In the deep jungles of Brazil, there’s a fungus nicknamed the “zombie-fungus.” After it infects an ant, it releases chemicals into the ant’s body which compels it to climb a nearby tree. The ant then clings onto a leaf, where a stalk grows from its head. After a few days, the stalk sprouts, spraying spores onto the forest floor to zombify more victims.
This is an apt — albeit aggressive — metaphor for what many school clubs are becoming: hosts for students to hijack into resume-building puppets. These clubs are then sprouting more resume-positions, so students can use their new and improved resumes to get into other organizations. They then infect those organizations in a parasitic cycle.
We see this in student governments, who are creating more committees and subcommittees for more students to get leadership positions while getting less done. We see it in student newspapers, who hold a candle of the respect and influence that they used to. Most tragically, we see this in community service clubs: Most students will put the club on their LinkedIn, but they won’t show up to the food bank. These organizations don’t serve their missions anymore — they generate resume positions.
Why is this happening?
Coming out of college, more applicants are applying to more jobs than ever before. As a result, recruiters look at resumes for an average of 6-8 seconds. What people do in their positions, then, is becoming less important — what matters is how pretty their 8.5-by-11 paper looks at a glance.
So now, students stretch their involvement across many clubs, committing little energy to each one. Junior or senior year, they get some position — president, vice president, treasurer — and hype it up on their resumes.
To get into medical school, pre-med students have to do this on steroids — or, in literal terms, Adderall. It’s not malicious, of course. How could Sally organize all the events for the tutoring club she’s vice president of? She has organic chemistry to study for and a hospital to shadow and friends to go out with.
This mass production of resume positions is leading to inflation. Like citizens of 1920s Germany using wheelbarrows of cash to buy a loaf of bread, students will need wheelbarrows of resume-positions to get an internship. In due time, everyone will be president of two clubs and secretary of four others. That’ll become the expectation.
Or, perhaps, recruiters will start discounting positions altogether. The top consulting firm, McKinsey, has started testing candidates with a video game to measure their cognitive prowess. Things like this could get dystopian quickly: Do we want an economy where people get hired on their innate abilities alone?
“Okay,” you’re thinking. “Student clubs are getting weaker. So what? How valuable are they really?” You have a point. Student government is to Congress as a firefly is to the sun. Student food banks do great service, but they make a minute impact compared to serious charities. And yes, student newspapers can do valuable reporting. But they’re not dropping the next Watergate anytime soon.
Still, we have to commit to running the organizations we take part in — to build our resumes, not inflate them. How will we lead our world’s future institutions — our businesses, our governments, our charities — if we give a half-assed effort into the ones we run now?