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What's it(s) mean? - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
What's it(s) mean?
I asked AQA: "What's the average length of time for which UK jobs at AQA are advertised on the website? i.e. How long does it take for all/any positions to be filled? Thanks!"

AQA replied: "There's no average length of time, it just depends on the number of vacancies and the response. AQA advises applying immediately when they're advertised."

Now, call me a pedant, but I don't believe it's technically true that there's "no average length of time". I can entirely believe that they don't set a maximum or minimum length of time, and/or that they just don't want to tell me, but that's an entirely different kettle of question marks.

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aardvark179 From: aardvark179 Date: February 21st, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Could you rephrase the last paragraph as a question, so I can make an assumption about the question you really wanted to ask and answer that instead?
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Are you paying for that question?
aardvark179 From: aardvark179 Date: February 21st, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I imagine I'll pay dearly for it, yes.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Statement! 15-love.
aardvark179 From: aardvark179 Date: February 21st, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
What makes you think we are playing question tennis?
gerald_duck From: gerald_duck Date: February 21st, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was going to suggest filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, because an ignorance of elementary statistics is unlikely to be any defence against a failure to supply information in response to a request under that act.

Then I realised you weren't talking about the AQA that's a public body. I doubt Stephen Fry is covered by the Act.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're thinking of QI.
gerald_duck From: gerald_duck Date: February 21st, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was actually thinking of the "Stephen Fry answers AQA questions" on their front page.
sphyg From: sphyg Date: February 21st, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
> Puszipajtas

That's such a great word!
(Deleted comment)
ewx From: ewx Date: February 21st, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

AQA are very close to failing the "but what is it?" test - it's only the fourth paragraph of the 'about us' page that actually tells you what it is they do.

You do seem to have got an answer which is not "a good answer" or from someone with much evidence of knowledge and insight at their disposal, though. You should get your money back.

j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
"We're called AQA (Any Question Answered). AQA is a mobile phone service. Text us a question, worded any way, 24 hours a day, and we'll get an answer back to your phone."

That's what I get by following the first link ("Want to try AQA? Ask a free question") on the page. Maybe they're trying to appeal to the sort of person who goes "ooh, shiny, let's try it!" rather than the sort of person who looks for the T&C... ;-)
ewx From: ewx Date: February 21st, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just instinctively go for 'About us' (or similar phrases) when trying to figure out what a website is - where it exists it's usually the fastest way to get an answer, if there's going to be an answer at all...
simont From: simont Date: February 21st, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
In fact, there do exist probability distributions without any (finite) average. Suppose, for example, that there were a 1/2 chance of the job staying up for one day, a 1/4 chance of it staying up for two, a 1/8 chance of it staying up for four, and in general a 1/2n+1 chance of it staying up for 2n days for all integer n ≥ 0. If you try to work out the expected average length of time for one to stay there, you'll find you end up with infinity – and yet it's a perfectly meaningful probability distribution.

Not that I'm suggesting that AQA's job adverts do in fact follow this pattern or anything like it, but it is at least possible in theory :-)
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: February 21st, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, good answer.

Wait, no the hell! There have been a finite number of jobs advertised, right? You must be able to average *those*.

Besides, yours has a perfectly good mode and median :) That was the tack I was going to take. If the distribution is exceptionally unusual, it's possible summing it up in any single figure wouldn't represent it at all well, and hence while any given sort of average *existed*, it wouldn't be an answer to the question "what's the average amount of time".

However, anyone actually trying to give information to J4 would be able to say "A large minority are filled immediately, the rest generally languish for a month or more" or whatever describes the situation.

The fact that they don't suggests they don't know or don't care or think it detrimental to do anything other than say "Go! Apply! Roll over! Beg! Apply as fast as possible"...
simont From: simont Date: February 21st, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
There have been a finite number of jobs advertised, right? You must be able to average *those*.

Well, sure, but that's only a statistical sample and its mean will be at best an approximation to the mean of the real distribution. In this case, a very bad approximation!

Besides, yours has a perfectly good mode and median :)

That is true. I could at least have arranged for it to be bimodal. However, it's rather difficult to avoid having a median...
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: February 21st, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, sure, but that's only a statistical sample and its mean will be at best an approximation to the mean of the real distribution. In this case, a very bad approximation!

