Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Psycho metrics

You may think that this blog is about the differences in measuring systems between the UK and the US. And in fact, I plan to include that later in the blog. But the title comes from something else entirely...

I had a job interview a couple of weeks ago. Well, sort of. As it turned out, there was no job (the recruiter didn't mention this, but I wasn't surprised.) That in and of itself is not remarkable. But before the actual interview started, I had to fill out a computerized form. It was a psychometric test, and is rather popular in England. Some psychometric testing can last the better part of a day, but this was a self-professed 8-minute form. To get an idea of what the form is like, have a look at this Web site. Take the test and find out the results if you'd like. The test I took was a bit different, in that instead of phrases, it had single words (adjectives) and I was instructed to choose the words based on my work personality. I found the words very interesting, and even though I hadn't taken one before, I could see the English cultural influence coming through. The funny thing is that they gave me the results to read through (what wasn't so funny is that they gave them to my first interviewer at the same time). The results are written as though they are a job performance review, so in reading them it's as though the writer has observed you in action.

So what about my report? Well, imagine the report produced via a computer program from a word choice form that you filled out in 8 minutes while waiting for a job interview in a very hot and humid conference room. Now, add to that the fact that your work specialty is one that the company needs but doesn't understand nor does it support, so you're constantly trying to bring attention to it and educate people as to how to implement it. Plus, um, I am American, and this is an English perspective. I hadn't had the chance to look at the report when my first interviewer looked up from the report and said "It says here you're difficult to manage." I laughed. And then naturally followed up with the usual "I can provide references from my most recent managers and I'm sure they would not agree with that statement." That there was my first exposure to the wonders of psychometric evaluation. My second exposure (because clearly I couldn't sit there and read the evaluation while the interviewer was sitting there) was when he said "And you like to be the center of attention." I nearly choked, "No, not really, but I try to bring internationalization to the center of people's attention". Sheesh. Did I mention this guy didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor?

There are lots of details I could mention (like the recurring them of words such as "conciliatory", "obliging", "easygoing"), but it would likely bore you. What I would like to say is I've never been very keen on such pat evaluations. I remember in my first job, my team leader decided I was a "driver driver" under some evaluation system, at which point I think I lost my momentum. Work for me is not really a place to exert my personality. The way I figure it, someone is paying me. Now, they're only gonna pay me as long as I'm worth it. And I'm only worth it if I make the company more than I cost them (pay + benefits + office space + etc.). So my motivation is always what I perceive to be what's best for the company. In other words, the "ego" is the company. And so, even though internationalization (abbreviated i18n) is not a popular topic with many folks in the company, I insist on bringing it up, because that's what I'm paid to do. I'm not in it to be the most popular worker, or i18n would never happen. However I recognize that people need to get along in order for i18n to happen. And so, what it boils down to is that my demeanor changes with the situation. Sometimes I'm conciliatory, sometimes I'm forceful, sometimes I'm outgoing, sometimes I'm quiet. And it may all happen in the same meeting. Personally I would expect any professional to be the same way. That's the advantage of being a human being, you're not stuck with some pre-programmed behavior(behaviour). And so my dislike of these canned analyses. As a human, if you try to peg me, I will change. But the companies around here seem really keen on this sort of thing...

Anyway, back to metrics, and things that really can be measured. Like paper, for example. Having worked in international for as long as I have, I'm well aware of the differences in paper sizes between the US and, well, most of the rest of the business world. That is, letter vs. A4. But there are things you don't really think too much about in terms of the ramifications of that size change. For us, it was the realization that our filing cabinet, schlepped all the way from the New World, doesn't really quite fit A4 papers. We can just squeeze the paper in, but not the envelopes or folders or anything much bigger. Woops.

The UK in particular is one messed up set of metrics. They are stuck somewhere between Imperial and Metric systems, trying to convert but apparently unable. Now, folks in the US about my age may remember attempts to convert to the metric system, with lessons in school and even ads on television. Yup. We know how effective that's been. But the general public in the US is not hovering between the two. Let me give you some example of the mishmash of systems here. Distance is in miles, speed limits are in miles per hour (thankfully an English mile is the same as a US mile). But gas(petrol) is sold in liters. Some folks still talk in miles per gallon (unfortunately an English gallon is not the same size as a US gallon), some talk in miles per liter (and that's a shocker - "Oh, my car gets about 9 ...") Beer is served (and milk is delivered) in pints, but the cans you buy are half-liters. A pint here is 20 ounces, as many folks know, but did you know that an English ounce is smaller than a US ounce? I only learned this a couple of years ago myself, despite my profession. (A UK ounce is 28.4 ml, a US ounce is 29.57 ml.) Here there are no quarts, rather a gallon is 8 pints. I don't know what a "cup" means in recipes here, though most quantities of dry goods in recipes are by weight, in grams. However if you're talking about your own weight, you're talking in stones (a stone is 14 lbs.). Lengths are in centimeters, mostly, though occasionally you hear about feet and inches. I never hear yards used - I guess it's just as easy to use meters. People still talk about gills (1/4 pint) for measuring liquor (UK gill = 142 ml, US gill = 118.3 ml), interestingly the measure in England was 1/6 of a gill (almost 24 ml) whereas in Scotland it was 1/5 of a gill (over 28 ml). The usual bar measure now is 25 ml, so it's a boost for England but a letdown for Scotland, and a mondo letdown for Americans considering the way I've seen bartenders pour shots (29.6 ml).

Back to recipes - you see, silverware isn't the same size as in the US. Teaspoons here are really tiny, almost a demitasse size, whereas tablespoons are enormous, closer to a soup spoon size. I had to dig out my US measuring spoons for US recipes (those who know me are laughing - I'm not one to measure too closely nor follow recipes all that well, but still). And there is the weighing of things. My mum-in-law has a scale that I can use, though I'm still unaccustomed to having to use yet another measuring implement.

Add to all these things the currency difference - things are in pounds, although you do see a lot of prices in euros - and I'm constantly converting things in my head to something that I can understand. I can't deal in large numbers of centimeters; I convert them to meters or divide by 10 then multiply by 4 to get inches (though I still have trouble with someone's height in meters). Liters are easy, as that's the one Metric item we in the US get exposed to on a regular basis. Grams are fairly easy too, as it's pretty much 400 grams to the pound. But the price per gallon thing is painful (in more ways than 1, considering it's now, uh, 92p/liter, 3.785 liters/US gallon, that's 92 x 3.785 = GBP 3.57/US gallon, USD 1.80/GBP, so 1.8 x 3.57 = USD 6.43/US gallon - gulp!)


At 2:31 PM, Blogger mt said...

Good grief, are blog comments the new spam?! I actually went to the comments section to find out what people were saying, and 3/3 of the responses were canned spam! (Even the third guy is a spammer. He sounds like he is writing a personal note, but he doesn't say one thing about the blog itself. He is just a talented spammer.)

Okay, I actually READ the blog, and I really DO think right on the money (spot on). You really probe the ramifications of life with competing measurement systems. I knew some of the things you mentioned, but not nearly all of them. Good article.


At 2:25 PM, Blogger mtpostediting said...

I can totally identify with your comments about that psychometrics test. I took the same test in Holland about a month ago. 8-10 minutes to fill it out. Each line 4 words which in some cases I found I could be all 4 in a work environment. And those 10-15 lines of 4 words to create a 5 page resulting report in textual prose and a graph.


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