Ah the resume race. That perpetually revolving treadmill we hitch ourselves to the moment we graduate from college, or even while still in high school. Come to think of it, according to “The Coddling of the American Mind“, childhood is now being treated by some parents as extended college prep. Extracurricular activities now take up the entirety of some children’s free time. All in the name of credentials.
And when it comes to credentials, the resume reigns as monarch. We craft our resumes to exacting standards; we wield fonts that convey “I mean business but I’m also playfully carefree.” We include the proper power words like “aggressive expansion”, “maximal output” and “effective delegation.” We include our most minute of accomplishments, from the ribbon we got in the 11th grade science fair to the “chess club presidency” we reluctantly held in college. We then send our carefully crafted resumes off to dozens of potential employers to see if they deem us worthy enough of working for them.
It’s a sight to see.
But for all our inane posturing, the banal fanfare which accompanies “extracurricular activities” and moralizing “volunteerism”, the truth stands out for all to see yet few of us address it.
The market doesn’t care.
The market doesn’t give a fig about the gold star you received in kindergarten, the fact that you made the dean’s list every year in college or the number of orphans you’ve rescued from burning buildings.
The market cares about one thing: value.
What do you provide that is of value?
If you provide unique value the market bends for you. If you don’t, well, that’s why there’s such a thing as “resume building classes.”
Ready for some hard (and liberating) truths? Read on then.
We Are Obsessed With Credentialism
Even if this is the first time you’ve encountered the word “credentialism”, if you’re a young professional I guarantee you its meaning is not foreign to you. You’ve experienced it in meetings, office parties and informal get-togethers. “Credentialism” is the overemphasis on credentials or diplomas in giving jobs or conferring social status. It’s the belief that people who attend the ivy league universities or work at successful companies are educated and intelligent. It’s rampant in the rich world.
Parents bend themselves, and their children, into pretzels to ensure their offspring get a shot at the big names in college. Parents believe they are operating with their child’s best interests at heart, but all their doing is making twisted little monsters who cant tell one of their ends from the other. These parents are confusing credentials with success.
Credentialism Is Really Confusion
It’s the erroneous belief that association with a certain institution signifies education, capabilities and intelligence. Such association does not imply any such traits, on the contrary, many times it conveys adherence to the status quo, rigidity and dogmatic certainty.
Young professionals today have become caught in a resume arms race. Incapable of producing meaningful, original creative work which addresses unmet needs in the market, young adults become obsessed with accruing credentials from various institutions to aggrandize themselves in the eyes of potential employers. For good reason, employers themselves are caught in the same dysfunctional merry-go-round.
It’s all a big ego contest, and the person with the biggest name at their back, the shiniest star or the glossiest piece of paper can usually come out on top. Parents know this. Just look at the scandal which rocked Harvard in 2019 when it was discovered that celebrity parents secured positions for their offspring at the hypercompetitive institution by bribing university officials. It was famous rich people being shamed for conning hardworking and genuinely bright students out of their coveted ivy league school positions. Glorious.
If Only They Knew That None of It Matters
And I’m not saying that education doesn’t matter, far from it. Education is the ladder we make for ourselves to climb out of whatever ditch we may we find ourselves in, figurative or otherwise. And if we’re not in a ditch personally, then we can educate ourselves on how to help others get out of theirs.
The thing is, we confuse “schooling” with “education.” They are not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
Schooling means attending an institution, towing the line, learning and doing what you’re supposed to learn and do before you go out to show others that you’ve learned to do things the same way they have. Schooling allows you to do what has been done before.
Education, on the other hand, is learning to use the tools at your disposal, whatever they may be, so you can improve your lot in life. It can take place anywhere, in the city dump, in the midst of old-growth forest, by the Mediterranean sea, in a dusky warehouse or, my personal favorite, in a library.
Where schooling puts up walls, education recognizes none. In fact, education smashes walls. Where schooling gets you jumping through hoops, education allows you to tell the institution holding the hoops to stuff ‘em where they fit best. Where schooling feeds the ego, education starves it.
Take It From Socrates
Education starves the ego because the more you learn the more you realize you know nothing. Like Socrates, who said:
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
Obviously Socrates knew some things, like how to breathe, how to speak Greek and how to piss people off. What Socrates meant, I believe, is that what he knew was so minuscule, so unthinkably small when compared to the unfathomable vastness of the everchanging universe, that he might as well have known nothing.
