By Joe Ip
Whether a Sauder student is networking, writing a cover letter and resume, updating his LinkedIn profile, or interviewing for that prestigious co-president role, stretching “minute” details on work experience and skill sets is as routine a task as jay walking on campus. Yet, in an increasingly competitive job market, “exaggerating” (Extreme Personal Marketing; hirers beware) is becoming a socially acceptable norm, and perhaps even expected. How else are students supposed to gain an edge over their competitors when everyone who applies is seemingly “fluent” in 5 languages?
The fine line between slight exaggeration and outright deception is an urban myth; different recruiters do not share universal standards for evaluating the acceptable amount of creativity. For many jobs, recruiters often receive hundreds of applications, making it nigh impossible to “request for references” and investigate the legitimacy of questionable “achievements” as ridiculous as a former cashier claiming to have “serviced over 300 patrons per shift and generated $2287 in revenue on average”. In a world where integrity (and a career in the capital markets) is fast becoming legend, students are simply adapting to recruiters’ expectations. After all, if “exaggerations” are already being anticipated, it would be disadvantageous and naïve to abstain from exaggerating.
The fact of the matter is that commerce undergraduates are similar to commodities; all students are more or less equally skilled (or unskilled) and have similar work experiences. Because jobs in the corporate world often require less technical knowledge than the ones in engineering or health sciences, commerce students are forced to demonstrate their exceptionalism by employing any means at their disposal. It is much easier to showcase proficiency in C++ coding than to demonstrate “strong work ethic and interpersonal skills”. Rather than focusing on ability and technical skills, employers are prone to hire based on immeasurable superficial traits. Business students are aware of this and are not afraid to “adjust” their capabilities on their application in order to secure an interview. From the interview, the student proceeds to dazzle the employer with his/her excellent communication skills, while building rapport based on common interests (always talk about food, everyone needs to eat). If the winds are favourable, the number of unemployed business students will have decreased by one at the end of this process.
Insufficient research data offers inconclusive results on whether such hiring practices affect the profitability of businesses, but one thing is certain: a business student’s competitive advantage lies in the ability to compensate for his/her lack of technical capabilities. The stark reality of the job market (especially in Vancouver) is best reflected by the existence of Sauder’s COMM 202 (Career Fundamentals). In other words, it is so difficult for a Sauderite to get a job that we need a mandatory course to literally teach us how to get a job in our preferred fields. Reflect on that the next time you are deliberating between putting “conversational proficiency” or “fluency” in Mandarin on your resume.