Monday, May 26, 2008

The Value Of An Ivy League Degree

Diplomad, an underground conservative serving in the super-liberal State Department, writes about hiring college interns for that politicized institution:

A few years ago, more than I care to mention, I headed a large office at the State Department. I got tasked with hiring a couple of Presidential Management Interns (PMIs). These PMIs come from the elite of the elite student body at the elite of the elite universities. They get hired on a temporary basis and then, usually, get offered prestigious jobs in the government. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that whatever else I did, I had to hire women.

So I began to pore over the resumes. My heart sank. I felt inadequate and so, so inferior to these kids. Their resumes, impeccably printed and organized, using dozens of words ending in "-ization," and listing prowess with a dazzling array of complex software programs, described accomplishments beyond my wildest dreams -- especially for when I was the applicants' age!I thought I should resign and give
up my job to one of the "brilliant" child wonders.

Ah, naive me. I obviously had spent too much time overseas. I saw resumes as truthful documents actually written by the applicants, applicants, in this case, full of accomplishments and possessed of massive brains throbbing with energy and ideas. As I, however, kept reading, even slow-witted me began to notice oddities. They all began to look the same: the font, the format, the wording, the list of classes and even -- horrors! -- the "accomplishments."

I noted this in passing to a cynical old friend (now, alas, departed) who worked in "human resources" (what a great phrase that). He laughed, "You dope! They get classes on how to write resumes! They have professors and computer programs that put these things together for them." (Remember, folks, computers were new things back then.) He said, "Just randomly pick a couple of women students, they're all the same, hire'em, and move on."

I could not do that. I stole a friend's idea and devised "The World War II Test." I invited the applicants for interviews. These PMI wannabes came off as slick and somewhat rude. I noted something among my subjects, a sense of entitlement, they all, to varying degrees, emitted a message along the lines of "Why are you bothering me with this silly interview? I am obviously brilliant. I have a degree from Columbia. I am not going to spend my whole life as you have in this stupid bureaucracy. I just need this to add to my resume. I am in a hurry."

I hit them with the test, which consisted of about dozen questions about WWII and its aftermath. I recall a few,Can you tell me how US troops got into Europe in the first place? When was WWII? (I would accept a variety of answers as long as the applicant could defend the dates as the true start and end of WWII.) What nations comprised the principal Allied and Axis powers? Who was Neville Chamberlain? What he did he do at Munich and with whom? Who was Mussolini? What did he do to Ethiopia? Who was Stalin? Who was Hirohito? What was D-Day? What President ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs and why? Can you name a result of the Conference at Yalta? What was the Berlin Airlift?

Of the 14 or 15 applicants I interviewed, only one got them all right -- the only male in the crowd, by the way. None, zero, zip of the rest got even ONE right. Not a single one. A very irritated applicant asked me, "Do we really need to know this old stuff?" I noted that we worked with NATO and Europe, hence, it was important to know the background that led to the creation of NATO and the then just-concluded Cold War. She stared at me and said, "What does World War II have to do with NATO, the Cold War and Europe?"

I promptly offered the job to the male -- oh, the cries from "Human Resources" -- who turned it down for a more lucrative one in the private sector. In the best Foreign Service tradition, I stalled hiring anybody else, let my two-year assignment run out, and left my poor successor to get stuck with one of the clueless ones.

It reminds me of a line from the movie, "Barry Lyndon," where young Barry, the rich commoner, wishes to climb the social ladder into the aristocracy, perhaps even purchase a title of royalty. The old noble he hires to help him explains that he will introduce him to the best people. By best, he doesn't mean the cleverest or wittiest or most able or richest, but simply The Best People.

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