Being unique is overrated | Careers on The Gateway

Being unique is overrated

Matthew Reeves is very happy to be just another cog

"Describe what makes you unique in 250 words or fewer," asks the fourth online application form in a row. If only the four "number one in the world" companies in the sector I'm applying to cared more about their own uniqueness than mine, then perhaps this question wouldn't be repeated so tediously.

The whole application game is over-complex and over-documented. But if, like me, you're applying for a professional services job with a global giant, you're up against the most intelligent, able and well-rounded people out there, so you just have to play the game of oneupmanship and prove you're uniquely qualified for the role. It's not just about having actual skill, exam exemptions, or a hard-to-beat internship - you must also perform Daniel Day Lewis-style feats of method acting and embody the role of "accountant" at all times. What would an accountant do when faced (drunk) with the opportunity of £1-a-slice pizza? Why, the accountant would choose the one with the most toppings, of course. Thus the battle is won and lost.

I've found myself crafting the ultimate graduate accountant in my mind. For instance, I've even dredged up unverifiable sporting feats to beef up the text in the box titled "extra-curricular activities". I'm sure there are academic libraries filled to bursting with articles on just how many under-12 county-level swimming stars go on to become under-taxed international business leaders, which is great, because I've just promoted myself from a once-a-week childhood hobbyist to a just sub-Olympic metalware hoarder.

Then there's the overall wording. It'd be easy to write factually with minimal use of flouncy adjectives, but that's not the behaviour of the world's future number one accountant who started in one of four world-leading firms, in one of the 163 countries in which they all have 50+ offices, and who secured one of just 200 places reserved for graduates. No, the best accountants, the ones who shine brightest at making sure a company's legally required filings conform to a uniform set of publicly available rules, are all unique little snowflakes, and can all demonstrate it in truly unique arrangements of up to 250 of the very best words from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Actually, I think uniqueness is a misunderstood and overrated concept. Really unique people, ones who are truly remarkable in the sense that they're actually worth making a remark about, don't justify themselves to HR departments. And especially not in small text entry boxes on poorly designed websites. Uniqueness comes in all forms, from creating a world-changing music player to setting yourself on fire for a cause. It can also include blowing up an athletic event and dividing a nation with your political policies. Do you really want to be that unique? Is it really worth it? Life behind bars, life under scrutiny, protests at your decisions, protests at your indecisions, protests at your funeral.

Cogs, however, work on factory lines, produce company financial statements, and load dying people into ambulances. Cogs have private lives, and can have nice homes and a peaceful existence. When they die, cogs are remembered as having "lots of friends" and as being "warm and funny" but, I admit, probably not as "unique". It might be tedious, but is being a cog really that shameful?

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