Whenever a new member of our recruitment team asks me what they should look out for in a candidate for an NCEC Emergency Responder, I always have to think long and hard before giving an answer. I have to think because I know that they have the difficult job of sifting CVs and they are looking to me for guidance on education and experience listed on there by the applicants. But that is not the whole story. We look for candidates who can think laterally to solve problems, react well under pressure, have a keenness to learn and possess a confident and engaging telephone manner. However you don’t usually see these qualities listed on a CV, or even if a candidate did state they possessed them, we need to look for evidence to back it up and that’s not easy to prove on paper!
The first hurdle is of course to be selected for interview. What we definitely do look for on a CV is an education in chemistry, a degree in chemistry helps but any science degree that includes a chemistry element is fine. Within my memory the team has included graduates in environmental science, forensic science, several in chemical engineering and other science degrees. For some of us, our chemistry education happened some time ago, so there’s always the worry that you’ve forgotten what you’ve learned. That may be the case but at my graduation ceremony many moons ago, I still recall the vice chancellor defining education as ‘what is left behind after you’ve forgotten all the facts you’ve learned’. In other words, you can research the answer to a question by knowing where to look and to recognise and understand the answer when you see it.
Given the differences between the various callers that we get, another useful (and crucial) skill is to translate that answer into terms that the person asking you for advice will understand. It is this interpretation that differentiates the useful (and valued) from the rest. To do this, you need to quickly gauge the existing level of knowledge of the caller, if you must use jargon then explain it and most importantly to understand what the caller is looking for from you and why. This understanding doesn’t come easily and it’s one reason why our training programme takes so long. I’ve yet to learn of any other organisation who takes so much trouble to invest so much in training its emergency responders.
There aren’t two NCECs, so unlike many other jobs, we can’t look for direct experience. This makes both the recruiter’s job harder and ours too! We normally schedule an initial telephone interview during which we can at least assess telephone manner, which is very important to us. If the candidate comes over well in telephone interview we invite them to a face to face interview. Part of the interview process is to role-play a call scenario to test that lateral thinking and response to pressure. Being able to write clear and accurate reports is also a crucial skill for us, so we set a short test of this. By now, we are starting to build a picture of the candidate’s abilities and we are then in a much stronger position to judge if we think they have the right skills and will fit well into the team.
Our existing team spans a range of ages and previous work and life experiences but all have proved that they can deal with the many facets of the job and are determined to do the best job that they can every time. If they make a mistake, as we all do occasionally, then to learn from it and hopefully not repeat it. For me, one of the proudest aspects of working for NCEC is knowing that whether it’s trying to select candidates or our ERs giving advice, only the best will do and to maintain that we must never be complacent or stand still.