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20.03.2009 Feature Article

‘In A Recession, A Plagiarised Resume Is Probably The Best’

Most professions are conspiracies against the laity. Well, I don't mean to put it literally, because many professionals have expert knowledge of what they profess. Probably with the exception of journalists who pretend to know nearly everything, most experts give us reason to believe in their recommendations. So, when an employment counsellor advised me to pretend that plagiarism is the most important virtue on earth when preparing a resume, I had reason to believe the words of the good-looking 24 year old blonde. And she was categorical: “Forget all the warnings you received about plagiarism when you were in school; you are answering to every qualification the job advert has asked for, in the same order.” In other words, the job description, the years of experience and the academic qualifications required, are the considerations that should inform the making of a resume. At that point, you are simply filling in the details in the order the employer had advertised. “That is what they are looking for, so give them all that in the order they asked. If that is plagiarism, then that is exactly what you want to do,” she opined. That made sense, because I had heard a similar comment on primetime TV in Canada the previous week. A Resume Doctor had told a morning show host that a resume is about the employer, and not the applicant. The television host was stunned and asked the CV expert to explain the 'gaffe.' The expert reiterated the same concerns my employment counsellor made. The employer wants the person who speaks their language. They want you to be part of their team. They want you to tailor your skills and achievements to meet their demands. So, the CV is about them; not you. He also imploded one myth about the cover letter: It is not as important as the resume. Employers would rather you gave them a CV without a cover letter than a cover letter without a CV.

Plagiarism is not exactly a good thing in any area of human endeavour. On a good day, the word plagiarism would mean appropriation, borrowing, counterfeiting, fraud, piracy and theft. So we can conveniently say that anybody who plagiarises is a thief, even if a brilliant one. Even on a very bad day, plagiarism wouldn't be a good thing, except, perhaps in stand up comedies, where originality is as important as in the preparation of an academic journal in a traditional Christian university. Plagiarism is not a word you would gladly invite into your dictionary, especially if you are not an armed robber. Well, modern human resource professionals are giving us reason to multitask (a word that has become very popular in employment circles) by borrowing freely from job adverts or using them as templates to fill in our employment details. Your job objective should be nothing more than the position you are applying for. And it should be the first item on the resume after your personal details. So, a typical job objective could be as simple as: Seeking a position as Marketing Assistant. It is even spot on if you add the name of the employer, as in 'Seeking a position as Marketing Assistant in Johnson and Johnson Co'. That tells them exactly what you are looking for. Compare this with what I had on my CV before when I was in England: “A high-flying graduate calibre with the intellectual curiosity necessary for excelling in marketing, administration and project management.” It seems to say something good but it is all mumbled up. Employers do not have time to dine on a cocktail of adjectives, to make sense of out complex, winding sentences. A line may be all they want to read. Besides, they have hundreds of resumes to read. Yours is not special until they have seen that special thing they are looking for.

These days, looking for a job (different from a career) is so much of a job that you wonder whether job seekers have any energy left to do anything when they finally get the dream job. In times of recession, as we are experiencing presently, job-hunting becomes an occupation, because it occupies your whole being. There are probably as many job websites as there are charismatic churches. From to, there are too many job advertisements looking for professionals of every stripe to fill various positions. The websites are beautifully designed. They also give the indication that the job ads are constantly updated with new openings. The publications come with the names of the recruiter, detailed job descriptions and sometimes the salaries the positions promise. The positions look so juicy that you would think that they would roll out of the internet onto your bosom when you make an application. The application process is usually a laborious one, requiring elaborate answers to simple questions. Before you are asked to upload your resume, you would have already created the employer's version of your CV. Perhaps, this confirms the CV Doctor's point that a resume is about the employer, not the employee. Sometimes, you would not even need to upload a resume, because many well-established companies have downloadable application forms that require comprehensive information from job applicants. It would in most cases seek information you would not have on Your CV.

