Saturday, 28 March 2015

Interview Season - If You Are the One

“You’re maths just wasn’t fast enough,”

“You came across as a bit too casual,”

“Next time try and relax a bit more,”

“You’re good with numbers, but you need to work on your storytelling,”

“We thought you were very, very, very good, but we just don’t have a spot for you right now,”

“This is an automated rejection.  Do not respond to this message.”

The Spear is no stranger to failure when it comes to job interviews.  At last count, he has done 20 in the past year alone, the vast majority of which ended in some form of “thanks, but no thanks.”  And that number of rejections is set to swell as we once again enter Interview Season; that brief period from late March to early May when aspiring graduates affix their armour and fight each other to the death in an eruption of no-holds-barred orgiastic violence, the lucky few emerging from the melee with a contract in hand.

Or so he’s told.

Yes, there will be many an interview to be had in the next few weeks.  So now would be a good time for The Spear to recap some of his previous learnings, and perhaps an opportunity for the reader to garner a little knowledge from his many tales of woe - for there are many.

Now the first thing to understand is that not all interviews are created equal.  What type of interview you have managed to wrangle will play a big role in your chances of eventual success, and some are uniquely suited to certain types of individual.  The Spear categorises the four main types of interview as Video, Phone, Face to Face and Assessment Centre.

The Video Interview is a fairly recent addition to the toolkit of your standard HR department that many applicants find rather awkward, like meeting a colleague on the bus, or that first RSVP date.  Used as a screening device early-on in the recruitment process, candidates must answer a series of automated, timed questions to show how well they can present and cope under pressure. 

The Spear has undertaken three or four Video Interviews and found them to be quite manageable, given the questions are usually quite standard.  So long as you do your prep, dress right, can handle talking to a small image of yourself and can manage your time well, you’ll do fine.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for The Spear’s favourite type of interview; The Phone interview.  While much more natural, and able to be done while in your underwear, the phone interviewee has to deal with those pesky squishy things called actual people.  What’s that, The Spear hears you say?  You’re a Millennial who has never had to use a phone to talk to a squishy person before?  Well you better get some practise in son, because this type of interview requires the ability to interpret and imbue verbal nuance. 

You can also expect the overall experience to be much more of a grilling as the interviewer hones in on any perceived weaknesses in your responses.  Unlike a video interview where you may be able to generalise your way through, dropping in such terms as ‘innovation’, ‘digital’ or ‘thought-leadership’ for good measure, expect to be asked to apply or explain those buzzwords.  On the plus side, you can have all your materials laid out in front of you, and you don’t have to look good (a talent of The Spear).

Face-to-Face interviews are on the other hand uniquely suited for the better-looking among us, but are by no means an insurmountable obstacle for the beauty-challenged.  That said, you will have to prepare for them as you would have for the aforementioned RSVP dates.  For The Spear, this usually involves bathing sometime in the preceding three days and applying a piquant dash from that little bottle he picked up on special from Priceline, but to each his own.

No matter what your fragrance, the real challenge of face-to-face interviews is that all of your vulnerabilities are on immediate display.  No second-try videos, no phone ‘interference’, no written questions.  Everything - from your inability to think quickly to that nervous twitch that you just can’t control - is being assessed by the interviewer the moment you walk through the door, consciously or not.  So if you’re the jumpy type, you might want to practise reverting to your ‘happy place’ in a bid to present a cool, calm and collected self.

And it is exactly these kinds of self-control techniques which the final gate of hell, the Assessment Centre, is designed to break down.  If you’ve been successful throughout the process thus-far by erecting defences to your true self, be prepared to have them put under sustained attack for a prolonged period in an attempt to flush out your true colours.

Like The Spear’s favourite Chinese dating show, If You Are the One - where male a suitor tries to woo 24 single ladies for the chance of a date - the hiring organisation to an extent relies on the passage of time for you to reveal your own weaknesses.  On the brutal dating show it is a given that the longer a contestant is on stage, the more girls will reject him by switching off their light.  

Similarly, in the Assessment Centre - a potentially multi-day event where you will be interviewed, tested, given group tasks and asked to present to, wine and dine senior employees – there is little hope of ultimately hiding the underlying you.  So it’s best to make sure that whatever lies beneath that interview-veneer of yours is squeaky clean. 

