“It will look sensational on your CV”, bark those organisations seeking to entice young people into an ‘invaluable’ experience that will trump all other desperate graduates’ attempts at impressing future employers. These experiences range from volunteering projects to painfully expensive weeks acting as a chai wallah to superiors who are too important to learn your name and refer to you as ‘intern’.
Many of us crave that well-earned paragraph that can be written under our ‘Work Experience’ heading in Microsoft Word, and sit and wait for the day when a senior manager says ‘Wow! You built a vegetable patch in Ghana! You’re hired!’
This growth in the number of students becoming obsessed with success worries me. Especially as success is being measured by how many clubs and societies you can fit into a three-year degree course and the repercussions of this commitment. It is not the abundance of extra activities specifically that is the issue, but I start to get cheesed off when the reasons behind actions are distorted.
For example, volunteering is a generous activity to participate in, and thousands of students in Britain take part in a plethora of projects and money-raising schemes each year. A lot of organisations, however, advertise their projects as being exceedingly beneficial to careers. Although this may be true, shouldn’t they be focusing on advertising what volunteers’ time and money will achieve? Nevertheless, the growth in ‘voluntourism’ has meant that volunteering has become a working holiday for (mostly, affluent) students who do so purely for the recognition it will get them in that all-important interview.
At the end of the day, who can blame us? After competing to get that Saturday job, then competing to get into university, it is only inevitable that the competition lives on. The game is the same, but there are different rules this time, with new ways to win. Many of us are either playing by all the rules, and enjoying the range of opportunities open to us, whilst others refuse to stick to their role and are convinced that they may be the next Alan Sugar. After all, Lor’Alan didn’t spend months engaging in the Model United Nations Society as a representative from Thailand, did he?
I guess I begrudge doing things purely for a team in human resources to tick off, as a representation of their company’s ‘key competencies’. This is especially true when said activity or experience was an unpleasant one. Take the new BBC programme ‘Way To Go’. Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners) is a receptionist at a veterinary surgery, and he is met with a dog covered in its own excrement. He gets the joy of cleaning that off the counter, whilst being prohibited from touching the animals by his boss, the veterinary surgeon. If you replaced Blake Harrison and were in a real-life veterinary work experience situation instead of a fictional TV programme, your experience would stink. Yet, you’d smile and move on, convince yourself that scrubbing poo was worthwhile even though that was your full extent of animal contact, and welcome your next placement!
The demise of enjoyable work experience and extra-curricular activities is a sad truth. There must be people out there in a sports team, who resent their early morning training sessions and don’t get on with their teammates, but who persist in the hope of deploying their ‘teamwork skills’ in an application question. There will also be people who adore their sporting achievements and will continue to do so. I scribble ranting articles because I love to write, yet some may feel that squeezing emotionless metaphors into a feature about politics will get them the golden ticket to the newsroom.
Still, if we are all fantastically educated with a variety of pastimes, aren’t we all essentially the same? We may be sheep; we all aim to be the brightest, most talented and dynamic individual, yet in this, we are bound together.