Friday, September 14, 2007

Extreme Measures

Getting into college and landing a job have become so competitive that people go to great extremes to craft the perfect application.

My children went to a very competitive high school where the norm was to take AP classes and to go to Fiske 5-star schools. They excelled in their classes. They worked hard to have something to say on every part of the application. Whether they enjoyed doing community service or not, they made sure they had something to report. Whether they liked being in clubs or not, they joined. This of course was in addition to prepping for the dreaded SATs.

In their college application they tried to find a unique niche so as to have their application land in a small pile for consideration. This required a carefully crafted student essay.

It worked for both of them. They got into schools of their choice and did well. They knew the next round of competition would be for grad school, law school, or a first real job.

It seems there is a never-ending requirement to prove yourself and to give yourself the credentials you think someone is looking for.

I see this happening all over with my son who is still working up to a post-law school job. To explain the growing gap between graduation and employment, he is planning to say that he traveled and taught English abroad. Yes, he did travel after graduation. But wait – he didn’t yet teach English to anyone! So he is off next week to live in Budapest, where he will take a month-long course in how to teach English to foreign students somewhere abroad.

Then he will need to find a school in which to practice his newly acquired teaching skills. In an EU country, that will necessitate a work permit, which then will entitle him to teach up to 20 hours a week. One way to get a work permit is by becoming a student. So his plan is to study a foreign language with the idea of being able to teach legally and then being able to say that he is fluent in another language on his resume.

We have had some heated discussions about the difficulty of becoming fluent in a brand-new language, like Dutch for example. He points out that he bought a book and a CD on Dutch. Does that give him a leg up? Not a very big leg in my opinion. But he has proven me wrong on many occasions.

All this to be able in good conscience to offer a convincing resume that portrays him as an individual some law firm will want to hire.

What happened to the days when you simply presented yourself and said, “Here are my current credentials and here’s what I want to do with my life. How does this match what your business/firm does/needs?”

It would seem that young people are having to jump through some expensive and time-consuming hoops to make themselves sufficiently attractive. Our society has created an application nightmare that only gets worse with time and the emergence of the baby boomer children.

Meanwhile, if you know of anyone who had either a good or a bad experience teaching English abroad, please leave me a comment. I’m anxious to know what my son is in for in this next chapter of his life.


Blogger Kristin said...

I know two people who've done it. My friend, Nash, lived in Costa Rica for a couple of years teaching English. He loved it, settled down and met the woman who is now is wife.

My friend, Robert, taught for a year in Nicaragua after leaving the Peace Corps. Again, a great experience, and he's moved on to teaching English in Korea.

I wish your son well.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Thanks for the info and for your good wishes.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous KassyK said...

I have an acquaintance that taught in India and loved it. And as a Hungarian by heritage, Budapest is an increibley beautiful city, rich in culture and things to do. Great place for him to be.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kassy -- I love the success stories. It makes me want to be young and adventurous once again. I'm wondering if they hire 58-year-old English teachers abroad. That might be a fun way to see the world and get paid for it!

5:07 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

It's nothing like when we got out looking. Practically everyone got jobs right away, especially in teaching.

My best friend's daughter taught in Japan and had an amazing year. She got to travel many places in her time off and at the end of the year. She kept a travel blog which had tons of pictures and was really great.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- This sounds like a win-win situation!

6:52 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I am not much of a salesman. I am the type who just says, "Here I am. I think I am competent for the task at hand."

I applied to teach English in Japan, but was turned down. A few months later I met one of the ladies who was on the selection committe and she said it was too bad I had not met her earlier (although, I suspect this would be a conflict of interest). I even had a letter of recommendation from a university English prof.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- My point exactly. Why should it take a personal connection or a resume made to order to secure a job? When I hired people, I put some weight on their academic performance and their previous experience, but their answers during the interview were the main deciding factor. I could tell an awful lot from the answer to a question like "How do you react to a stressful situation?" or "What would you do if you discovered a mistake in a production system?"

8:54 PM  

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