That’s not to say that there isn’t a certain amount of fake-it-till-you-make-it involved.  Employers like confident applicants, however confidence may be exactly what a new, inexperienced graduate is most lacking.  

The Spear’s advice is to remember that the interviewers know this too.  They know you’re not a seasoned professional.  They know your knowledge is limited.  They know you probably can’t remember everything you’ve ever been taught.  They’ll understand if you’re not perfect.  So take confidence in the fact that you don’t have to be.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Choose Your Recession

Carrying on from his last post, The Spear has gotten to wondering how he would create the next recession if he were given control of the levers to the economy.  Muahahahaahaahaa.  Yes, The Spear can see it now, stroking his white cat while looking out from his ivory tower at the ants people below.  Well, if you were hoodwinked by The Spear into voting for The Recession Party, then this is what you wanted, right?

To paraphrase Tolstoy, “All periods of economic prosperity are the same; each recession is calamitous in its own way”.  Well, at least they are if The Spear is involved.  And boy, The Spear has to be careful not to accidently knock the wrong lever, as it’s not going to take much to trigger a recession in the current climate.

To begin with the obvious, The Spear could simply jack up interest rates by a few hundred basis points; crude, yet effective, like swatting a fly with a newspaper.  The hordes of ultra-leveraged landlords, flipping their third or fourth property in a bid to better Steve McKnight’s 150 in 3.5 years, would be insolvent overnight.  As for those already under mortgage-stress, well, they may be taking a more literal interpretation of their ‘mortgage’ as the ‘death pledge’ annihilates their finances.  Non-performing loans and the number of properties on the market would jump, prices would fall and negative equity would look like a real prospect for some.  Oh, and the banks would get smashed.

A more creative, yet less-guaranteed way to get the rate rise could be to dramatically increase the money supply to massively depreciate the Australian Dollar in the hope that inflationary forces would take hold.  Unable to buy all the goodies that we want from offshore for less than a fortune, businesses would be forced to pass the cost onto consumers, who would in turn demand higher wages from their employers due to the increased cost of living.  Employers would then need to raise prices further in order to keep up with wage inflation; and thus an inflationary cycle is born.  And in would come the nasty RBA to jack up rates to keep it in check, unless they have forgotten their primary function. 

Potential pitfalls to a recession in the above case include increased exports due to the lower dollar and the potential for inflation to eat away at debt before higher rates get to make it inflict pain.

An alternative approach to recession using a minimalist approach may be to simply stop immigration and the population ponzi, Japan-style.  If all you need is two quarters of negative GDP growth to technically have a recession, and if the GDP is within the ball park of the immigration rate (GDP growth ~2.5%, immigration ~1.5%), then you may just get lucky and hit two quarters in a row if things got a bit worse (and there’s a good chance we would have already done so since the GFC).

Then again, why is The Spear worrying about this at all?  Another federal budget is around the corner, and given the effect the last one had on consumer confidence, perhaps the politicians will do his job for him.  But, oh, that’s right, this is going to be a dull budget, so perhaps The Spear and his white cat will be needed after all.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Recession Party

It has been a long time - almost 25 years - since former Treasurer Paul Keating was at the helm of the Australian economy, overseeing the ‘recession we had to have’: our most recent recession.  His choice of words is interesting, as they imply that a recession may not necessarily be the bogey man it is cracked up to be.  As a believer in some degree of Creative Destruction, and given there have been calls recently for another recession (which is looking more likely anyway), The Spear posits the question: could a political party justify a mandate for a recession?

The Spear can think of several planks that The Recession Party could use to help build their political platform:

1.       Housing Affordability: Sure, you may be unemployed, subject to a margin call and paying sky-high interest rates on your crushing debt burden, but on the upside, all of these factors will make housing mighty cheap, and perchance even affordable.  Add in likely reductions to immigration and birth rates, and any first home buyers left standing will find themselves in a buyers’ market.

2.       Less Congestion:  More people at home whiling their days away rummaging through bogus adds on equals less congestion.  Less commercial traffic, less building work and fewer people able to afford vehicular transport means anyone left on the road will be making record time.

