Last week, while killing time between meetings in central London, I found myself sitting in the British Library, behind an undergraduate, who, while flitting between Facebook, Skype and Twitter on a very expensive laptop, was drafting a CV.
I probably shouldn’t have been looking, but what unfolded on screen was such a car crash, with a reference to “refferees”, an IT skills section that cited “email” and a lengthy, incomprehensible personal statement packed with clichés about “passion” and being “solution-focused”, that I couldn’t resist.
The only way it could have been worse was if she had sprinkled it with emojis. And frankly, I would have intervened, if it hadn’t become evident she was a former student at one of Britain’s most expensive private schools and therefore doubtless will be running the BBC or the civil service before long. Nevertheless, the document confirmed something I have suspected for some time: the CV is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Turns out I’m not alone in thinking this. Shara Senderoff, an entrepreneur with a football chant for a surname, became so frustrated with the inability of the traditional résumé to present “a three-dimensional story of her previous experience” that recently she launched Career Sushi, an interactive video alternative to the dull CV aimed at Millennials and Generation Z jobseekers looking to impress potential employers in creative fields such as film and fashion.
Laszlo Bock, a Google HR executive who sounds like he was named after a central European football team, has made an exasperated plea for candidates to be more specific on their CVs, writing on LinkedIn that “you might feel like it’s hard to measure your work, but there is almost always something you can point to that differentiates you from others”.
The tenth series of The Apprentice began this week with Lord Sugar waving the candidates’ CVs around mockingly, before quoting some of the more ridiculous claims, including one woman who thought it relevant to boast about owning a hundred animals, “probably 80 per cent of them sheep”. A report in The Wall Street Journal recently claimed that some candidates, evidently frustrated with the conventions of the CV, have started to list achievements in video games such as World of Warcraft on their résumés or LinkedIn profiles, “betting that virtual-world accomplishments will impress hiring managers in real life”.
The online response to the news that some geeks are boasting about completing online quests as warlocks and druids in a fantasy world on their résumés wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. Not many people seem to think that such skills are relevant to the modern workplace. But they are mistaken. Having once challenged a famous property investor to a game of Monopoly and been promptly thrashed, I do think that certain games convey relevant skills, or lack of skills.
Moreover, with offline and online worlds merging, I think our social networking says a great deal more about us than the dross we’re obliged to cite in CVs. I have to sift through a great many graduate CVs as a result of various commitments and have lost count of the number of people who claim to be “passionate” about politics and current affairs, only for a glance at their Twitter feed to reveal not a single political opinion or link to a news site.
Indeed, having argued in the past that most CVs are too long — there is no one on this planet, up to and including Barack Obama, whose achievements could not be boiled down to one side of A4 — I have revised and hardened my position. It is time that CVs were dispensed with entirely and replaced simply with links to candidates’ Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.
I realise that while some employers are already doing a version of this — research recently published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that two out of five employers look at job applicants’ online activity or profiles on networking sites at the recruitment stage — a great many more might be uncomfortable with the concept.
Interviewed recently by The Sunday Times, Nicola Dennes, head of indirect tax recruitment at KPMG, argued that it might be “unethical” to “invade” people’s privacy in this way and that, as far as they are concerned, the professional and personal are entirely separate (“We employ professional people and their social life is their social life”). Noel Brown, director for talent acquisition at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a life sciences company, said that there wasn’t time for such investigation in a 50,000-person organisation, adding that while “personality is important . . . No matter what size of organisation you are, what you are looking at is experience”.
I couldn’t disagree more. As we know from the news that Google and Facebook are offering to pay for female staff to freeze their eggs, the personal and professional are becoming increasingly blurred in business. There is nothing unethical about looking at anyone’s social networking profiles if they are public — and given that most people wouldn’t go on a date with someone before googling them first, you could argue even that it is negligent of employers to take on people without doing the same. Glancing at a few social networking accounts is infinitely more efficient and engaging and revealing than flicking through a bunch of CVs that make everyone sound the same.
It’s certainly the case that, in the example of the British Library student, her social networking said more about her than her CV. Moreover, while employers glancing at the Facebook and Twitter accounts of potential employees doubtless will discover things that are challenging, it can only be a good thing if business accepts that employees are complex human beings and if, in turn, people, realising that potential employers might be watching, start behaving in a kinder, more friendly way on social networks.