CV’s are overrated

… as are examinations, marks, submissions, assignments and NAAC reports. I speak only of my current area of work, but this is true in all walks of life, of course.

There are two aspects to work: doing it, and showing that you have done it. A CV isn’t work, it is showing that you have done the work. So also the list above: none of it is work, it is showing that you have done the work. Meta-work, if you will.

Anybody who has conducted an interview has read the line “Proficient in MS-Office”. And each and every person who belongs to this tribe has rolled their eyes when asked about how many of the people who have written this line actually are proficient in MS-Office.

(My personal favorite among the variants of this line is “Intermediate level knowledge of MS Excel.” It signals to me that the writer is honest enough to acknowledge that they don’t know enough about Excel, but also can’t bring themselves to say that they don’t know enough.)

But ask yourself: what is a CV? It is a document that is supposed to showcase the work that you have done.

It is, as all of us know (but none among us would like to acknowledge) actually a document that showcases work that we hope will land us a job, no matter how tangentially true the content of the CV, and our association with said content.

This argument holds true for examinations as well! Examinations – and the marks you score in an examinations – are supposed to be a reflection of how well you know the subject.

It is, as all of us know (but none among us would like to acknowledge) a process in which we minimize our efforts to maximize our output. It’s even more problematic because the output isn’t learning, it’s marks.

NAAC reports that are submitted by colleges are in essence a manifestation of the many voodoo dolls that students have pricked at over the years, hoping to gain revenge for all the meaningless assignments/submissions/vivas that they have been subjected to while earning a degree. For colleges submit the NAAC reports using the same philosophy that students do while submitting their assignments:

“It doesn’t matter if it is a reflection of what reality is. It must be shown as a real thing on paper.”

We have created, as a society, a culture in which we measure the work that we do through these proxies, and collectively pretend that these proxies are a reflection of reality. Worse, we now spend a vast majority of our time on creating the proxies, rather than actually doing the work.

But to come back to my point (and yes, I do have one), the internet holds out the possibility to change this. At least where CV’s are concerned.

  • Don’t say that you are proficient in MS-Excel. Create, instead, a YouTube channel, or a blog, or an Instagram post, or a Facebook page, or a podcast where you show that you are proficient in MS-Excel. That is your CV, or at least a part of it.
  • Don’t say that you worked on project xyz with company abc. Write it up, and put it up on a blog. Writing’s not your thing? No worries, speak about it, and put it up as a podcast. Prefer video? YouTube!
  • The fact that you are reading this on an electronic device, by the way, means you do not have an excuse to not do it.
  • Worried about “how it will come out”? Do it ten times, and keep all ten up on the internet for people to see. Those ten variants of you describing your internship project is a much more powerful argument than a line that says “willing to work hard to improve myself”. And hey, if you do it ten times, it can only get better, not worse.

Showing that you have done the work tends to make you focus more on the showing, and less on the doing. Measuring work by analyzing what has been shown rather than what has been done is even more problematic, and that’s why firms tend to underrate grades (and increasingly, even CV’s).

Or, if you want to put it in economist-y terms, recruiters these days are like citizens of the Weimar republic. They know that the currency that is being issued is not worth the paper it is printed upon.

Any economist will tell you what happens next: a flight from currency, and into other assets.

That other asset in the context of the CV, is doing the work. Put it up for public consumption, and let the internet work its magic.

As a former India captain was very fond of saying, it’s all about the process. The results will take care of themselves. God, as Navin Kabra reminds us, says much the same thing!

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