As I write this article, there is another document hiding in another tab at the bottom of my browser. It remains open all day, ready for immediate access in the event that I need it. Over the summer holiday it has undergone many changes and has been attached to many emails. It has been scrubbed up, switched around and sworn at. One moment I will curse it bitterly from the blackest depths of my heart, and the next moment it will be my only hope of salvation and I will love and cherish it dearly. At its header is my name, and emblazoned beneath: curriculum vitae.
Let’s consider that phrase for a moment. Curriculum vitae. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Quite literally a personal statement, a mantra, the kind of thing you’d put on your coat of arms. With its stately, rarefied air it would sit quite comfortably alongside “magna carta” or “interregnum.” The rather less dignified “CV” doesn’t quite take away from the fact that you’re supposed to be proud of this piece of paper. When all’s said and done it is your ultimate arsenal in self-worth; all the things which will make you of any interest whatsoever to a prospective employer, accrued in one place.
Further, with the alleged sanctity of the CV comes the ancient and established art of “going round with your CV in the summer.” Regale your unemployment woes to any adult over 40 and you inevitably get the same line, with practiced middle-aged jingoism: “in my day we went around with our CVs in the summer.” Although only meant in kindness, it calls to mind a now-unthinkable golden age of pride whereby one would sling their satchel over their shoulder and tramp off into the big old world like the kid in the Hovis advert, armed with only a stack of CVs and an indomitable youthful spirit. Idyllic, nostalgic jobs with hilariously vague titles – “post office boy”, “shelf stacker” – were ripe for the taking as formative experiences in a young person’s life.
Now, you would think that these positions still exist. We still have post offices. There are still shops, lining every high street of every town, with shelves that need stacking and always will. I may be doing an English degree, but I have no money and I am not fussy when it comes to skills and experience. I will perform menial tasks for money. Where, I ask you, are these fairytale vacancies? What has happened to them? Why is my curriculum vitae, once such a firm bedrock for the young jobseeker, apparently so impotent and dismissible?
The answer, so I have gathered from my job hunting experiences this summer, lies with the online application. You can “go around with your CV” all you like, wave it under the noses of a million different stony-faced store managers, utter the line “I’m just enquiring as to whether you have any temporary vacancies” until you feel you will never be able to say anything else. The answer, in any shop, will always be “all our applications are done online now.” You, there, in the flesh, in the shop, wearing your nicest shirt, radiating all the “potentially great customer service” vibe you can possibly muster, CV in hand, is not enough. Sometimes they will even be sweet enough to write you the address of their website on a piece of paper, because your employment-seeking methods are evidently prehistoric enough that they don’t think you’ll even be able to locate the Holland & Barrett homepage.
So you go home. And you go online. And, roasting away in your sordid little grief-chamber while outside your window the sun chuckles heartily at your failure, you begin the online application. First of all you have to sign up to the company’s vacancies section, which seems fair enough; you get email alerts when a vacancy appears in your area. I would like to stress that the likelihood of a vacancy appearing in your area which actually suits your availability and experience is very small. If one does crop up, of course it’s very exciting. You might, as I have several times, rush downstairs to tell your parents the good news – the days of your guiltily draining their bank accounts are over for good.
But alas, this is where the real fun begins. Just send the company a covering letter with your CV, surely? That one handy document that you have spent years creating so that all your qualifications, skills and experience can be collated in one place? Oh, no! To apply for the position, you are required to brave a labyrinthine process of online forms and questionnaires. More often than not, you have to write out every single GCSE, AS and A-level you received, each one accompanied by the grade you achieved, the date it was awarded and which institution awarded it to you. The same applies for previous employers; fill out each position individually, with the employer’s address and contact details, the exact dates you started and left and your responsibilities and achievements. Sometimes you may be required to watch a selection of videos presenting you with ideal customer service and answer a quiz based on what you have learned. By the time you’ve got to the final stages (the covering letters and traumatising questions like “if we called your previous employer, what would they say about you?”) it feels more like you’ve reached some kind of text-based final boss level than applied to become a Shop Floor Assistant. Time that could have been enjoyed in the summer sun is frittered away on an endless string of these frankly unnecessary processes. In one man’s bedroom yet another application times out; for the rest of the world, it’s Pimms o’clock.
And so, arsenal in self-worth or not, the CV is rendered useless. More depressingly, so is the personal aspect of job seeking. You would think that making a good face-to-face impression on your potential employer would tell them more about your ability to work with the public than a sequence of multiple choice questions.
I realise I am probably being naive. This is my induction to the world of work, and it is a harsh world. Ultimately it would be more useful to stop whining and keep searching. But with every form I fill in, I can’t help but yearn for the long-ago glory days of job hunting, of the curriculum vitae, of “post office boys” and “shelf stackers.” Show me a shelf and I will stack the hell out of it. I just want to be able to go to the pub again.