Monday, 23 May 2011

Not about Applications (so I'm allowed to write even if it isn't the 31st yet)

It's funny. I've noticed that whenever I read old message threads on facebook (private messages mainly, sometimes wall-to-wall) I think back to myself, "wow, in its own way what a great time that was!". I don't think this about all periods - some do stick out as intensely boring, frustrating, passive or lonely. But on the whole when I look at the words I wrote I think that, whatever else was going on, they are the words of someone who was fundamentally happy and always had something to look forward to. While I am aware that nothing has ever been perfect, it is, say, the casual Spring walks to campus in third year and the vague sense of freedom that accomponied them which form the mental backdrop as I reread my words from that time, rather than any frustrations, longings, anxieties and apathies.

But the pertinent point is that I rarely think this about the present in this rose-tinted way, as the frustations, longings, anxieties and apathies are precisely the things which, by their very nature, attack one on a day-to-day basis.

Yet I know very well that in two years time, perhaps when I am a tired, lonely trainee accountant with a couple of spare hours on a Sunday reading this blogpost again, I shall once again resort to historicizing my experiences. "Ah yes, the heavy May, the golden summer! What a time of great achievement. I set myself a difficult task and I did it. I always knew I'd be succesful in the end you know... didn't I tell everyone."

Yet in a way I have started the historicizing already. I perhaps choose to charecterize this particular period of my life (i.e. applications) as say the final hurdle to becoming a full member of society and that everything hereafter will somehow fit in to a comfortable, structured, happy narrative. But I thought exactly the same at the time of my driving test, my 3rd year exams, my A-levels, and many more personal if rather subtle examples at that. Soon 'getting a job' will be just another thing on this list, and new hurdles, such as deciding where to work post-qualification, where to live, how ambitious to be, who to marry, children etc... may also produce the 'hurdles' phenomenon.

Actually I shouldn't be too linear about this. Nor should I assume all these 'stages' have equal weight. Getting my A-Levels done was probably harder than getting my 2:1 at university. Both of these had fixed dates. But my driving test, that was a whole new ball game. Technically it was more challenging, yet there was no limit to how many times I could take it.

And in truth getting a position on a graduate training scheme is amongst the most demanding things I have done, and I have treated it with due reverence. Yet I know that even if my Wednesday interview is not succesful, some other one will be at some stage. Either way, I'm sure some sort of narrative will develop around it and I'm sure I'll end up posting it here at some stage.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Oh no, I forgot to write yesterday! I could backdate this to make it appear as though it had been published yesterday, but that's a bit Stalinist.

I did postpone my tax exam in pretty much the day after my last post and I think my decision will be vindicated. I have freed my time up to focus solely on applications.

Had a Big Four middle-stage interview up in Crawley on Tuesday, which I feel went fairly well, but I won't guess the outcome. It's the sort of performance I might have been very proud of two months ago. But I have since learnt that 'how you felt about it' and 'whether you enjoyed it or not' sometimes bear little relation to how well you actually did - for they can only judge you by the competencies they are looking for. Naturally I hope I do get invited to the final round - any reservations I had about that firm or that office were dispelled on visit. They haven't got back to me yet but I shall pester them if I don't have a result by end Monday.

However, still more important is the final round Big Four interview at St Albans this coming Wednesday. I shall be my usual calm self I'm sure, but this is the first final round interview I've ever had and my life will be completely transformed if I get into this firm.

I also have a first-stage telephone interview with another firm - the date for that needs to be booked. Currently the only date available would clash with my St Albans interview.

(Also there's the group interview on 13 June for yet another firm, althoguh that feels too distant to be real yet.)

I have a nasty habit of fitting my life activities around familiar historical narratives. For instance, take my driving tests. Attempt 1 was akin to Labour in 1987 - never really had a realistic chance. Attempt 2 was akin to Labour in 1992 - better performance but undermined by its own triumphalisn. Attempt 3 was akin to 1997 - very cautious, but a caution fuelled by confidence; the fact that this time it might just actually happen, if only because the memory of Attempt 2 still haunted me, and that the prospect of an Attempt 4 haunts me all the more.

To some extent I have been doing this during my applications as well, although I've been interpreting it as more of a trench war than an election, because the fighting is so continous and grinding. Yet even when victory seems so close at hand I can't lay down my arms till the enemy surrenders. One might call my final interview invitation (and my qualificaiton for the Recruitment Register) akin to the Americans stepping out of neutrality, or my decision to study for the CFAB akin to introducing the tank into the battelfield.

Obviously all this is just a sort of Barnum Effect

However, I certainly have a good chance of getting this offer. If I don't, I'll keep fighting through 1919, 1920... but I feel the end is in sight. If it isn't I'll have to disappoint a lot of people (not least myself), as from the very beginning I anticipated that June/July/August would be three months of bliss, the last days of an earned freedom. And if this Wednesday interview is unsuccesful I think there's still a good chance of getting an offer in June (the three other applications I have in progress are unlikely to take more than the month to resolve).

