Why do we all measure out our lives in pointless CVs?


THE CV is going through interesting times, but of course without being specific about any dates. It is one thing lying about your age – a friend took five years off the first time she was made redundant, and eight years off the second time she was made redundant.

It is another thing obliterating the years you left school and graduated from college, and the ages of your children.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people who are strictest about all the CVs currently doing the rounds are the very young.

“You’re okay, I took all the dates off,” said a kindly nephew as he handed his auntie her résumé, from which he had effectively airbrushed her completely. When she read it, she hardly recognised her own life.

She hadn’t even wanted to lie about her age; her nephew had just done it for her automatically out of, presumably, profound pity and perhaps good manners.

This woman has a secure job, but nevertheless she wanted to have her CV ready to go – this is what the management gurus advise you to do.

Whenever you have a spare moment, they say, sit down and update your CV. God knows why. And so as the jobs get fewer the CVs multiply. Back in the boom we must have been too busy for CVs – now we have all the time in the world.

Perhaps we have gone too far with the CV.

During the summer someone close to this columnist suggested that a teenager of her acquaintance might get a summer job, in order to offset the cruel boredom with which the poor child was unfortunately beset.

“Yeah,” said the teenager, quite slowly. “I must drop my CV round to a few places.” Amazingly, this never happened.

But the kid’s friends had done it, allegedly. It seems crazy that a casual, temporary job as a waitress or shelf-stacker has to be applied for so formally. What a pain in the neck it has to be for the employers, drowning in all this paper.

There is general consensus among jobseekers that employers never read beyond the first half-page of a CV, if that.

But this is not always the case. A young woman was very fed up to be put in charge of the cash in the restaurant where she was working for the summer.

She had no idea why she was given this job, or why her boss kept on telling her that she was good at maths. Eventually the boss said to her “You have honours maths.” He’d read it on her CV.

She’d forgotten all about it. And she actually does have honours maths, in real life as well. That is one conscientious manager.

Can’t help wondering, though, if the CV is always used so benignly.

There are a lot of extremely well-qualified people out there who never get to interview – I suspect precisely because they are so well-qualified.

After all, the CV is a great way for employers and/or senior management to weed out the people who are going to make them feel insecure/under-qualified/just a little bit out of their comfort zone.

In other words, the job candidate who’s going to make you look bad, or won’t play golf with you.

This is quite apart from the whole age question, of course, and people over 40 not getting even to first base on the interview love train.

Even with all the dates removed, one’s list of achievements can seem suspiciously long to a HR horror who has psychological problems with his ma. Or pa. It’s illegal to discriminate against candidates on the grounds of their age, so some employers reckon that it’s best to get the discrimination over and done with before you’ve even met the candidates concerned.

It’s hard to see what the CV helps with, really. On the candidate’s side, it’s a series of downright lies and evasions, with quite a bit of creative writing thrown in. On the employer’s side, the CV is a great excuse for not seeing the people who are surprising, and might just have brought something extra to the business.

Of course, lying on your CV has always been absolutely routine. A year does not go by without some politician somewhere having to resign because he didn’t study accountancy at Harvard, but rather did book-keeping in Hoboken.

Suspicions are growing that our politicians refuse point blank to complete CVs, on the grounds that they might incriminate them.

But CVs are now so economical with the truth – even the accompanying photograph has gone the way of the date of birth – that most employers have to be slightly psychic to interpret them at all.

CVs might as well be written in Braille and employers must come up with their own arbitrary rules to get any use out of them. One friend won’t see boastful candidates for the job of childminder, preferring more modest types whose CVs are positively threadbare. She only interviews people who put in bad CVs. This has worked quite well so far.

But perhaps the CV has peaked. It has become so baroque and divorced from its original form that it is on the verge of collapse.

The humble application form is being revived, particularly online.

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