It is not clear whether the sudden 'professionalisation' of the recruitment market has made job hunting easier or more difficult. To get a winnable CV, you may have to pay some $200 to a career expert, to show you the ingredients employers want to see in a good CV. Usually, the money has to be paid with a credit card. You would think the experts would help you get a job first with the 'killer' CV before they have you pop champagne on your first salary. But these are not charity organisations; resume experts are a new brand of human resource professionals who make a living writing great resumes and coaching job seekers on what to say at interviews. And they know their stuff. In just two minutes, my 24 year old consultant showed me important things that I had ignored in my CV for the past two years. For instance, she introduced me to the functional and combination resumes as the most effective way for a job seeker who does not have a lot of experience to sell his skills. The functional CV emphasises your skills, usually neatly presented in the first paragraph after your job objective. You don't have enough to say about your work history, so your skills are what you want to highlight. This kind of CV is also good for a jobseeker new to a location where employers demand job experiences obtained from that location. So, as an immigrant new to Canada, with bits and pieces of job experiences here and there, reflecting a prostitution with jobs rather than a marriage with employers, the functional CV is really functional. And so far, it has been functioning well for me. At least, I have not had my CV returned to me by a recruitment agency. I have also not received any advice from any human resource manager suggesting that I should get help when preparing my CV next time.

These CV doctors work like pharmacists who sell Viagra: They tell you how it works but they don't get it to work, otherwise many modern children will trace their parentage to pharmacy shops, especially those in the corners of town. A Killer CV is a dead weapon in the hands of a buffoon. It will kill him, instead of the human resource manager. The experts only advise and coach job seekers on how to say what they want to say. The rest is between them and their God, in this case your preparation. Professional CV writers operate under different sexy titles. They are generally called CV experts, but their names are quite revealing. There are CV Clinics, Resume Laboratories, Resume Doctors, CV Centres and many more. These are licensed professionals working in posh offices. They are usually friendly, young and beautiful, especially the women, most of whom are blonde. Well, there are brunettes, too. Their services may vary in style but one thing is certain: They have something to sell, and they adopt one strategy: everybody's CV is bad until they have seen it. They can always add to a good CV. That is their job.

If the writing of the modern CV has become a profession, the preparation for today's job interview is almost a career. The phrase technology-driven may sound like a cliché, but it gives an apt description to the kind of interviews conducted these days. And unlike Shakespearean tragedies where the entire story of the tragic hero takes place in just one day, interviews these days could last for a week. I have already had two telephone interviews for a single job, as well as a video conferencing that saw me sitting in front a large screen, interacting with company representatives in another province in Canada. The venture was my first, and it was as intimidating as every Finance minister's first budget reading, especially if he is not on the majority side of the House. The thought that my interviewers were thousands of miles away made me assume the disposition of a cuckolded husband. I still have the main face to face interview to attend in two weeks, but before then, I have to meet my line manager for a personal chat, which I suspect will be an interview, because he is not my personal friend. You would think I was interviewing for the mayor of the city of Ottawa, but all I am going to get is a communications and policy assistant. If I get the job, I will use my policy portfolio to change their policy on long, hi-tech interviews. It sucks, as they say here in Canada.

Well, mine is not as miserable as a professor friend in the USA who is looking for a college to teach chemistry. The poor old man had to spend a whole week on the campus of the prospective employer, presenting a lecture on teaching methodology, subject content, teaching philosophy etc. They funded his accommodation and gave him some good food. It happened that the good food has become a good consolation because he didn't get the job. So, now, he is like a troubadour, travelling from one college to another, eating good food and trying hard not to find a teaching post. I have recommended the functional CV for him, just that I don't think the man himself is functional at forty-eight.

Perhaps, the recession is making things difficult for everybody, including those who would have had no jobs anyway, whether in a recession or indeed the Great depression, because they would not make a good impression. Job seekers ought to appreciate that the dynamics of the times demand new ways of thinking. Whoever thought plagiarism would ever become a good thing? But here you are, reading a plagiarised article from a job seeker who would not concentrate on his search for a communications job. He wants to make the impression that he can multitask, writing and hunting for jobs. Well, my consultant tells me that it is important to leave a good impression, especially if it is your first opportunity. But the impression itself is not as important as the way you leave it. In the end, your attitude, even in job hunting, counts a lot. Having a bad attitude is like an octopus on roller skates: There are lots of movements but there is no clear direction.

Benjamin Tawiah is a journalist. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario

Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, © 2009

This author has authored 235 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwesiTawiahBenjamin

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