3.       Lower Dollar (& fewer iPhones): By throwing a spanner in the economic works, The Recession Party would surely be more successful at instigating what the RBA has found tough-going: sharp depreciation in the Aussie Dollar.  What better way to encourage spending onshore than to undermine our international purchasing power?  Ok, so the cost of our capital-intensive goods like heavy machinery that we currently import would skyrocket, but then again, so would the cost of an iPhone.  And by the Law of Demand, that means less of them sold in Australia. You see, it’s not all bad…

4.       Less Industrial Action / Increased Productivity: What need for a Productivity or Construction Commission when the biggest driver of workplace improvement, the palpable fear of enduring unemployment, is lingering in the air?  When times get tough, organisations will seek to become leaner, and they will look for cost savings where they never thought possible, like oh hell, maybe one of those 26 rostered days off a year, or maybe even one less taxpayer funded ‘study tour’ or two?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

'Fever for the Flava' added to UNESCO Heritage List

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has today announced that ‘Fever for the Flava’, the 2003 song by the band Hot Action Cop, has been added to the organisation’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

“The addition of this song to the Intangible Cultural Heritage List marks another great milestone in the cultural legacy of humankind,” the director of the organisation, Mr Donald Black, said at a specially held press conference today.  “Through its nuanced portrayal of true and undying love of man for woman, it has captured part of the essence of what it truly means to be human.”

Among the many admirable attributes listed by UNESCO in its lengthy press release accompanying the song’s listing, what was said to set this song apart from so many other candidates was the depth and subtly of the lyrics, which were considered by the judging panel almost poetic in nature.  An extract from the release is given below:

“The lyrics, which comprise such Shakespearian couplets as ‘I got the green glow under my car / I got the boom boom system you can hear real far’ and ‘She got the power of the hootchie / I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie’ are almost ballad-like in their timeless veracity.”

When asked about what he personally thought of the song, Mr Black responded, “Ultimately, I think it’s one of the defining love songs of our time.  By adding it to this list, we will ensure the young men of the world are able to heed its valuable lessons in romance for generations to come.”

At press time, it is reported that UNESCO is considering the game of ‘strip poker’ as the next addition to the list.

Do you think that I could get some (jiggy jiggy)
Maybe gets a little finga (sticky sticky)
You my electrical lip balm flava
I gotta do ya til the next song saves ya
And can I get a little zip zip (lookie lookie)
Maybe just a little uh uh (nookie nookie)
Hey whatcha say, it doesn't matter anyway
You won't do another 'cause you're getting with me

She got the power of the hootchie
I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
And did I mention, hey pay attention
Gonna take that booty to the nudie dimension
I got the green glow under my car
I got the boom boom system you can hear real far

Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty shy, whoop whoop
Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty fly, whoop whoop
What do I have to say to get inside girl, what do I have to say?

Whoop whoop whoop mmmmmmmmmm

Can I get a little yum yum (kitty kitty)
Just a little sumthin sumthin (itty bitty)
Do you wanna get triple X groovy
Gimme gimme some of that kinda movie
And let me spin ya like a record (wicky wicky)
Let me get ya butt naked (licky licky)
Here we go, yo here's the scenario
Gonna strip you down like a car in the barrio

Ya got the power of the hootchie
I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
I'm your lovey dovey bedtime playa
Call me your super sexy boogie man slayer
I got the green glow under my car
I got the boom boom system you can hear real far

Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty shy, whoop whoop
Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty fly, whoop whoop
What do I have to say to get inside girl, what do I have to say?

I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
Yo hey ma yo hey ma yo hey ma mama hootchie
I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
Yo hey ma you hey may yo hey ma mama hootchie

Whoop 14x Go!

Do you think that I could get some (chickie chickie)
Maybe gets a little finga (sticky sticky)
You wanna suck it like a bong hit, wack it
You gotta be my first lady, jack it

She got the power of the hootchie
I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
Let's party hardy and rock and roll
We drink Bacardi and smoke a bowl
I got the green glow under my car
I got the boom boom system you can hear real far

Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty shy, whoop whoop
Oh hey hey hey hey hey hey hey oh pretty pretty fly, whoop whoop
What do I have to say to get inside girl, what do I have to say?

I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
Yo hey ma yo hey ma yo hey ma mama hootchie
I got the fever for the flava of the cootchie
Yo hey ma yo hey ma yo hey ma mama hootchie

Whoop 14x Go!


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Twit Without a Teat

The Spear is surely not unique in his belief that he is a member of one of the most screwed categories of the system (aren't we all?).  In his case, it is the category of the Non-Unionised-Low-Level-Employee (NULLE).

