XC Assessment Shenanigans

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185

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In most modern railway recruitment events, nowadays there comes a group section involving both problem solving and interacting with others - both key skills for customer service based assessments.

Recently, a lady I work with attended an XC assessment (for RSM/buffet) and left the event with blood boiling regarding that section, mentioning the only one who got through was an XC internal applicant, who rightly or wrongly never mentioned this fact once to other candidates.

Candidates were told -
- This is a no-right-answer question.
- You are in a six-man boat with seven in total on board.
- You only have room for six people and it's sinking.
- You need to throw several things overboard and a person.
- What item do you keep?
- You have a rope, shaving mirror, life vest, map, food, matches, water.

....for me, the obvious one would be to throw a person overboard and tow them with the rope with a life vest on.

At the end candidates were told, "There is a right answer, actually."

Apparently the 'correct' reason was throw the person overboard and only keep the shaving mirror to signal rescue aircraft. When questioned, XC's assessor stated the answer given is based on information given by the "Coastguard Association of America. Okay, now go home, sorry you didn't make it."

Later when I heard about this I tried to find the (CGA) organisation, but none exists. So I contacted the real US Coastguard via their website (USCG.mil). They replied stating the question was an certainly an interesting one but they couldn't really give a right answer, except that saving all lives is an obvious priority for the USCG - ie throwing someone overboard would be unthinkable. They suggested posting it on their social media page, which mostly resulted in the same answer, many from their own staff.

I emailed directly the XC Director of HR, a former colleague of mine when she was at another company, Maria Zywica. She stated the assessments were fully tested and compliant with all HR standards. Not once did she address the reply from the US Coastguard who stated they would never give such advice, nor explain why a no-right-answer question designed to raise discussion, suddenly gained an answer.

I'm all for excellent standards on recruitment events which keep them interesting and relevant to the the recruited role. XC's reply was somewhat embarrassing.

Recently, for the job I do, my company nicked an idea from an operator in an adjacent area - ditch the Maths, English, Grammar tests - do them online at the start, and on the actual day put candidates on an out of service train in the depot checking tickets when a lunatic nut-bucket fare evader (actor) starts screaming at them. How they handle the situation, use discretion, remain calm and professional, tone of voice, sympathy - are all qualities directly related to the job they've gone for.

No silly dinghies or life vests in sight :)
 
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Jonfun

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My favourite group assessment failure feedback (not from XC) was:

"The panel felt you had too big a personality for our brand. Have you considered applying to VTEC?"
 

Economist

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I hate group exercises, I think they are close to worthless since people won't necessarily behave in the way they would if they got the job. I'm also believe in Kelvin of Largs' assertion that knowledge which cannot be quantified is unsatisfactory in nature. A group exercise is very difficult to measure.

I was once involved in a group exercise for a trainee pilot role with an airline run by a bearded man. They were a couple of quiet folk who weren't really taking part so I asked them a couple of easy questions to get them involved. The group exercise was the only part of the overall assessment that I failed, feedback was that I "put people on the spot".

Was more of a blessing than a curse in hindsight because a £109k training loan (underwritten by the airline) followed by less than £30k per year for an A330 First Officer is a bit of a ****-take. Hence why I'm going for train driving instead, anyway I'm going off-topic...
 

Bluejuice

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Do find XC recruitment a farce. Before landing a role in the rail industry, I had 2 interviews with XC in a space of 2 months. 1 for Retail on-board, the other for a Train Manager. Had to sit a group exercise on both sessions. Feedback from first failure was that I was not involved in the discussion enough, 2nd feedback was that I was too pushy. Not surprisingly, at 2nd interview I discovered before group exercise took place that 2 people there already worked for the company.....amazingly, they were the 2 that got through. Don't get me wrong...Already in the company so know the way that they are required to work but, such a farce of a set-up in the first place. My advice to anyone aiming to get into the industry....take a knock back with a positive attitude, determination is the key:D
 

Clip

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Did it to you that the whole point of the exercise was to see how your friend interacted with total strangers and the whole question and its answer and what the person taking the test were wholly irrelevant?
 

Emmery

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The issue of the task being an accurate representation of what the U.S Coast Guard would advise is totally irrelevant. Group exercises have rarely been about the answers you give but how you behave during the task.

Group exercises clearly play a role in recruitment as they identify “problem” people who would not be suitable. A group discussion identified people who are far to shy and timid to perform a customer service role. It also identified those who possibly think to much of them selves or are overbearing.

