English and the Jobseeking Graduate

Things used to be much simpler – study hard, get good grades, graduate from a “good” university and find a decent job where you’ll start from the bottom and steadily progress. Rinse and repeat with your children once you get married. Times have changed since, and it seems we haven’t quite gotten ourselves out of these mentality. Nationwide, the pressure is on to achieve ‘A’s and distinctions beginning as early as primary school. We have produced scores of straight ‘A’ students from cradle to convocation, but for once, the narrative they’ve been led to believe didn’t hold true; months after graduation, cover letters and CVs are still being sent in the desperate hopes that the hiring manager had a great breakfast that morning and was amenable to giving the application a thorough look. Graduates could look at their impressive stacks of certificates, diplomas and letters of recommendations and wonder, what was the point of it all, this paper chase?

We can blame anything, from lax immigration policies to mandatory national service, but the fact remains that graduates are still looking for jobs. As I mulled over the situation with my job-hunting friends one evening, a thought occurred to me – perhaps, one of the things we’ve missed out is the problem caused by this “good-grades, good-jobs” narrative.

I would not venture to say that this is the sole or even the main factor; like many teenagers’ relationship status on facebook, it is complicated. However, it does make sense when we think about it. If a huge number of students had been brought up on this myth and worked hard for their ‘A’s, then at least on paper, there’s really nothing separating these cookie-cutter candidates. Years of rote learning and memorisation have deprived them of their individuality and capacity to learn for learning’s sake. If I were the hiring manager, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference too!

Parents sometimes wonder why our students have to do Media Studies or discuss current affairs and interesting news topics in class when it’s not even an examinable component in English. Our response has always been one of the need to prepare students for the challenges of the modern world, to develop them into much more than a straight-‘A’s student and to nurture within them the ability to articulate their points with confidence. We hadn’t thought about job-seeking then, but if our students do become more expressive and differentiate themselves on paper and in person during the interview in the future, then we would have succeeded admirably in our goal.