Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Résumé v. Job Description

A column in the New York Times this morning by Thomas L. Friedman (“How to Get a Job”) once more recalled for me the old, call it hoary, subject of the value of a liberal arts education (link on this blog). That education included such “useless” subjects as logic, grammar, and rhetoric (at the core) and then, added to it, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. I can just feel the mouth of a personnel administrator water reading such word’s on an applicant’s resume. Now the words that actually did cause employers to feel appetites were Stanford, Harvard, and, especially, Harvard MBA. I know of a case where a company wished to hire a marketing manager and put out a single qualification: Harvard MBA. It was a certain kind of, alas, very conventional company. Offering them a black Harvard MBA would not have had a point; such, in the view of that outfit, would not have “fit” with the distribution channel. Offering them an Asian Harvard MBA would have failed as well; it would have introduced a certain threatening superiority that might not have “fit” the management. But enough said. Friedman’s theme is that, these days, it’s not the diploma or what you know, but the skills you have acquired. He thinks that a sea-change is underway: from now on, the successful applicant will have to pass the gauntlet of some online startup that creates tests for the job in question. If you pass it, you’ll be hired. And as for whether or not you are actually human, that is a minor detail.

Believe it—or better, Not. Right now the only hiring, evidently, is for jobs with a thick connection to social networks and the Internet generally. Personnel managers have nothing to do. When, eventually, the economy picks up again, it’ll be back to mass hirings and—the usual profiling.

Friedman’s column, however, does show that the shades of the old liberal arts curriculum are still virtually, if not actually, alive. Friedman quotes a comment by one of the doers and shakers of the New Hiring Model. The man, commenting on the skills of today’s applicants, says: “What surprises me most about people’s skills is how poor their writing and grammar are, even for college graduates. If we can’t get the basics right, there is a real problem.”

Now as for that hoary traditional way of preparing leaders for life, current applicants probably don’t know the word “hoary” at all. The meaning is “grey, white-haired,” therefore old and wise. Not, of course, old, very old, like humanity’s first formal profession.

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