We at The Spectator don’t ask for CVs when recruiting interns so we had no idea that our last one of the summer, Katherine Forster, would be a 48-year-old mum-of-three from Yorkshire. Our aptitude test is intended to draw the most promising talent from anywhere. But her writing up her story for the magazine has caused a minor sensation. She has been on the BBC three times and has been the subject of the lead Evening Standard diary story and is interviewed in p23 of today’s Sunday Times (who took the above photo).
I suspect that her story has such resonance because there is no good answer to this question. As she just told John Pieenar on Radio 5, there’s much talk about a skills shortage in Britain. But the real shortage is of employers’ imagination. There is an untapped skills reservoir in Britain, in the form of well-educated, determined women keen to return to work. Here's her interview:-
Dispensing with a CV is very much in the Spectator tradition. The great Charles Seaton once pointed out in our pages that war used to be the great leveller, catapulting brilliant people from all kinds of background to the top. War, he wrote, replaced 'CV nonsense with VC reality'. But in peacetime, you need to be more imaginative to sniff out brilliant people, not all of whom are in the top universities. Charles said his own trick was to conduct interviews, normally amiable chats about nonsense, and then at the end ask the applicant to name the capital of Nicaragua. He marked their answers out of ten. Saying: 'Oh, it's on the tip of my tongue... Santa something?' got zero points. A laugh, followed by silence, got three points. Anyone who actually knew the answer (Managua) was eliminated on the grounds of being scary. The correct, ten-point answer was: 'No, but I could look it up in a moment.'
That’s what journalism needs: resourcefulness. You need to be open-minded, versatile and resourceful. You need stamina to cope with stress, crises and setbacks. All qualities that a mother-of-three has in spades, so in a way it’s not surprising that Katherine was one of the 12 interns selected from about 150 applications. She’d been through pretty intensive training. She told me a few days ago that she almost abandoned her application, as cutting a podcast was such a faff. But she persevered. And that’s what counts. The new technology can be learnt over a wet weekend. The ability to adapt matters most. A year ago, Katy Balls – our brilliant political correspondent – wasn’t writing about politics. Now, as I’m typing this, she’s on Radio 5 talking about politics with her trademark flair, humour and insight.
In a fast-changing industry, what really matters is what you can do – not what you have done. That’s why CVs are of diminishing use. And why we at The Spectator don’t regret dispensing with them at all.
PS I should add one final point about the no-CV scheme. The whole idea is to exclude no one, for any reason. One of my pet hates is the new trend of marking people down for having a good CV, for having gone to boarding school or Oxford etc. It’s disgraceful bigotry, which I attacked in a cover story a while ago. Talking about 'potential vs polish' suggests that those with polish don’t have potential. At The Spectator, I’m lucky enough to work with some of the most brilliant people in journalism. Some went to Eton, others left school at 16. Sometimes those seek to promote social mobility talk about privately-educated Oxbridge graduates as the enemy. That’s replacing one form of discrimination with another: being anti-posh is just as bad as being anti-poor. At The Spectator, we’re pro-talent. End of.
PPS: Katherine is one of the most talented interns that we’ve had and while our tiny (15-strong) team has no vacancies at present we pride ourselves in doing what we can to help all of our interns get on elsewhere. She’s keen on journalism and her radio performances and articles have certainly showcased her talent. I'm sure she'd be open to other offers. So if any potential employer would like to get in contact with her, or please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass on the details. She’s also on twitter at @Forster_k