Exams have been strenuous. On the day of my birthday, I found myself sitting in an exam hall trying to work out the derivations on non-linear acoustics in ultrasound and feeling like the stupidest guy on earth. For a birthday celebration I met up with a friend and we walked along the river before I went back to revise for the next exam. He had been filtering job applications for a position in the NHS. He had been doing this for a couple of years now but this year he had noticed something different.
About 60 had applied for the job. Nothing new there. The difference was that he noticed that roughly half had noted in their CV that they were involved in developing an app, they were CEO of a startup, or that they were “involved” in a startup. Now the job wasn’t tech based so it wasn’t really relevant. However, I can see how having an active role in developing an app or startup can demonstrate some transferable skills. The thing is that none of them actually said what they did, what skills they learned, or what problems they solved. I too have noticed this weird trend. It seems to be the fashionable thing to say nowadays. However you feel about this, the bottom line is that he wasn’t impressed. In fact, he spoke about it with slight annoyance. Whether the applicants thought that this was right or wrong is neither here nor there, they were selling themselves to him. I’m sure these people are skilled and have a lot to offer people, it’s a shame when they give off the impression that they don’t.
My friend expanded on his frustration with Uber. No doubt Uber consulted taxi drivers when developing their platform, but he highly doubted that there was taxi drivers flaunting around saying that they were “involved in a startup”. But for some reason the medical profession has seemed to have spun focus group participation as an integral role when in reality the startup could have chucked a bit of cash at most other medics, they just needed service user input.
People put this sort of stuff on their CV to impress. If it does the opposite then it’s only hurting the person who’s trying to sell themselves. Truth be told I have similar feelings. When a medic tells me flatly that they are “involved” in a startup my mind jumps to a medical student I met when I was teaching computational medicine. She couldn’t get her head around loops within loops, she couldn’t develop the most basic functions but she left the introductory to coding class stating that she was going to code an app. I bumped into her a few times around the hospital and she told me tales that over the summer she was going to manage a team of engineers at silicone valley. The girl had little to no life experience, no technical ability, and hadn’t finished her undergrad yet. She may have managed to secure some work experience but the tales of involvement with no listing of skills or particular project details just ended up annoying me. Is it irrational? Yes, she could be telling the truth, however, I just couldn’t instinctively believe her. Irrational or not I, my friend, and others I know who look at CVs feel the same way.
So what are you supposed to do? Maybe you did get “involved” in a startup and spent a lot of time and were a valuable member of the team. Maybe you did more than telling the developers: “Medics usually do this”. My advice is to be specific and play it down. For instance, let’s look at two projects I usually site when communicating over a project. I coded the iPhone app: Medical Matrix in swift and objective-C and it’s now in the app store. I do not claim it’s a startup, it isn’t. It is not a revolutionary app. I do not say something pompous like: “I am the CEO of Medical Matrix”. I say that in my spare time I coded a simple app to get a familiarity with smartphone structures and the operating system, as web apps will connect with them through API when the ecosystem of a project develops. If I exaggerate the app, they download it and they are not impressed (which is most likely as it’s a basic app), then I look like someone who has such little ability that I think that it’s amazing, or I look like someone who is trying to deceive them, neither is a good outcome.
What about titles? As for MyGPevents, I coded this with Shubz and it has some paying customers. Again neither of us brandish the title CEO. It’s a small 2-man operation. When I site it I say that I coded the object orientated SQL data structure, and coded the search function in Python in a Django framework. We would only consider such titles if we got VC funding, a serious cash flow and we need to consider legal frameworks. Anyone can be CEO of a failed or worthless company. Putting this as the title in your CV doesn’t impress anyone, and it doesn’t demonstrate that you have amazing abilities. However, it does run the risk of implying that you’re pompous, or that you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. It can never go well and only increase the risk of annoying someone. Only give yourself a title if you have to due to legal reasons or when your company is a success.
What about “getting involved”? I was paid to help clinicians get to grips with the new computer system Cerner when it was introduced in the hospital. I rarely bring this up when communicating with people because most of the time, the skill set I demonstrated in this venture is not relevant to what we’re talking about. I would only bring it up if I were trying to demonstrate that I had experience in educating new users to a product. Very rarely does this go on written communication. It might get brought up in conversation if the conversation is steering to getting users grounded in a new product. Forcefully inserting something where it’s not really relevant makes it look like you don’t have much to offer and you’re trying to force the limited skillset/ experience down the other guy’s throat.
The take home message here is that every man and their dog is now stating that they are the CEO of a startup, or that they’re “involved” in developing an app/ startup. If you can’t be specific don’t bother saying it.