Hmmm. I guess it's possible they could deduce what distribution it was, and fill in the parameters from the data. But then surely anyone would send the formula? I assumed the original question was implicitly statistical in nature...

That is true. I could at least have arranged for it to be bimodal. However, it's rather difficult to avoid having a median...

Yeah... "Well, this week, two jobs were placed in time Δ, one in time ♣, one only after orange, and three had already been advertised for ⇑ months and remained unfilled, for a total median waiting time of E_INCOMPARABLE..." :)
imc From: imc Date: February 21st, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
The fact that they don't suggests they don't know or don't care or think it detrimental to do anything other than say "Go! Apply! Roll over! Beg! Apply as fast as possible"

I expect it was answered by an individual who doesn't know the answer and that it therefore doesn't suggest anything about their corporate attitude. However, if the question was sent to a recruitment or management address then it does indicate they have sloppy procedures.

On the other hand, if the question was sent to the usual text number (or via the "ask a free question" page) then it doesn't entirely surprise me that a precise answer was not forthcoming, because those questions go to people who aren't involved in recruitment or company management. A case of "you got what you asked for", although not literally, obviously.

I do tend to think that AQA's advertising makes a lot of promises that they can't actually keep.
arnhem From: arnhem Date: February 21st, 2007 10:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait, no the hell! There have been a finite number of jobs advertised, right? You must be able to average *those*.

It'd be stunningly misleading to only average those for which you know the correct value, and if you set the "value" of those still open to "how long they've been open so far", that would be similarly very misleading (since that set will tend, for some distributions, to be skewed towards those that will remain open for a very long time indeed).
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: February 22nd, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't actually think through what calculation was right, merely that you stand a fair chance of getting a finite answer. I think, I meant average amongst those, or "apply to those a process producing an average", rather than "MWAHAHAHAHAH I AM AN AVERAGING MONKEY GIVE ME ANY NUMBERS AND I'LL ADD THEM UP AND DIVIDE BY N HAHAHA".

I think *why* I forgot was probably being a mathematician, not a statistician and instinctively solving the case where there's an effectively infinite number, so the special case at the end is insignificant.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do you mean I should have specified more clearly that I was asking for statistical data on the adverts which had already been posted and taken down, rather than probabilistic data on all adverts which might be posted in the future?

I wonder if there is a market for a pedant's Questions Answered service, where SWITCH NOBOYDIE is never assumed, and a carelessly phrased question can result in entirely the wrong answer. It would be a lot of fun to work for, if nothing else.
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: February 21st, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do you mean I should have specified more clearly that I was asking for statistical data on the adverts which had already been posted and taken down, rather than probabilistic data on all adverts which might be posted in the future?

Oh good. *I* thought that's what you *were* asking, but I wasn't 100% sure. But someone sufficiently pedantic to take the other interpretation would surely never say "there is no average" without being more specific; even if they were entirely correct they would no doubt be unable to keep themselves from exhibiting an example distribution, even if not the real one :)

Ooh, no, I have it. There must be only one legitimate interpretation of the sentence, and he's challenged us to find it. Like the FAQ said, if he can't answer he'll provide an interesting nugget...

pedant's Questions Answered service

I think it would be eminently entertaining. Asking your friends list will probably have the desired result, of course :)
emperor From: emperor Date: February 21st, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I asked them a very difficult question once, and got a lame reply that looked like someone had googled for some of the keywords in my question. Are they not allowed to say "I don't bloody know!", I wonder?
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
They're allowed to say if the information isn't available (an example given in this article about AQA is "How tall is Mrs Thatcher?"). Also from the same article: "The service offers a money-back deal for anyone not satisfied with their answer. If the researchers can't answer a question, they always reply with some relevant and interesting information, or text back within the allocated time to let questioners know that they are still working on it."

I don't think I could cut that down to 160 chars, but I hope it answers your question. ;-)
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: February 21st, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ish.

Which is all I'm saying in this thread (from which you can draw your own conclusions...)
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
It wasn't you who answered it, was it??
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: February 21st, 2007 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
No. But they regard most company information as 'commercially sensitive', including vacancy details, so I doubt you'd have got much more in the way of useful information even appealing to a senior source.