However I am comforted as always by the fact that whenever I have worked hard for soemthing in the past I have achieved it. Moreover, 'fate' does not care that it is me who is taking the interview. In a sense, nor does my prospective employer. What might seem like a momentous occasion for me is for them just another recruitment decision and none of the subtle 'destinies' I have imagined for myself, positive or negative, come into play at all. If I meet their relevant competencies and the interviewer thinks I'm the sort of person he/they could work with, I get the job. If not, I don't. Fundamentally it's little more than that, and overcomplicating the situation with fretting, analysis, last-minute worrying etc is the surefire way to fail as one loses sight of the bigger picture

In other news, finished American Notes. I've read three Dickens books now (Christmas Carol, Great Expecatations being the other two) and I must say I haven't been able to enjoy his style. I shall remain open-minded though and read another at some point

Also last night I watched The Wave, a 2008 German film about a school social experiment with 'autocracy' that goes horribly wrong. I enjoyed the film but it was pretty unconvincing. The main thrust of the film was that even if a society believes it has gone beyond the 'stage' in which people are susceptible to totalitarianism, the whole thing is packed into one week at a school. One week! And the ending? I won't go into any more detail in case you want to watch it, but I must say I am not able to enjoy unconvincing plots, which on the one hand claim to be examining something critical to human nature but on the other hand use decidedly unnatural and exaggerated interpretations of human nature in order to do it.

It was my birthday on Friday. 22 has been a great year - I finally feel that I'm taking my life seriously and actively getting the things I want to do done rather than just sitting back and waiting. However 23 passed with no major celebration. I met my friends on the Thursday and was going to have a family celebration on Saturday, but given my upcoming interview I thought it best to postpone any celebration to a date when I have something worth celebrating.

And you shall know on the 31st whether I have.

Or the 1st, if I post a day late again

Or before the 31st, if I am in regular correspondence with you. In that case I shall rpobably let you know immediately. Save twenty minutes or so in which I vow not to tell a single soul the result. I shall enjoy or commiserate by myself for those minutes.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Rather arbitrarily I've decided to post this month only on the 1st, 11th, 21st and 31rd.

Although it's guaranteed that these three posts will be quite different.

I had an assessment centre on the 4th at a medium-sized London-based firm. My 3-minute presentaiton was considered 'too essaylike'. Which it was, but it was never clear what they wanted. Can't complain about the result though - complaining never gets anywhere. It just emphasises the fact that a lot of firms are looking for something quite specific in their future employees and that, given how many applications there are for each place, they can often afford to eliminate candidates at a fast pace and for reasons which, in any other sphere, might seem minor.

However, I now have four important events coming up.

On the 17th I have a Big Four first-stage interview (at Crawley)
On the 20th I have my Principles of Taxation Module
On the 25th I have my Final Interview (at another Big Four firm)
On the 13th June I have an assessment centre for another mid-tier London firm

The only date which is flexible is the 20th. I have to consider this very carefully. It's one of those exams where a fail actually counts against you in the long run as there are limited retake opportunities and failures have to be declared, so I'd have to be pretty certain of passing to make it worth taking. I did some self-testing today on one of the early chapters and while my 14/22 is in pass territory (55% is the pass mark), it's a little close for my liking. Time hasn't been an issue, but accuracy has. From this I can infer that I can afford to (and indeed need to) spend more time on my workings. The trouble with Tax is that there are lots of different rules and structures, and while many of these may only change the answer by 1% either way, the answer demands 0% either way.

I'll make my decision on this over the next few days. I don't doubt that it's possible to pass this exam on the 20th. But getting to 'test standard' may take extra, previously underestimated numbers of hours, and the interview preperation is more important. Indeed the main motivation behind sitting this exam on this date was so that I could 'boast a pass' come by big interview on the 25th. But if this comes at the cost of other elements of preperation then I may as well not have taken the paper at all.

I'm still frightfully optimistic about my eventual chances of getting a training contract though. Indeed my focus has long since gone from 'whether' to 'when'. Ideally I pass the 25th May interview, get an offer and fierecely enjoy the summer. This would be the dream situation but I have to keep planing as if I don't get to dream... I have to stay awake... for a month longer... maybe two. Note, though I am speaking in these analogies I have not used the term 'nightmare'. The only conceivable nightmare applicationswise is that I essentially voluntarily fail the 20th May exam!

Did feel rather tired today though and didn't manage to start working till 9. Early starts definitely favour me - yesterday I was at the books at 6.30am.

I have been at other books though. I strarted reading Charles DIckens' American Notes. On the one hand I fear it might be a little like Alistair Cooke's American Journey one century later i.e. lots of descriptions of things and institutions but not a lot about charecters and mentalities.

However I did come across one of the most interesting passages I think I have ever read:

[The context is this - Dickens is recalling a report published by Dr Howe regarding the mental development of Laura Bridgman, a blind deaf-mute child who had recently been taught to communicate using a finger language.]

"It is very remarkable, that as we dream in words, and carry on imaginary conversations, in which we speak both for ourselves and for the shadows who appear to us in those visions of the night, so she, having no words, uses her finger alphabet in her sleep. And it has been ascertained that when her slumber is broken, and is much disturbed by dreams, she expresses her thoughts in an irregular and confused manner on her fingers: just as we should murmur and mutter them indistinctly, in the like circumstances."

I've just realised that if I am to reschedule this exam I should probably still take it in May, as I believe on my Recruitment Register application I have said 'taking first exam in May'. Well, there's a big gap between the 20th and 31st.

And there's almost as big a gap between the 11th and the 21st, but that's how long you shall have to wait for my next post.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


It's May!

May has been consistently the most interesting month for me as far back as I remember.

Let it be so again!

(Let us see if I am so excited in thirty days time when I emerge, tattered and wartorn as if I had just fell out of a maze of turning cogs)