Magazine article The Spectator

The Semi Illiterates

Magazine article The Spectator

The Semi Illiterates

Article excerpt

I TAKE a firm grip on the desk, for at any moment I may need to thrash my head several times against its surface. That's because it is graduate recruitment time again. Running a small public-relations and marketing consultancy has its rewards. It's not awfully taxing, allows me to spend a reasonable proportion of my time doing work I enjoy, and is rather profitable. No complaints there.

But one price I do pay for this life of benign contentment is that from time to time I am forced to recruit new graduates as trainees. And that's when I start thinking that really I would prefer to be cleaning the urinals at Waterloo station.

Perhaps my difficulties stem from the fact that I am not deceitful enough to employ people who are clearly too bright for a career in PR, an industry that is packed with second-raters and always has been. There are many more stimulating and useful occupations for the seriously clever.

No, what I'm after are graduates of the breeze-block universities with their degrees in marketing, communications, public relations and, yes, media studies. Of course, the latter two are the cr&me de la cr&me. My little heart always skips a beat when I receive a CV from a graduate of Bournemouth University, which positively teems with PR wannabes.

But then I am very discerning. Until a few years ago I took the view that people whose CVs and covering letters contained very serious grammatical and spelling mistakes were not worth interviewing. However, I ended up with so few potential interviewees that I abandoned this approach. These days I cheerfully turn a blind eye to quite grotesque errors and abuses of the English language in the search for suitable candidates.

Take this one from a young lady who wrote to us last year. Her CV detailed her various holiday jobs, including a spell as a waitress in a Knightsbridge wine bar, or, as she described it, 'a busy London brassiere'. Another defined her role with a women's theatre group as its `pubic rations officer'. Some weeks later we heard from a marketing graduate, who provided in his application no fewer than three different spellings of his own surname, and two of his university town. Rather exotic, I thought. Childish spelling mistakes are very common. Why, only last month we had an application with no fewer than 16 in a single-page letter and short CV (graduate with a 2:1 in Marketing). Almost all such errors would be highlighted by any computer spellchecker, which I always assume these graduates are able to operate but either forget to do so or cannot be bothered. Or perhaps they have such confidence in their ability to spell that they feel they don't need any help. (This may be a good moment to point out to any media graduate reading this that liaise is not spelt L-I-A-S-E. Useful tip, eh?) Still, it's important not to be put off by these little lapses of concentration. If the covering letter is reasonably written and the CV stands up to my less than exacting standards, then an applicant bearing a media-type degree has a decent chance of being called for an interview. That's when the fun really starts.

I have learnt not to expect too much from media studies graduates. For example, it is clearly unreasonable to assume that they will have found out anything about our company in advance of the interview. …

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