We all become very excited when we submit an application for a job! We prepare our CV and application letter with great care (at least we should do so, though experience seems to indicate this is not always the case!) and send it off with great excitement, anticipation and ambition! The job will undoubtedly be ours! The only problem, though, is that an employer nowadays is besieged by numerous CVs for any one job, with each CV extolling the wonderful virtues, experiences and abilities of the individual concerned (despite probably not matching the required criteria). That is a problem because so many CVs that are submitted are exactly the same — the applicants have the same schooling, qualifications, experiences, hobbies or interests (directly suited to the job in question, of course), positions of responsibilities, even the same referees. How do we choose between all the candidates when they are all the same?
By Tim Middleton
What is perhaps even sadder is that employers as a result will miss a truly exceptional applicant in the midst of all the “sameness”. Overseas it was reported that a supermarket store changed the qualifications needed for a person applying for a job as a shelf-stacker from the requirement of having five O’ levels to that of having two A’ levels. Why does a shelf-stacker need five O’ levels in order to fulfil the role, let alone two A’ levels? Someone with two A’ levels is most likely going to be intensely bored by stacking shelves. Employers though no doubt set the standard higher simply to reduce the number of applications, but in so doing they were attracting the wrong people to the job.
So, we introduce an inflation rate with qualifications in a bid to cut down the number of people who might apply. Such an approach does not solve the problem of people finding the right person. It might solve the problem marginally by simply cutting down the number of applicants, but let us not forget that it still leaves us with many applicants with the same qualifications.
One innovative way might be to ask people to state what is on their “Bucket List”, the list of all the goals they want to achieve, dreams they want to fulfil and life experiences they desire to undergo before they die. Maybe that would show what sort of person they are, more than the CV explains what sort of person they have become. Again, though, such a Bucket List is likely to include the same things, just like a CV might do, as people tend to put down the desire to visit certain destinations (exotic, foreign, cheap) or to do certain extreme activities (freefall from a plane, white-water rafting, marathons) or learn different skills (another language, profession and sport).
So, finally here is a different suggestion. What if we were to ask applicants to state all those things they have not done, seen, watched, owned as such information may be more revealing about them as a potential employee? This might be their “Chuck-It” list! After all, it is generally understood, especially by prospective employers, that what is not said is more revealing than what is said in a reference letter. if very little is said, apart from a few unarguable facts, then it is saying that there is not a lot of good that one can say about this person, so follow the logic. The same logic could therefore perhaps be applied to the CV whereby what is not done can be very revealing as well.
One person might never have watched any of the Harry Potter films or seen one second of any of the Star Wars films or the Lord of the Rings films or any Superman, Batman, or Spiderman films. It might disqualify him from future employment if the job was as a film critic for a newspaper, but it could actually be an appealing feature (saying he is not one to follow the crowd, he has not unthinkingly responded just like everyone else). He might never have owned an iPod, iPad, iPhone or iMusic, but it might be interesting to find out why and how he has survived, whether it be by choice or by circumstance!
The bottom line is this: we are trying to find out about the character of the applicant, more than the qualifications. We are trying to establish how people are different, as opposed to how they are the same. CVs do not help us achieve that goal. Children, while encouraged to have a “Bucket List”, would do well to develop their “Alternative CV” — and they do not need five O’ levels or two A’ levels to work that out.
lTim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.