Meet the Real Me

Via a fellow Twitterer I recently became aware of http://www.meettherealme.co.uk/, a recruitment website which advertises in the Guardian’s online jobs section. Graduates are encouraged to post personal profiles and ‘Video CVs’ onto the site's database in the hope of attracting the attention of employers. As the blurb explains: ‘We offer jobseekers a way to stand out from the crowd ... We bring top candidates and employers together in a fresh, unique and fun environment.’ And, of course, ‘we save employers valuable time and money in the recruitment process too!’ Great!

I am about as fluent in Graduatese as I am in Klingon, but if I was able and willing to speak the language of this site and its ilk, how would I describe the ‘real me’? Would it turn out to be anything like this?

So much for standing out; as illustrated by the quotes collected above, the candidates’ statements are interchangeable, like the copy-and-paste products of a random CV jargon generator. Stock adjectives – creative, passionate, ambitious – float past, adrift from any clear object. Could someone really recognise themselves in any of those phrases? Are they meant to communicate anything to potential employers beyond a familiarity with grad-speak and a supine compliance? Do they not rather evoke some sort of generic immaterial worker defined by form over content and purged of individuality? In addition, the juxtaposition between academic achievement and career expectations can be unintentionally hilarious. One profile reads as follows: ‘My academic career has seen me achieve consistently excellent marks across a broad range of disciplines, and having completed a Masters in History, I am looking to gain experience in an area where the exceptional literary and analytical skills I have developed will be put to best use.’ And the candidate’s preferred work sector in which to deploy these exceptional literary and analytical skills? ‘Media Sales’.

But wait. The ‘realness’ of meettherealme.com is clearly supposed to be encapsulated in the Video CVs, webcammed elevator speeches uploaded by the candidates for public viewing (click the boxes next to the generic questions on the profile pages). Presumably the idea is to simulate an actual interview, without the awkwardness of proximity and edited down to a 45 second spurt of positivity. Unsurprisingly then, these video auditions resemble Apprentice-themed speed-dating exercises. They are mostly limited to people talking up their leisure interests, with work only mentioned in passing, but with keywords like ‘competitive’ nevertheless dropped in conspicuously. Travel and socialising are mentioned again and again, pre-empting the expected demands for mobility and networking. There is a kind of desperation about the clips which makes them almost unwatchable, and in this sense I suppose they do indeed point towards something real, but rather than a shining enthusiasm it is the prospect of the all-encompassing black hole of emotional labour, the excruciating spectacle of a personality harnessed and put to work. Snowboarding or playing the guitar are not so much interests as convenient props, seamlessly incorporated into the performative repertoire, augmenting the generic boardroom patter and suggesting an upbeat, accept-anything attitude.

Thankfully I have no access to video-making technology, so even if I did feel compelled to humiliate myself in this way, I'd be excluded. I would have to upgrade my kit and smarten up my act if I wanted to compete with these fresh-faced performers and unlock my potential in the 21st century professional jobseeking marketplace. Besides, I am too old and curmudgeonly to ‘put myself out there’, as I believe is the expression. But could this be a glimpse of the routine horror which awaits those students leaving the talent schools of the future, already inducted into  the education/jobseeking/networking/self-marketing ‘corporate skills’ circuit?

Scanning for new sales interns, the Project Manager scrolls through dozens of virtual presentations, ‘meets’ another hopeful. Enthusiasm, confidence, adaptability – all the buzzwords are there and the script is impeccably delivered. But there is perhaps just the faintest trace of doubt in the candidate’s voice, behind her smile a grimace which seems to be saying: Is this what I really want? Is this what I really bought with those tuition fees and I’m now starting to pay for? Is this really all I’ve learned? Is this really me?


Anonymous said...

You right a blog yet you have no accesss to a webcam..... that makes you a true authority on the web...well done

robotsdancingalone said...

Yeah, the cheek, going round 'righting' blogs without even a webcam, those poor blogs!

In all seriousness: I thought this post to be refreshingly empathetic and also very moving.

Sandra said...

"If I say of myself, I am this, I am that!--then, if I stick to it, I turn into a stupid fixed thing like a lamp-post. I shall never know wherein lies my integrity, my individuality, my me." (DH Lawrence)

I know the feeling exactly, both in this and the previous post. (btw I loved this bit: "A middle-aged man, his generic trustworthy face had been cleansed of all traces of personality by decades of implementing marketing strategies and chasing corporate targets.")

I was confronted with the dehumanising horror that jobhunting can be when I moved to the UK. And while I haven't exactly found work yet, I've found better ways to look.

Avoid recruitment websites or agencies, contact companies directly even if they haven't advertised vacancies, and also LinkedIn is very helpful, as you can sometimes find vacancies through closed groups.

I also can recommend a book called What Colour is Your Parachute, it really helped me out when I felt depressed with jobseeking.

Hope the job finds you!


Sandra said...

PS- ok I when I wrote that last comment I hadn't had a good look around your blog, and I feel really silly for trying to give advice, when in fact I could probably learn a lot from your book! (I didn't even realise you had a book when I commented, and seeing as I've literally absorbed every post on here the past 2 days, I'll have to read it!)


Screened Out said...

Sandra, thanks for your comments and for reading the blog. I am wary of the self-marketing aspect of LinkedIn-style career networking, and even more suspicious of the language of self-help (is choosing the right colour for my parachute a distraction from thinking collectively about why we had to be thrown out of the plane in the first place? etc.), but also very interested in how these discourses affect people and culture as a whole. I'd welcome any thoughts you might have on the book, particularly from the perspective of someone who has been in similar situations and has used some of these self-help and networking tools.

dramardin said...

It wasn't exactly a self-help book as much as a reality check- that finding work through sending applications is as likely as winning the lottery in some cases (and here I agree that we need to ask the question 'how come') and that the best bet is finding work through 'connections'. I guess networking websites are really good for that, but if used properly... For e.g. you could meet someone on the basis of similar music taste on Last.fm and that is a lot more likely to get you a job than sending a video CV to meettherealme in most instances. (I'd never market myself as anything else but myself, even on LinkedIn - where I mostly meet people through genuine debates in groups on topics that really interest me) Of course it really helps if you know what you want to do in life and have a dream of succeeding in some particular career field, and I guess the book tries to help in that respect as well...

Anonymous said...

I believe that I am the history graduate mentioned in this piece, which I found after an interested search.

I firmly believe that this company was completely useless in my job prospects, and on top of that felt slightly mislead by them. They basically try and put people into magazine advertising sales roles, none of which was mentioned in any communication until I got to the workshop. I had no interest in getting a sales role, my CV had simply been harvested off a job site (probably the Guardian one) and I'd been offered this. As a recent graduate desperate for work, obviously I went for it. It cost me a ticket to London and back (not inexpensive and especially so for an unemployed graduand as I was).

Unsurprisingly I never heard anything more from these people after the morning (advertised as being a day) workshop in their Kings Cross office. I found a job as an analyst with a more local insurance firm and never looked back, but I still feel slightly miffed about the whole experience. It obviously works for some people, but not me.