16 November 2009


The other day I drafted three CVs to illustrate layout and content, to be used in a training context as a starting point for further work. Instead of the insipid “type your name here” label, I thought I would jazz up the drafts somewhat by adding real names. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll use the names of famous authors!” Without really taxing the grey cells too much, I immediately came up with three, randomly selected names: B. Jonson, Alex Pope and O. Wilde.

Later, when discussing these model CVs in the training session, a thought occurred to me. How would these three individuals fare in the 21st century if they really were on the job market and trying to find gainful employment? A moment’s contemplation was enough to come up with the answer – in all probability they would fail miserably, literary genius or no literary genius. These three giants of the Western Canon had rather unsavoury backgrounds: a murder conviction (although we managed to save our neck because we could read and write); a physical disability; belonging to a church not approved by the Establishment; engaging in a same-sex relationship. Today’s employers are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion, marital status. So, yes, a potential employer would have to look at our three candidates, overlook any factors that he finds personally abhorrent … and then go on to discriminate on the grounds of their educational background.

The competition for jobs today is ruthless. A Bachelor’s degree is no longer enough to differentiate you from the hoi polloi. Recruiters looking for new blood to fill their graduate programmes now say a Lower Second is no longer sufficient: you must have at least an Upper Second. And what do they do when all applicants have an Upper Second (since this is the grade the majority of students achieve)? Then they go even further and look at A-Level results – if you have Grade B's then don’t waste your time posting off your CV: the stamp will be better used elsewhere.

Oxbridge too are trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Students are working harder and achieving straight grade A's for their A-Levels so the dons have resorted to a barrage of entrance tests (psychological tests, English tests, aptitude tests, numerical tests, trick tests – you name it, they’ve got it). The last ones left standing get a much coveted place. A good example here, I think, of the inadequacies of our systems for evaluating educational performance. How do you allocate 100 university places when all 1,000 applicants have (identical) excellent results?

Furthermore, if it is our aim to get more people into university and improve their level of education, shouldn’t we at least make sure that we can provide them with enough places, instead of goading them on and then disappointing them? Unfortunately, these youngsters are products of their education system.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/6561399/Oxford-and-Cambridge-introduce-new-entrance-tests.html http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/sunday_times_university_guide/article6831837.ece

So a university graduate needs a lot more than good grades and the usual “skills” of communication, flexibility, teamwork, initiative etc. etc. What that “more” is I don’t know – I’m still thinking what it could be. And whether Messrs. Jonson, Pope and Wilde could get an entry-level position is a good topic for a heated debate.

p.s. A second, more disturbing thought occurred to me as I ruminated on these Dead White Males. When searching for names to paste at the top of my draft CVs, why on earth had I chosen male authors? WHERE WERE THE WOMEN? Where was Behn, Wollstonecraft, Brontë, Eliot, Woolf, Perkins Gilman, Rhys, Atwood, Lessing and so on and so forth (apologies if I’ve missed your favourite). I am, too, a product of my education, in the sense that I have been fed a canonical diet of male writers, imbued with their values and trained in their idiom. Now that I am free to engage my brain in any way I choose, I find myself following the well-trodden familiar track. The alternative path is stony and seldom frequented. This has been an exercise in deep soul-searching and I am sorely disappointed in myself. I shall make myself a cup of rosehip tea and mull over these developments.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.