I accept that people may behave differently in an assessment than they would in real life but all tests have limitations. There is no perfect solution.

I can’t help feel that people who fail assessments look for something to blame other than themselves. “ the assessors were bias, the test was not fair or the internal applicant was always going to get it”. I am not naive enough to think bias never happens but the fact that people off the street get jobs that are much sought after within the industry shows that the best candidate is always preferable (maybe).
 

185

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The issue of the task being an accurate representation of what the U.S Coast Guard would advise is totally irrelevant. Group exercises have rarely been about the answers you give but how you behave during the task.
Wrong. The comments from the USCG are totally relevant. The person who attended the assessment stated that the debate went on for the full twenty minutes with all candidates participating well and with relevant contributions. I shall repeat what was said above, that this (no right answer) scenario suddenly gained an answer which was used to eliminate candidates hence the scrutiny of this supposed right answer.


Group exercises clearly play a role in recruitment as they identify “problem” people who would not be suitable. A group discussion identified people who are far to shy and timid to perform a customer service role. It also identified those who possibly think to much of them selves or are overbearing.
Well, I shall change the way I assess candidates at my employer. Surely those with valuable contributions, innovative ideas, team players and good communicators will be ignored and instead I will now sit there and look for 'problem people'.

I accept that people may behave differently in an assessment than they would in real life but all tests have limitations. There is no perfect solution.
There is a better solution, which my employer copied from another one. Measure how well a candidate does the job advertised, not some hopeless psychological evaluation which delivers a mix of excellent and awful candidates for us to try train up.

I can’t help feel that people who fail assessments look for something to blame other than themselves. “ the assessors were bias, the test was not fair or the internal applicant was always going to get it”. I am not naive enough to think bias never happens but the fact that people off the street get jobs that are much sought after within the industry
Disagree with this specifically in relation to XC and VT, I have known for some time many candidates, including myself some years ago (was VXC, 2002) who went to XC assessments where similar scenarios were being used. Other businesses within the industry have moved on, and started considering candidates actual ability to do a job and their customer service skills - as opposed to (VWC Trains, Crewe, 2006) degrading candidates by making them get up and do karaoke.
 

Clip

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Whilst I do admire your stance on this I feel I must point out that how XC do thier assessments are frankly none of your business. They could state there were martians coming from space and the Intergalactic Federation had set the question as to how to deal with them and that would be fine.

Well, I shall change the way I assess candidates at my employer. Surely those with valuable contributions, innovative ideas, team players and good communicators will be ignored and instead I will now sit there and look for 'problem people'.

How you do your assessments has no bearing either on how XC assess theirs, as much as this was your colleagues assessment you were not there so you dont know the criteria they had set out for this and nor how they were actually asessing their candidates on this being 'no right answer' to there being an answer. How do you know that what was observed was that they did pick those with valuable contributions,innovative ideas and team players? You should know fine well that there are two sides to every story.

Also what on earth makes you think you have the right to email the head of another companies HR to discuss something that simply does not concern you? Rather childish wouldnt you say?
 

Emmery

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I still think your wrong about the question being relevant. It clearly wasn’t and isn’t in almost all group tasks. The sudden appearance of a right answer was most likely the assessors misguided explanation for binning those who didn’t perform as well as the others during the task. I would also be sceptical of anybody’s view of how well people performed in a group when they are in the group performing the task themselves. You almost certainly can’t have an objective opinion in these circumstances.
I though the quotation marks “problem” would have made it clear what I was trying to get across, maybe I was wrong. Clearly group tasks assess a lot of different traits in a person but they also identify people you don’t want. Your just being sarcastic for the sake of it on that point I feel.
Better or worse ways of assessing people is subjective to an extent. I would image that cost and time plays a big factor for some TOC’s when choosing methodology.
Contacting the Coast Guard? I hope you were kidding.

CLIP, a little harsh. He can e-mail whoever he likes.
 

185

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Also what on earth makes you think you have the right to email the head of another companies HR to discuss something that simply does not concern you? Rather childish wouldn't you say?

One of the best staff at my depot, I was gutted when I heard she was trying to leave - but I'd never stop anyone from trying to better themselves - I'd trust her account of the incident over anyone from XC. The sudden change in goalposts following a misleading initial statement was enough for me to make that decision to pose a question about the fairness of their test.

After six weeks, my email was sent after no (promised, twice requested) feedback was received from XC despite a second polite letter chasing a month later.

If someone feels something is fundamentally wrong, they could choose to sit there and accept a decision,or, to challenge it - the response from XC was exactly as expected.
 
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