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What matters on your CV these days?

Oct 08, 2017 Success, Sunday Nation

Seen this week on Twitter: I have become a mosquito-killing expert. Does that count on my CV?

No it doesn’t, I replied. Not around these parts. Given the sustained attack the local human race has been under over the past couple of months from mosquitoes, we’ve pretty much all become experts in mosquito extermination. Some have developed that eagle eye that clearly distinguishes a mosquito poised to pounce from a smudge on the wall at ten metres. Others wake up fully alert in a micro-second ready for action when a distant drone is heard. Some can do the hand-around-your-back spray manoeuvre like cowboys of yore. Yet others have perfected the no-look backhand tennis-racquet-zapper shot.

So it doesn’t make you stand out at all. Killing mosquitoes in an infested market is a necessary skill, not an in-demand one.

Jokes aside, that got me thinking. What else do people put on their curricula vitae, hoping to stand out? That they can use Microsoft Office software. That’s nice, dude, but no cigar. We might be concerned if you had never come across Word and Excel in your life, but being able to use them won’t land you the job. Being proficient in 1990s software doesn’t cut it. Now, if you know something meaningful about app design, video editing, secure cloud communications and the like, we might talk. If you have actually understood AI and blockchain, we might talk a lot…

You have a driving license. That’s important on that CV, right? Nope. Firstly, given Kenya’s record in license issuance over the past few decades, no one can tell whether the holder of a valid license can even drive a car, until said holder gets behind the wheel. Secondly, unless you’re interviewing for the job of driver, driving does not swing the employer’s decision. Thirdly, as we enter the era of cheap taxis and autonomous vehicles, you should really take your attention away from driving as a career option.

Now let’s get to the really important parts of the CV. You have a degree, you say, and you hope to be employed because you have one? Sadly, it’s no again. There are hundreds of thousands of Kenyans with degrees now. Not having one shuts you out of many opportunities, certainly; but just having a degree is not going to land you the job of your dreams.

Do I have a point this week, you ask? I do.

The era when standard qualifications made you eligible for big jobs is rapidly disappearing. There are no easy tickets any more. I meet way too many perplexed young Kenyans who are bitterly disenfranchised by lack of opportunity on the job market. They show me their résumés listing hard-won qualifications, and it breaks my heart to tell them this alone won’t hack it. But really, it won’t.

To stand out in a world where most people have covered the essentials means to figure out what’s really scarce. What do employers look for that’s actually hard to find? Here are some clues. The ability to write clearly in English is actually increasingly rare. Can you put out crisp copy not littered with typos, spelling errors and inane expressions? There’s a place for that. Are you truly honest, because that’s how you’ve been brought up, and can be trusted with company property? Also increasingly rare. In a world of thievery, honest people command a premium.

Can you take responsibility for outcomes, rather than just hide behind other people or lame excuses when things don’t happen? Because that’s really, really important. Can you anticipate what might go wrong, before it actually does, and act to prevent it? Whoa, now we’re getting somewhere. Can you think deeply rather than just surf on the surface? Can you move beyond your education and think for yourself? Can you, and I’m holding my breath now, actually come up with original insights about a situation? You can? If so, please take a seat, we really need to talk.

Our educational institutions keep churning out armies of clones armed with the same meaningless papers. Our employers still place way too little emphasis on the individual attributes and traits that they actually need. And young individuals do too little to understand how to actually add value to this world. There are needs, real needs, in this world. There are roles that will meet them. Do you understand what’s really needed by users, and what’s really needed by employers?

I’ll leave you to think about that. I think I hear a mosquito.

(Sunday Nation, 8 October 2017)

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