How does that make sense? Consider these next points:
- Our eyes perceive thin sliver of the visual spectrum, which is infinite. There’s an infinity of colors we don’t perceive.
- Our ears perceive a thin slice of the sound spectrum, which is also infinite. There’s an infinity of sounds we don’t perceive.
- Matter is 99.999…% empty space, yet we perceive density.
- We know what 95% of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy. We know it’s there because of how it changes the behavior of the things around it, yet we have no idea what it actually is. It could be butterscotch for all we know.
- We don’t know why we sleep, how the brain stitches together our reality from the input of our senses, how anesthesia works, what happens when we die, how life even starts, nor what lies at the “center” of a black hole.
Yet schooling does its gosh darn best to convince us that by learning the preapproved curriculum it offers we have acquired the tools to live healthy, happy, productive lives. And often it succeeds.
We buy into it hook line and sinker. Then, when we realize schooling only puts us in with the general crowd, we realize we need to supplement our schooling with other activities meant to showcase our goodness. We start resume building.
We attend the club meetings, check the box for “community engagement”, tutor the less privileged. Then we pretentiously stick it all on our resume in order to make ourselves “stand out” from the crowd.
How can we be surprised we didn’t get the job when everyone is engaged in the same grotesque self-aggrandizement?
I’m not saying that any of the aforementioned activities are wrong or unworthy. It’s good to do them, if your intention is to genuinely help without a holding onto a crumb of self-interest. Otherwise it’s posturing, plain and simple.
This Comes From Personal Experience
I used to get the gold stars and the excellence ribbons, the scholarships and the plaques. I used to volunteer to show I was worthy of them.
Then I’d go right home and gleefully put my it all down on my resume, believing it would raise me above the competition. I would jokingly say to my partner at the time “Once I’ve tutored enough poor, mentally retarded, minority orphans I will be a shoe-in to be admitted at this university or to receive that scholarship.” I said it jokingly, but I believed it! I kid you not. I’ve never owned up to it before, until now.
And the thing is, it worked. I got the admissions. I got the scholarships.
After all, those parents bribed those Harvard officials because they “knew” credentialism works.
At first blush.
What Credentialism Costs Us
When we succumb to credentialism we accept that external measures of success are what determine our actual success. They don’t. Success has always been and will always be self-defined, meaning no one else can tell us when we’re successful, only we can decide that.
Credentialism is the long-term consequence of the modern schooling system, which indocrinates us into believing that the numbers on a piece of paper reflect our value as a student, a person, a human being. Most of us grow up believing that other people get to tell us what we’re worth and its our job to prove ourselves to them.
The thing is, when we hold such a belief, we end up doing things to satisfy others while ignoring ourselves.
And when we ignore ourselves we lock ourselves out of the highest realms of achievement. Because we focus our energies not on things which genuinely interest us, but on things which we believe interest others.
Do you think Einstein had a resume which he sent places asking for a job? Do you think Marie Curie volunteered at orphanages and then wrote about it in her curriculum vitae? Or Nelson Mandela organized community engagement dinners hoping it would help him land some or other position? Or Isaac Asimov acted as president of some club or other to boost his “employability”?
Masters Are On Their A-Game
These people were too engaged with putting the best of themselves into their craft to be concerned with such crap. They were in full-on genius mode working on their Ikigai. They respected themselves too much to put anything out into the world which didn’t their reflect utmost commitment to their work. Laser focused on doing the best they could do.
The market then took notice and deemed that these aforementioned people created tremendous value. So it moved for them. The opportunities flowed to them, organically, effortlessly, smoothly.
My Friend’s Story
I have a friend in Mexico who currently works at a multinational company as a chemical engineer. He designs power plants. He was working at a smaller concern before starting with his present employer. While working at his previous job he made decisions which saved the company millions of dollars.
That was his value provided. Millions.
His present company took notice, asked him to an interview and offered him the job. The interview was mostly a formality. They knew what he had to offer and they wanted it. The market moved for my friend.
He had no need to write “I volunteered at such and such place” or “I got such and such award.” He didn’t even send in his resume.
His work spoke for itself. So he didn’t have to.
So what does your resume say about you?
To our wealth and success.