When I was applying to business school, I worked behind the fragrance counter at Barney’s, New York. Barney’s was a special place, and yet it seemed that business schools were looking for Wall Street experience. So I wrote an essay about everything I knew about the stock market, which wasn’t much. A work friend, who I am forever grateful to, read my essay and ripped it up right in front of me. And it was pre-PC, so that copy had taken a long time to type!
My friend said, “Claire, you sell perfume. Why don’t you write about that. Tell them how when you change the display, different things sell. And when you really listen, you can better understand customers’ needs and they come back again and again.” I followed the advice, and still remember the first line of my essay: “In every industry there are movers and shakers. In beauty one of the greatest was Mrs. Estee Lauder,” and from there the essay wrote itself.
Every day I see clients not trust their story and try to tell someone else’s. This is especially true with the highs and lows. We are taught not to be arrogant, so we don’t know how to share our strengths. And when there is a bump in the road to explain, we tell all sorts of tales that only make people feel like we are hiding something — not a great first impression.
For the positive stuff, think about connecting your skill or effort to an impact, “I often hear that my research is thorough and that makes my team feel confident in client meetings. I am really proud of that” or “I am often chosen to be in front of the room. I love to engage the audience.” Notice the soft, “I am proud of” or “I often…” You don’t have to say, “I am great!” to share your areas of strength.
For the bumps, start with the truth and connect it with what you’ve learned: “I guess everyone gets a do-over. I was there a year and a half. I learned a lot on the job. I also learned that next time I will do more due diligence before accepting a role,” or “I stayed home with my kids for XX years and now that they are bigger, I realize I have a ton of energy to get back to the work I love.”
You have worked hard and done great things. Don’t let your technicolor story get washed out.