Daughter one is looking for work, which means dusting off the cv that she wrote a while back. She emailed it to me to take a look. It started with the standard promotional paragraph: something about seeking opportunities to showcase her interpersonal skills. She listed her skills down the side. “A pleasant demeanor” was one. “You’ve taken this off an American website, haven’t you?” I said. She had indeed. The trouble is that writing cvs has been turned into a formulaic thing. Maybe it was ever like that. If I was an employer faced by hundreds of people with “interpersonal skills” I’d be desperate for a bit of originality, a bit of something that actually sounded like a person and not a machine.
I told daughter one to speak about herself in words that she would be more likely to use and to give concrete examples further down the page when she listed her work experience. I’m not a fan of the promotional first paragraph. I’d rather a cover letter, pointing out exactly why I am the person for the job in question, but if cvs are sifted by machines, machine writing full of the dreaded key words is what you will get and everything will be totally bland, any sense of individuality and interestingness stamped out. It’s not that daughter one doesn’t have interpersonal skills and a pleasant demeanour, but that is not what makes her daughter one or someone you would want to employ.
The whole process of applying for jobs is quite terrifying if you don’t have experience. Daughter two hasn’t even thought about that yet. She’s too busy worrying about the GCSE mocks. It doesn’t help that one of her teachers pulled her aside and compared her unfavourably to daughter one the other day. Surely that is in the teacher training 101 of things not to do. Daughter two spent the next half hour sobbing in the toilet. She has consistently referred to herself as “the dumb one” because she finds it hard to compete with daughter one’s academic achievements. This is despite the fact that she does really well, is outstanding at drama and anything creative, is way more athletic than daughter one, is a fabulous cook and the moral conscience of the family.
Daughter three then compares herself to daughters one and two and finds it even harder to carve out her niche, but is now growing in confidence every day after getting out of a very negative school environment. Meanwhile only son is younger and just freewheels on his own. He announced last week that his teacher had run out of maths homework for him. “I am the maths god of my class,” he pronounced. His sisters inevitably took the mickey. Families are for keeping your feet on the ground, but also for celebrating everyone’s individual strengths. It’s what good employers would do too.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.