Applying for Work in the Rail Industry

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External positions come out for Conductors periodically at the Golden Railway. I normally inform my Facebook contacts about any positions by making a general post on my ‘Wall’ with instructions on how to apply. I am also a member of a few groups on LinkedIn and have noticed that other Railway Companies put various positions up for different departments of railways the world over.

As someone who has successfully ‘made the cut’, I thought it would be good to share points to apply when making an application. I have noticed, on the above mentioned social media sites, errors that some people make when interested in applying. Of course, these tips do not guarantee that one will be selected next time one applies for a position, but it will definitely aid you in your next application at a Railway Company.
This post is from the view of someone wanting a career in Operations – Traffic. It also incorporates the whole process before being accepted as an employee.
1) Be prepared to start at the bottom. Unless you are applying at a newly built railway and assuming they are taking Train Drivers without previous experience, you have no choice but to start as a Conductor or a Driver’s Assistant. In terms of South Africa, the different railway companies are taking Conductors from Security Guards, Yard Workers and even cleaners. This means also that competition is fierce if applying externally!
2) Prepare a good looking and concise Curriculum Vitae (CV)/Résumé. Unless they ask for additional documents such as copies of Senior Certificates/Post Graduate Certificates, do not attach these, they will ask for all the relevant documents or copies thereof at a later date. You can write a good Cover Letter but do not do so if they ask for a short CV, they simply do not have the time to read hundreds, if not thousands, of cover letters.
3) Learn about the company you are applying at: Any company loves this. It simply means you are actually interested in where you will be working and shows them you took time to learn about them. This is also a great source for any questions you might want to ask in the main interview.
4) Research as much as you can about the position applied for (in this case, Googling “How to become a Train Conductor” or “Duties of a Train Guard”, can yield impressive results). Perhaps you already know what Conductors do, this will then give you insight on how other companies do things. Never have an attitude that you cannot be taught something new.
5) LinkedIn (and other Social Media): LinkedIn is a business orientated Social Media site where professionals from an industry can network online and also look/apply for jobs if a company has a page where they post vacancies, when available. I’ve noticed a trend people seem to be following on these sites, where companies post vacancies instructing potential candidates on where to send their CVs/Résumés. A few times, people will ask the person who posted the advert on behalf of the company to view their qualifications (viewable in their profile) to see if they have the necessary experience or skills to meet the requirements of the job. I’m sorry to say that (especially in terms of the Railway Industry), if you cannot follow simple instructions on how to apply, you cannot expect to be considered for the initial stages of the application process let alone the job.

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6) Before the main interview, the company will have a day or two where you and other hopefuls can attend psychometric and/or VTS (Vienna Test System) tests. The psychometric tests can ask questions that may make you feel uncomfortable, such as: ‘Do you drink alcohol?’ The whole purpose of the test is to see whether or not you are telling the truth, not to see if you are an alcoholic. Note that it will be bad if you say you do not drink and later in the paper – when you have forgotten about that question – they ask you ‘How many times a week do you drink?’ and your answer is anything above zero! It will be beneficial to yourself to Google ‘Sample or Free Psychometric Tests’ – the resources are out there, you just need to spend the time to look!
The VTS, which is computer based (ALMOST like playing old school TV Games!), uses specialised input devices that allow accurate measurement of performance that cannot be obtained with a mouse or keyboard. These normally include foot pedals, a response panel and joysticks. These measure reaction time, reactive stress tolerance and sensorimotor coordination.

Google images search for Ishihara Eye Test Plates (Tests if you are colour blind – important for seeing signals)

7) Medicals: Working on the railways requires you to be healthy and in a fit state. This means that the company will want to ensure that you and other candidates are healthy and this is just a normal medical test to check your blood pressure, sugar levels, lung capacity, hearing and eyesight. They also check your ph value, sugar, acidity and the company may test for ‘recreational drug use’.

8) Main Interview: Like any interview, it’s advisable to prepare yourself for the day. Dress in your best attire and, if you don’t have good looking clothes – get some, even if you need to lend from a friend! Carry yourself confidently. Do NOT speak poorly of your current/previous employers. Always have a question or few prepared for them – not about salary, they will mention it at some point before the interview anyway. Turn your mobile phone off and put away headsets/earphones.
Here are a few possible question’s the interviewer(s) may ask (not necessarily in this order):
a) Tell us about yourself
b) How do you resolve conflict?
c) Have you ever been in an emergency?
d) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
e) What are your strengths and weaknesses?
f) What, in your mind, is the job of a Train Conductor?
g) How do you handle stress?
h) Tell us about the last time you helped a Customer or gave good customer service
i) What makes you the best candidate for the job?
j) What are you going to bring to this position?
k) Would you like to ask us anything?
Note that the order of this entire process can differ depending on the company and there may be additional or less tests as the above list is not exhaustive. Also, it is extremely important to be punctual at ALL the events! In the main interview talk, talk, talk! The more you talk, the better. At some companies, it is possible to visit the HR Department and get yourself the forms you need when applying – at companies like this, it wouldn’t hurt to make a speculative application. Some companies say flat out that they do not accept speculative applications. In the interview, when asked if you would like to ask them anything – don’t make it as if you’re interviewing them! One or two questions will suffice. Interviews are normally around 30 minutes long, don’t hold them up by prolonging the interview by asking too many questions – they have other candidates to get to as well.
Just as a side note:
A Train Driver might be known at different companies as: Engineer, Locomotive Engineer, Operator, Train Operator or Locomotive Pilot.
A Driver’s Assistant might be known as: Fireman, Conductor, Train Assistant or Assistant Locomotive Pilot.
A Conductor might be known as: Guard, Train Guard or Train Manager.
It might be of benefit to be someone who volunteers at a Railway Museum/Preservation Society as this – depending on the role you play – is experience in working with Train Operations. I would say let your passion for railways show, especially during the interview phase, but don’t let it overpower everything – they’ll think you’re a nut job!
Lastly, while I am aware that not everyone joins the railways because of a passion for railways, I feel that I need to make you aware (if you perhaps are not already) of the following:
Understand that your social life will disappear and if you are one who absolutely, positively cannot live without partying (as one example), then I’m sorry to say that this is not a job for you. One spends long hours and sometimes even days away from home depending on which company you work for. You will be a liability and general irritation to people who are there to get the job done. Don’t let the team down, don’t be one of those individuals who, when the next day’s Standbys see your name on the Roster, start saying: ‘Uh-oh, there’s a problem!’ In other words, have pride in your job and in yourself. 
Things also become morally grey, as birthdays, anniversaries, religious days and festivals and Holidays – even New Years Day – fall to the wayside most of the time. As you can imagine, this has a huge strain on your relationships.
I hope that this blog post helps you in your endeavors and that you successfully apply and are accepted.

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