly waste of time, I asked:
“Do your tests tell you what I might be suitable at”?
“Well yes they do and I would like to talk you about that if you have the time” he said.
It was 11.50pm and I would have to find a taxi to get home and the fare would be more than a week’s wages so I was in no hurry.
“The tests show you have a good profile for a Personnel Traineeship” he explained and he went on to say that they had not previously had such traineeships but were looking to grant one as a trial – was I interested. I knew as much about Personnel as I did about Metallurgy so said sure.
He then proceeded to go through the test results and related section to my relative suitability to a career in Personnel. At the time the insights into my behaviour were boggling – had they been talking to my mother?
I was offered a Personnel Traineeship on Christmas Eve and commenced the next week between Christmas and New Year. I subsequently enrolled in and completed a First Class Honours Degree in Applied Psychology and was appointed Personnel Manager of the Company’s Port Kembla plants well before I was 30. Ironically in this role I was responsible for the company’s Recruitment and Aptitude Testing Program as well as their Employee Recreation Facilities
That evening in late 69 was a game changing moment in my career. It introduced me to the use of “Suitability Testing” in recruitment – a tool I have used ever since. But more importantly it taught me the power of a truly comprehensive and though recruitment process – the effect of which didn’t dawn on me till some years later.
At Lysaghts, basically every person recruited into roles other than plant labouring positions went through the same highly rigorous selection process. There were no compromises.
The process which became deeply rooted into the organisation’s culture. As a result, all employees seemed to develop a great trust in the process and mutual respect for each other. There was a sense that any new members to a team must be good otherwise they wouldn’t have got in. Also the effect on managers was profound. I don’t ever recall a manager coming to me for advice on how to exit a non-performer. Rather the conversation was always about modifying their leadership style, changing the structure or work environment to best tap a person’s unquestioned talent.
A consistent, comprehensive and creative recruitment process can have a life changing effect on people and organisations – I have seen it.
Is your recruitment process creating a paradigm shift in your organsiation? If not, why not?
P.S. To highlight the serendipitous nature of life, I didn’t see Alex again after that night. He wasn’t offered an Engineering Traineeship and moved to Sydney to pursue his career dream. I learnt he was killed in a motorcycle accident 7 months later.
About Chris: Chris Gandy is the founder of Cause and Effective – a provider of contingent resourcing and leadership search services to cause-based organisations.
Great story from your dotage, Chris. Wish I had been there!
Probably the best approach to selection and recruitment I have come across in 40 years.