Grand Prix Judge Selection

Written by Johanna Virtanen

Written by Johanna Virtanen

I have been involved in GP selections for some time in my role as Regional Coordinator. In December 2014, Jürgen Baert was talking to me about GP Utrecht 2015. He said something like ”We are going to need a judge manager for that one. And by the way, that’s you.” As Judge Manager for the Grand Prix tournament organizer, I’m sharing the process of Grand Prix judge selections in excruciating detail.


I am going to explain my process for selecting judges. Other judge managers may have a different process and different preferences, so unfortunately I can’t give you the secrets of getting accepted every time. I will tell you some of the things I look for in applications, and some of the things that you might want to avoid.


The Call (the subheading that’s also a Backstreet Boys song title)

The process begins with a judge call posted on JudgeApps. Before posting, the tournament organizer needs to confirm compensation and any other details that may have changed since the last GP we did. I also prefer to have the total number of judges we’re going to accept at this point if possible, though it’s not strictly necessary.

My preference is to post the judge call about 16 or 17 weeks before the GP. With a 3 week application window, we have 2 weeks for processing the results and can publish the results about 11 weeks before the event. This allows time for everyone to book their travel. I don’t like to start too early because people might not know their availability yet. This can be an issue for events early in the year because students may not have their schedules yet. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan and sometimes the judge call or the results get delayed.

If you haven’t applied for any of tournamentcenter’s events, here is a screenshot of the current application for GP Prague:

GP article application

The application questions hopefully give me unambiguous answers about an applicant’s availability.

Once the event is published, I post it on the appropriate forums (Facebook, etc.). I then glue myself to the computer screen and F5 the applications page until the first application appears. Yes, I really do this.

While the application window is open, I look at the applications several times each day and read through the cover letters. The earlier you apply, the more likely I am to actually read your cover letter properly. Cover letters are important for final decisions about applicants, so I’ll discuss improving your cover letter at the end of this article.


Quick! To the RC list!

Once the application window closes, I ask the Regional Coordinators to comment on the applications. I usually ask them to use the following rating system:

1 – High priority. A skilled and particularly deserving judge (for example, a L3 candidate who might be paneling at this event).

2 – Normal priority. A good judge with appropriate skills.

3 – Low priority. A judge who is inexperienced or has performance issues, OR a judge who has the appropriate skills but has had recent opportunities and there are others who rank higher this time.

4 – Do not select. A judge who does not have appropriate skills for this event OR a judge with serious performance/behaviour issues.

In addition to ratings, I ask for comments that explain the rating. I like to know why someone is a 1 or a 3, especially if it’s a judge I don’t know well. Some Regional Coordinators ask their L3 minions for help. Getting comments usually takes about a week. After that, the real fun begins!


Pivoting for fun and profit

This part might not be very interesting unless you also work on event staffing.

Once most of the comments are in, I export the applications into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes a lot of information I don’t need at this point, so I hide those columns first. Then I add a column for RC ratings, a column for each day of the event, and a column for additional sponsorships (like the Specialist sponsorship). I also turn on filters so that I can look at just the L3s, just the people who are available for ”All three days”, just the people I’ve so far selected for Saturday, etc.

Then I read through the RC comments and put the ratings in the appropriate column.

Then I do a first draft: I sort the list by RC rating and select all the ”rank 1” candidates and judges that we’ve had positive experiences with in the past. Then I select most of the rank 2 judges. And then I add rank 3s that I’d like to have if possible, usually people who are really good, but have had ”recent opportunities.”

At this point, I should know how many L2s and L3s the TO wants for each day. The above-mentioned method usually gives me at least 25 % more than I can take so it’s time to start making some actual decisions.

I usually make some pivot tables at this point (if you don’t know what that is, Google is your friend). I make one that shows me the number of judges selected per region, one that shows judges selected per level, and one for each day of the event that shows how many judges are assigned to that day. This helps me keep track of how many slots I have available.


Friday I’m in love (the subheading that’s a The Cure song title)

Once upon a time, Friday staffing was an afterthought, but now I tend to start with that. First, I look at which L3s are available to work Friday. When I was staffing only the Scandinavian GP’s, the decision was often really easy because not many L3s wanted to travel there early enough to be able to work the Trials. So I would take the 4 people who were available and be happy with that. For events in other parts of the continent, I usually have more to choose from. I choose the Public Event leads first. for this role, you need experienced judges with good logistics and leadership skills. Then I look at who is available only if selected for all three days. I usually take some of those. Then I fill the rest of the Friday slots with L3s that I think will make a good team, and assign them into shifts based on availability.

Then I fill out the Saturday-Sunday slots for L3s. If someone selected only ”All three days” and I didn’t take them already, they’re probably out at this point. Declining L3s always feels bad, but the truth is that not all L3s are equally skilled. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not having room in the budget for the Travel or Specialist sponsorship they requested. Sometimes event skills are the tie-breaker. RC comments are often not useful here, because in some regions L3s help with the ratings and thus you rarely get ”low priority” ratings for L3s. So we have to rely on internal feedback from previous events.

Moving on to the L2s, I again start with the Friday slots. We now do four different shifts on Friday, and I want people to be able to book their travel accordingly. Here I want to make sure that we have enough local language speakers available. Availability for shifts is a factor. If you land at 16:00, we are probably not taking you for Friday. Flexibility increases your chances.

So, now I have about a third of the confirmed staff that I need. It’s time to take a closer look at those rank 2 judges. I usually look at one region at a time and use the RC comments, cover letters, and personal experience to decide who to take.