Unable to take advantage of the tax and legal perks available to a business owner or the already wealthy, not senior enough to set his own remuneration as a member of a board of a public entity, and not unionised/gang-affiliated enough to pressure his employer into meeting his demands, he prostrates his unshielded financial affairs before the taxman in a desperate plea for mercy.

NULLE's however, are the ATO's stomping ground: not big or wealthy enough to be able to fight back, and not tough enough to kick up much of a stink.  The rules are thus applied with maximum disdain.

The loopholes and concessions available to the wealthy and large businesses are many.  The Spear has previously mentioned the Superannuation system as an example, and it is currently in the spotlight nationwide.  Other examples include Family Trusts, Negative Gearing, CGT discounting and international tax arbitrage.

At the other end of the spectrum, things get a bet less sophisticated, but the overall intention remains the same: give me more, and give it to me now.

The Spear noted last week that Bill Shorten's assumption that pay rises are granted seems to be spot on in the construction sector, with the CFMEU winning 5% pay rises each year for the next 3 years for its members (no doubt the associated 15% rise in productivity COULD be achievable by limiting RDOs, but he sincerely doubts that will happen).  That, and, oh, guaranteeing permanent employment for casuals after 6 weeks on the job.

In The Spear's industry, pay rises have been absent for many for the last two years (with take home pay actually decreasing as the compulsory superannuation rate increased, not to mention inflation).  Oh, and a new-starter in his industry can expect to be put on probation with a one-week dismissal-without-cause notice period for 6 MONTHS.

Yes, The Spear definitely get's the impression that he and the other NULLE's are one teat shy of a suckle.  The question is, why should the non-NULLE's, at both ends of the spectrum, be allowed to milk the cow dry at the expense of everyone else?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ducks and Metaphysucks

There has been a pattern of bright yellow rubber ducks on The Spear’s shower curtain for about a year.  He had been certain it was composed of three sizes of duck, all identical in manner.  The Spear's knowledge of their two-dimensional duck world was however proven woeful yesterday, when he suddenly realised that there were in fact five sizes of duck, and that the smallest, unlike their larger brethren, never appeared to be quacking.

The most obvious explanation for the duckalicious dichotomy is that The Spear was simply mistaken, and had never paid close attention to the ducks before yesterday.  In his pig-headedness, however, he proposes an alternative explanation: that it is not his memory that is at fault, but rather the ducks.  The Spear proposes that the ducks have gone and changed on him.

Clearly this is a fanciful proposition, but really, is there any way The Spear could know for sure?  Yes, you could show him the curtain in detail, yes you could show him a similar curtain or take him to the curtain factory, or monitor the curtain for its entire future to see if it changes over time.  But none of that would change the fact that The Spear perceived the curtain to change over time, if only the once.  Perhaps, says The Spear, the curtain only changes when it is unobserved, or only when The Spear observes it, or only as The Spear’s eye sees it.

If we can’t even agree whether a dress is White and Gold or Black and Blue, can you really tell The Spear that he is 100% unable to say these things? NB: The Spear sees white and gold usually, but black and blue if he tilts his head to the side.

The Spear regularly asks himself whether he has actually existed previously, i.e, does he have an objective, continuous existence, or is he merely a product of the moment, with all of his memories of previous existence falsified.  They are two valid models consistent with The Spear’s world.  However, The Spear’s experiences thus far, real or not (and possibly tainted by Randian Objectivism – damn you Atlas Shrugged), would tend to have him agree with David Hume, who argued that although we have no rational grounds for believing in an objective reality, we also have no choice but to act as if it is true.

Hawking and Mlodinow state in their 2010 book, The Grand Design, that a model is a good model if it:

1.       Is elegant
2.       Contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements
3.       Agrees with and explains all existing observations
4.       Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.

     So while a model of the universe identical to ours but with the exception that a single duck shower curtain changes but once for one individual is as valid a model as any, it is probably not the best model of the universe, and The Spear advises explicit and self-indemnifying caution if one intends to use it.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Limits of Material Welfare

The Spear remembers that in his final year of primary school a group of three bullies implied that he came from a rich family.  The taunts went something along the lines of “Yeah he probably gets his butler to …,” and impersonating his father who they assumed had a posh British accent.  He is not entirely sure why the assumption of riches was made, but he can only guess it was because The Spear performed well academically, and generally followed the rules (neither of which they could or would choose to claim).

