Reading CVs

This has been the first job I’ve had where I’ve had responsibility for recruiting others. Afghans and foreign consultants have sent me their CVs for different positions, and after all the times I’ve sent mine off over the years, it’s been interesting to be on the receiving end for a change.

All the usual advice you’re given about writing your CV suddenly makes sense. The very experienced consultant who wrote five pages of densely worded and badly spelt self-aggrandisement didn’t get much of a look. The person with excellent academic qualifications but no field experience in a conflict environment gave me a moment’s thought, but no more. It was the people in the country already, and those I already knew, who made it to the short list.

Experience, education, and networks are usually given as the holy trinity of finding a job in development. Networking is not something I’m any good at, and the emphasis people give to it used to get me riled. But no. It’s true. Especially somewhere like Afghanistan, where you tend to live cheek by jowl in a highly pressurised environment, you really don’t want to get stuck with someone you don’t get on with personally and professionally. I’ve worked with a couple of idiots before who proved that for me. So you look for people you know, or know of, and those who have successfully worked in a similar environment before.

By the way, none of these people got the job. I gave it to myself.

I’ve yet to have someone apply who wrote about how much they want to help the poor and save the world, which is just as well ’cause if I did I’d be tempted to write back and tell them to piss off.

Much more impressive was the Afghan applicant who wrote that he wanted the job because our office is really close to his house so he wouldn’t have far to walk each day. That’s the kind of realism I appreciate.

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6 Responses to “Reading CVs”

  1. Peter Says:

    “I’ve yet to have someone apply who wrote about how much they want to help the poor and save the world, which is just as well ’cause if I did I’d be tempted to write back and tell them to piss off.”

    You know, idealists do exist… I think the art would be the distinguish those that bullshit and those who really mean it.

    Some do…

    One guy in a recent interview told me. “You know, for me it makes a difference to work for a .org and not for a .com… It give an additional value to my work and my life”…

    P.

  2. Transitionland Says:

    I agree with Peter. I had to review CVs and conduct phone interviews at my last job (for a position we ended up leaving unfilled anyway because of budget problems) and came across plenty of genuine idealists, as well as mercenaries. When I was at the OSCE, I remember basically all the younger staff being very, very idealistic, especially the human rights lawyers. Your post worries me just a little, because I just sent off a bunch of CVs and cover letters for jobs and internships in Afghanistan, and I did write about how I care about the people of that country and their future. I hope whoever reads those cover letters won’t turn me into a source of dinner table amusement!

  3. harryrud Says:

    As so often, I’ve been put in my place and made to feel suitably abashed. (Cheers!) I think my off-hand cynicism comes from ambivalence about my own feelings as much as anything.

    Idealists do exist, and that’s a good thing. I don’t have a problem with ideals, just the occasional tendency of some people to talk about ‘saving the poor’ as if they were talking about saving a cute little kitten.

    But still (trying to regain some ground), when it comes to CVs and covering letters, if anybody is applying for a job in aid work, I would assume they do care about the world around them, so it seems a strange thing to spell out when you have limited space and professional attributes to sell. But then there are bullshiters and mercenaries…

    More to say but even more work to do.

    Good luck with the job hunt Transitionland!

  4. Transitionland Says:

    I try to find a balance. Part of the time, I think I should spend more time/use more space to make my motivations clear, rather than elaborate on professional blah blah blah that’s already listed and bullet-pointed elsewhere. I’ve seen how much the right motivations matter and how much people with the wrong (or very confused) motivations can screw things up for everyone else. However, I go into detail about my professional attributes if the position is something that really matches up with a specific previous experience I’ve had, or I think I can “sell” myself as a very safe choice.

    Ugh, I do hate this stuff, though!

  5. Marianne Says:

    I saw way more of the idealism in CVs and covering letter from Afghans, rather than internationals. Lots of young Afghans applying to be human rights officers with UNAMA wanted the job so they could help their country and help people who have had their rights violates…. I guess that just proves Transitionland’s point about young human rights lawyers. Even slightly older and grayer ones like me, aye.

  6. TTP Says:

    Dude, I agree with you. Anything along the lines of “I just want to help people and make a difference” and they’re in the “no” pile. I’ve taken true idealists before and watched them crumble when they realised nothing they did was really going to work like they thought and, oh whups, most of the beneficiaries hate them because they can never do enough. Better to be bitter. Sadly.

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