From observation I can tell you that the answer is "less than 24 hours between placing and withdrawal of ad; generally less than three days after application/test return for an offer", but it's not authoritative or (possibly) all that accurate given that I can only go on my own experience and what's reported back to me from others.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 08:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I was quite prepared for them to say "We can't/won't release that information", that would have been fine! Also, as I said in another comment, something along the lines of "We don't keep the stats but it's usually about n hours" would have been fine. I just object to them being factually inaccurate in a way that would have been easily avoidable...

If I email their feedback address and say "I asked this and got an answer which wasn't true", will this somehow be turned into an Official Complaint which will affect the person who answered the question? I don't want somebody to get some kind of demerit as a result of my pedantry (though I do still think it was a really lazy answer) but I do want to ask the question.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: February 21st, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
They could and perhaps should have answered: "There's no meaningful average..." etc. and expanded their answer with an explanation about different types of vacancy taking different times to fill, and some recruitment campaigns being 'one-off' pitches to a single candidate for a single post which, by definition, could have no meaningful statistical metadata.

Another point is that the arithmetic mean is meaningless in this type of data set, and a modal definition of the 'average' is far more useful:
"Vacancies can take anything between three days and three months to fill, but we have found that nearly half are filled in six to eight weeks; there is a 'mode' or peak at seven weeks that represents the response lag, interview shortlisting and acceptance-processing, plus the common one-month notice period for recruiting staff from rival companies. A secondary peak exists at sixteen weeks, as any vacancy unfilled after ten weeks is reappraised, and readvertised with a higher publicity budget and, if necessary, with a higher salary."
Which means that those hypothetical figures have two 'modes' for you to use as an average, a meaningless mean, and a median of five years between the one job they filled on the day with a phone call, and the vacancy they're still advertising since the last audio-typist with relevant experience in the fish-curing and smoking industry resigned in 1997.
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: February 21st, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good luck fitting that paragraph into 153 characters.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
and expanded their answer with an explanation about different types of vacancy taking different times to fill

Well, they're limited to 160 characters, so not much room for explanation... And I was talking about the question-answerer vacancies (and I think they knew that, though yes, I should have been more specific, but my question was also limited to 160 chars!) which are not 'recruitment pitches' so much as a scrum to get to the jobs first.

FWIW, I'd have been entirely happy with "We don't have statistics on this but all vacancies are usually filled within a few hours/a day/etc." But I am enjoying the pedantry. 8-)
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: February 21st, 2007 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is why I have taken to posting up notices when I see them, to give my friends list at least a heads-up on the vacancies, and I do try to point out the urgency of applying then and there.

At least 6 people have been taken on since I started as a result, which is rather cool. :)
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, this is one of the reasons why I was asking; last time I saw your announcement I clicked through excitedly only to find that all the vacancies had already gone, and I'm fairly sure that was only a couple of hours after you'd posted it! (Though LJ timestamps are a whole nother question, admittedly.)

I suppose what I should do is have my application ready and prepared, and then set up some kind of automated thingy to tell me when that page changes, and then some other kind of automated thingy to fire off the email...
bopeepsheep From: bopeepsheep Date: February 21st, 2007 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I can send you a text or email next time I see the ad if you like. Not knowing who would be interested and who wouldn't, it's difficult to know what to do more than just post it up. (You might have noticed I addressed the previous post to one specific user on my friends list, as I'd been discussing it with her elsewhere.)
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you did happen to see vacancies going & let me know I'd almost certainly be interested, but I'm really not expecting you to do my job-hunting for me, & it was good of you to post it at all! It was just a shame that by the time I got there "the cupboard was bare"...
(Deleted comment)
j4 From: j4 Date: February 21st, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am the ghost of ox.talk past! 8-) Not sure if I miss 1998/9 but I sometimes feel that I'd give a lot to have another shot at it with the knowledge I have now. On the other hand, well, it got me where I am now, and I'm mostly happy with that, and working on changing the bits I'm not happy with, so...
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: February 22nd, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

It's like deja vu all over again

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