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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?
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.
(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... ;-)
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"...
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. ;-)
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.
(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...
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