The reality was that The Spear came from a middle (possibly lower-middle) socio-economic household.  He remembers more than one fellow student who once visited his family’s house (a semi-derelict structure located on a flood plain, hard-up against a railway line and within the ‘smell-zone’ of an abattoir in a ‘lower class’ neighbourhood) remarking on how small it was, and the peculiar odour of dog it harboured.  The Spear didn’t really mind any of these things however, and didn’t even think of their possible implications as to his family’s perceived ‘status’ until he was a teenager.

While it is likely that the bullies came from poorer households, their comparative material poverty couldn’t have been too far removed from The Spear’s own, given their attendance at the same lower-tier private school.  What is far more likely is that they came from households impoverished in the arena of education – with neither of their parents likely to have attended university (whereas in the case of The Spear he was 1 from 2).  And dare he say it; there may have also been some significant differentiating genetic predispositions between households of bully and bullee.

Two out of three of those bullies died in their early twenties in deathly drug spirals, and The Spear doesn’t know what happened to the third.  The question on The Spear’s mind currently, is: would equalisation of the material wealth of the bullies’ households to that of The Spear (or better yet, any amount of material welfare) have made any difference at all regarding the life choices of the bullies and their eventual destination?
Of course it is impossible to know for sure, but The Spear, looking to his own empirical evidence, thinks that material welfare can only go so far to delivering outcomes - and at a certain point may even do more damage than good.

Case 1 – The Neighbours from Hell

The Spear’s parents still inhabit the same house described earlier.  The house next door is owned by what they call the ‘Housing Commission’.  If you’ve never heard of that term before, consider yourself very lucky indeed.

The house itself is solid, double-storey brick construction, and is regularly maintained by the Council.  It has a decent backyard, a brand new fence, is not hard-up to the railway track and has freshly clipped lawn.  Throughout The Spear’s childhood years the tenants came and went – single mothers with a handful of kids from a handful of fathers and a pot-smoking boyfriend being the typical family unit. 

For the last few years, however, the tenants have been particularly troublesome; a couple of unemployed, raving ice-addicts with a son in tow.  With their basic needs taken care of by the state, they have ample time on their hands to get up to no good, and regularly fight in the streets, light fires, drive dangerously, graffiti public property and intimidate their neighbours.  They appear stuck in a cycle of self-destruction that no amount of material possessions seems likely to conquer.  

Case 2 – Celebrity Self-Destruction

From lotto winners who have blown it all, to actors who hit the big time and end up as drug addicts (here's a list of celebrity drug overdoses if you really want), it seems that an abundance of material wealth may do nothing to inhibit an addictive personality, and may instead finance an unhealthy lifestyle.

Case 3 – Chekhov, The Three Sisters / The Cherry Orchard

Ok – so maybe not exactly a real example, but nevertheless timeless classics of the stage. 

I these plays set in early 20th century Russia, Chekhov has a way of highlighting the peculiar suffering that ennui can inflict upon individuals. Indeed, you get the sense that many of his melancholic characters are mere steps away from drug abuse or worse.  The plays suggest that man must live a productive life if he is to attribute meaning to his existence, even if it is only in the most general sense of creating an indistinct ‘better’ future [this was in the lead up to the Russian Revolution, so perhaps there is some communist theology buried within it all].


While some level of welfare is obviously a good thing if we are to maintain a base standard of living, it is clear that material welfare alone has its limits, and may even be harmful to some. 

If the incentive to work and improve one’s lot is reduced to the point where receiving material welfare becomes preferable - or even comparable - it is debatable that more harm may be being done than good.  It encourages the development of a class, not too dissimilar in terms of material wealth from the working poor, but one that is disengaged from society and without a sense of meaning or purpose.  And idle hands are wont to do the devil’s work.

Non-devil work, rather than welfare, seems preferable if at all possible.  In order to re-establish the incentive to work, there are only two real options: decrease benefits for those relying on welfare or lift the burden on the working poor in some way (for instance most taxi-drivers are working for about $5-10/hr once welfare deductions and tax are accounted for).
As the last budget disaster has clearly shown, the latter of these two options is more politically palatable.  One hopes that ‘the powers that be’ can find the courage to propose some genuine reforms aimed at reducing tax breaks (superannuation salary sacrificing, family trusts for example) and other concessions that only the truly wealthy are in a position to take advantage of, in order to lift that burden in some way.