Today was a great day for seeing the wisdom of friends and colleagues displayed across the Internet. I was excited to see a former graduate student amass wisdom on cover letters, two great colleagues and inspirations use their respective gifts to create a unique interplay, and another colleague and source of strength write about creating our own autobiographies.

Their work all centered around one basic element: telling a story. Each of these ladies worked a little differently, and wrote about different things. But a story was essential to the success of their respective endeavors. Cassidy’s post about cover letters, as well as Kristen’s piece on autobiographies, got me thinking: what stories do I like to tell?

(No, I was not prepared to pass up the chance to reference Ashlee Simpson’s “Autobiography” in this post.)

As Cassidy mentions in her post, I am a tremendous believer in the use of a story in a cover letter. With so many people dreading the cover letter, their efforts end up sounding robotic or like mere rephrasings of their already packed resumes. But I like to tell a story, and tell a story that is truly fitting for how I live my life. Kristen reminded me of the importance of an autobiography that talks about you, and not just what you do. Sue and Lisa reminded me that the story isn’t always told the same way that others would tell their stories, and that’s okay.

So with thanks to them for this spark of inspiration, I’d like to share two of my favorite stories, stories that I think say a lot about me and how I live my life, and also about how I approach my work. And as a note to those for whom I may eventually work…if I try to use these in an interview, please stop me. I’ll have something new for you by the time the search comes around again I hope! 🙂

The first started in 1999, in Cape Canaveral, FL. At space camp. Yes, I went to space camp in the seventh grade. It was quite the experience, and I remember more about the friends and counselors who I met, than the science I learned. Ah well. But what only a few people know is that I was Space Camper of the Week for my session! How did I earn that honor? Simple. The morning of our last day at camp, my counselor Shaun realized at breakfast that he had forgotten to nominate a member of our group to be considered for the award. So he attempted to shout over the din of nearly 100 preteens, “Who wants to be Camper of the Week?” I was the only one that heard him, and raised my hand.

Why do I like this story? It’s very me. Amidst a lot of noise, and in spite of any number of other things I was doing at the time, I listen. I listen and pay attention when it’s not the easiest thing to do. Generally something good comes from that sort of attention to detail. In this case, it was a certificate and a chance to wave from a stage.

The second was more recent, in 2011. At a craft table for an event, we were surrounded by art supplies, including a set of glue bottles of an indeterminate age. A student approached me and another student, complaining that the glue she was trying to use was clogged. The instinct when this happens is to use scissors or a pin to pierce the blockage and try to pull it out. In the absence of either, we were scrambling. But a flash of inspiration struck. I pulled out my right earring, removed the backing and shoved it in my pocket, and plunged the earring post into the bottle. It worked; we were able to clear the blockage, and I’m sure a beautifully artistic creation followed.

I used this story in a cover letter once for a job that I was very interested in, but had never done before. I used it to illustrate that even if standard resources were not available, I find ways to achieve the task at hand. I’ll give of myself to do so, and would rather search for the unconventional solution to a problem than scramble in the absence of a clear course of action. All through the interview process, which I am thankful to have advanced to the final stage of, people mentioned that they wanted to meet the person who wrote this cover letter. It was memorable and illustrated my personality and approach to work better than any reiteration of my resume ever could.

So for those who are reading this who hate cover letters, let me say first: I get it. They’re awkward, and at times it’s hard to know what to say. But don’t think of it as a letter. Think of it as the blank pages of a storybook. Fill those pages (well, that page- don’t get crazy!) with your life story. Who you are, what you can do, why you want the opportunity to include the role you’re applying for in your life story. Use your resources to discover what those stories might be, like Cassidy. Make sure that it lives and tells as much of the story, as Kristen pointed out. And take a cue from Sue and Lisa– make the process collaborative. Ask friends for input to ensure that you can truly shine.

What are your signature stories? If you had to write a blurb about yourself, what would you include? And what method is the easiest/most fun for you to use to convey those thoughts?

One thought on “Space Camper, Earring Wearer

  1. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to be more inspired by you, there you go again. If I had spent more time in Career Services, I would have blatantly stolen this idea from you to share with my students. There are so many fascinating and important stories that need to be told, and I especially love who you can relate these stories to skills that help make not only a great professional, but an awesome human being. Thanks for the inspiration as I think about writing yet another bio. Thanks for the push to celebrate my stories.

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