During the process, I keep referring to my beloved pivot tables. If I have 160 applicants and 60 slots, that means about 37% will be accepted. I try to keep close to that percentage for each region as well. Regions with very few applicants are going to have a higher rate of acceptance, as will regions that have a lot of L3s applying.



When I’m close to the numbers I need, I figure out the Travel sponsorships. Some of them have already been assigned to people who applied only for Travel. I assign the rest, giving priority to people who have a longer trip. For Barcelona, the Travel sponsorships ended up spread pretty evenly among the regions. We have talked about adjusting the system, perhaps by having different tiers of Travel sponsorship. It is intended to help cover travel costs, not as extra profit.

Since we need a slightly smaller staff for Sunday compared to Saturday, I need to pick some people to work only Friday and Saturday. This may cause small adjustments if I forgot about this part earlier and selected only the ”All three days” folks for Friday.

All of this normally takes me an evening or two. When I’ve filled all the slots, I usually leave the final check for another evening: making sure that I have the right numbers for each day, that I didn’t select people for shifts they are not available for, and that I have assigned the appropriate number of sponsorships.

After I’ve filled all the ”confirmed” slots, I still have to pick standbys for each day. I take local judges first, and may include some L1s if the RC has left a positive comment. Then I take standbys from neighbouring regions. For Barcelona, we offered standby to just about every L2 who was available for it and had not already been selected. I also offer Friday or Sunday standby to some of the confirmed judges.

Finally I import the selections into JudgeApps and give the RC’s a couple of days to comment. After that I hit the publish button on JudgeApps and post the shift list on the event forum. This list includes which days everyone is working or on standby, and also the Friday shifts, because people need to know those before booking their travel.


Take cover

Okay, but how do I actually decide who to take? As I mentioned before, it’s a combination of RC comments, cover letters, personal experience and your availability.

For the RC comments, information about event skills, good attitude and customer service is more important than comments about regional projects and the like. Of course we’ll sometimes select judges based on their program/regional contributions, but the needs of the event come first. Detailed comments are always better than just a rating.

Now let’s talk about the part you have direct influence over.

When it comes to cover letters, there are some (very few) people who can get away with an ”empty” cover letter. Most people, however, should at least write something.

I like cover letters to be fairly short. I want to know why you want to work this event, and what you can offer. If we haven’t met before, a few words about your previous experience would be good. But there’s no need to list all the events you have done lately – I can probably see the relevant ones on your JudgeApps profile page. Your contact information, level and DCI number are also automatically added to the .csv export file, so don’t waste space in your cover letter with those. Our event applications include a question about availability restrictions (like ”I really need early selection because I live on Antarctica and flights are expensive”), but in general it’s a good idea to put the really important information that you don’t want me to miss at the top of the cover letter.

I would like to show an example of a cover letter that I really like.

GP article cover letter

The great thing about this cover letter is that it not only tells me that the judge is motivated (they have explained all the things they would like to do), it also tells me why they would be a good choice for this particular event. On top of that, they’re showing enthusiasm and flexibility.

Also note the length of the letter. If the letter is much longer than that, I can’t see the applicant’s answers to the application questions without scrolling down. I would like to avoid scrolling down to read those answers, so please don’t write a wall of text.

Of course, other factors may cause this judge to not be accepted. It’s still a nice cover letter.

I understand that non-native English speakers in particular might want to re-use their cover letters. This is fine and I won’t hold it against you. Just at least make sure you refer to the correct event in your letter.

There’s no one true format: just keep it brief and relevant. And don’t worry about it too much because it’s not the only thing that matters.


But what else matters?

Experience matters. In most cases, we are not going to take brand new sparkly L2s because most of them do not have enough competitive-level experience. It’s true that in some parts of the world that experience is really hard to get, so I’m not opposed to having some ”training” slots. Most of the time, the newbie L2 is an easy ”decline” though. It’s okay to apply even if you’re new, just be prepared to not get accepted on the first try.

While you’re waiting for your first GP slot, keep working whatever local big events you can find. If you can work with people who have already done GP’s, ask them to teach you things they learned at the GP.

Flexibility helps. I understand that getting all three days makes the trip more affordable, but three day slots are limited.

When you get accepted, make the most of it. Show up on time, keep your uniform tidy, make sure you get enough rest between your shifts, take your breaks when offered. Ask questions if you don’t understand something, and ask for help if you’re overwhelmed.    

What if you’re an experienced judge and you’re suddenly getting declined for things? Start by talking to your RC. It could be that you’re being overlooked because there are other regional priorities. Most of the time, when someone asks me why they got declined, the answer is ”your RC gave you low priority.” In the rest of the cases, there’s probably been negative feedback from a recent event. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be on the bench forever, though. In these cases I’ll try to find out if the judge knows about the feedback, because it’s not fair to decline someone for a problem they don’t know about.


Wrapping up

Finally, a few words on the very special event that prompted this article. The process I described above doesn’t really have much to do with GP Utrecht 2015. The application window opened significantly earlier and we accepted judges in several waves. The reason for this is that we needed an unprecedented number of warm bodies, while we were also competing with two other GP’s for the top talent in the program. We needed to confirm key roles early, but we also needed to not shut out people who weren’t able to commit in January for an event in May. Communication about which one really was the ”main” wave perhaps wasn’t the best, but it was the first time we’ve done something like this. I learned a lot from that one, and I keep learning new things from each GP we do. GP staffing is an evolving process, and I hope that this article gave you some insight into my brain and selecting staff. Thank you for reading!