The Vine: October 12, 2011
Some time ago you ran a Vine question from someone wondering who'd written a speculative story about aliens who came to Earth and offered to completely fix all the U.S.'s problems in return for all its black people. The answer was Derrick Bell, a civil rights lawyer and law professor (the story was "The Space Traders").
He just died, and from his Times obituary, he seems like a very interesting guy. I thought you might want to know.
Thanks for the follow-up!
Dear Sars and any reader who knows things about how to actually get jobs:
A history of intense clinical depression means that instead of being a year out of college like I would have been otherwise, my past five years look like this: freshman year of college, year of Americorps program, sophomore year of college, almost a full semester of junior year of college up through November 2009, several months of fruitless job-hunting, a brief stint at the Census, and a second Americorps year.
For a LOT of reasons, I really, really, really do not want to go back to school yet (and also legitimately can't right away), but my current "job" is ending in less than two months which means it's job hunting time again. I had a friend show me how to put together a résumé (I was doing it super, super wrong) and coach me through the cover-letter-writing process, so I feel a little better in those regards (though if anyone wants to spontaneously share tips, I'm not turning them down).
My big question is the college issue. I don't want to leave it out entirely, since a) that leaves me with a whole lot of blank time and b) it is a pretty elite institution, the kind that people take real notice of, and while I have no intention of returning I can't say I don't want to use any advantage I might have. On the résumé, my HR friend recommended putting the institution with the dates I attended (no BA candidate or anything like that), which seems legit. And as far as giving a reason for it, I have pretty much decided to leave it at "family circumstances forced me to withdraw."
But do I preemptively mention it in a cover letter? Is it at all worth applying to jobs that require a BA if I think my experience has qualified me for them and if so, is that a cover-letter-mentioning thing ("While I was forced to leave undergrad, my experiences blah blah blah")? Again, going back is not on my radar right now, so I'm happy to look for jobs that I could potentially see going longer-term, but if I'm interested in that, do I need to come up with some way of saying "even though I look like I'm taking 'time off,' I promise I won't abandon you in eighteen months?" Alternately, does not looking like I care about finishing make me seem like a flake?
Basically: how do I tell potential employers that no, I don't have a B.A., yes, I am planning on getting one eventually, but no, it won't be soon enough that you need to doubt my commitment to you, and you should hire me anyway because my experiences have given me all the skills you are asking for?
And, bonus, quick question: how terrible is it to lie about your GPA on your résumé? Mine was like a 2.5 when I left; do people check that? (My instinct, alas, says yes.)
Thanks to anyone for really ANY advice at this point!
It's Not Like I Was Going To Gain Any More Actual Practical Or Intellectual Skills In Two More Years Of Dicking Around About Faulkner
Dear But If You Want To Work At Faulkner Inc., You'd Better Not Shine Them On,
My first bit of advice: easy with the "dicking around" rhetoric. It's fine among friends, and I agree with you up to a point, but for many employers, the point of the college degree isn't the skill set or the knowledge base. It's that you find a way to finish long, expensive projects, and given that not finishing is a source of concern for you, you maybe don't want to shit on it. I've said many times that college isn't for everyone, and in the current economic climate, you likely won't need any explanation for stepping out for a few semesters anyway — but if you're asked for one, "pfft" isn't the one you want. I'm sure you know that, but just in case.
And that, along with most of your other questions, depends on what kind of job you're applying for. It sounds to me like you want mostly jobs that require a bachelor's, and this is where it may come down to opinion, because if I had asked for B.A.-holders only and you sent your c.v. anyway, I would round-file it — based on failure to follow directions. Again, for jobs I've hired for, a degree doesn't make that much of a difference, but the degree itself isn't the point; see above. The point is that you think you're an exception…and whoever is in charge of hiring ain't got time for exceptions.
So, I would save your powder for jobs you really really want, if that's the case — and then I would just not mention that you didn't finish your BA. If you want to sneak it past the HR assistant, just put the dates on the c.v. and don't mention it in the cover letter explicitly. If you get to an interview, you can explain in more depth: you didn't finish yet, because you're focusing more on gathering experience right now, and you're committed to doing that with the United Widget Co. but you'll get back to Ivy.edu eventually.
This is what I would do. Our HR/hiring peeps might disagree…but without knowing what sector you're applying in, it's hard for me to say. Certain jobs just want someone with qualifications who will do the job cheap. Other fields have different priorities and really need a big-ticket degree. The key is not to annoy the first person who reads your file by not following directions — and not to draw attention to information you'd rather they not focus on by answering questions nobody asked.
And don't lie about anything. Leaving information off is one thing; lying is another, and doing it about something they can check? Dumb. A 2.5 is a B, no? It's not like you left because of academic difficulties. Put your school dates and GPA at the bottom of the c.v. and focus on selling your other quals in the letter.
Tags: Derrick Bell follow-ups popcult workplace