Sunday, March 14, 2010

College and Scholarship Essays. Job Interviews.

Writing on demand and for a purpose is often the reason people begin to write. The most common purposes are for college admissions, scholarship awards, and job searches. Many people abandon all hope and never compete. Others—you perhaps—recognize the potential pay-off and will now invest in your future by practicing to write for a purpose.

What do employers, college admissions officers, and scholarship committee members want to know about you?

First, they want to know if you have a sense of purpose. They want to know if you have asked yourself why you want to work for Company Z, whether you are ready for the perseverance required to earn a college degree, and what you’ve done to earn a scholarship. You need to be prepared to answer those questions in writing or during an interview.

Conduct some research, a task made exponentially easier by online search engines. Learn what the employer stands for, what product or service he delivers, and what may be required of you. Then, rehearse answers to the question: why do you want to work for Company Z?

Stand and deliver an answer. Sit and speak answers. Then write an effective answer. If you follow this advice, when you need the answer, it will bubble to the top. You will speak with conviction. Today, however, the interview often follows a first impression made with words on paper or submitted electronically so you will also include the answer in your cover letters and in the “objective” entry at the top of your résumé. You will have the edge over other candidates if you do.

For college admissions, the implied question is different. Admissions officers want to know if you have the right stuff to go the distance. Can you read the reading, listen to the lecture, complete comprehensive notes, put off parties, sacrifice some sleep, and work the work, all in the name of a long-term, uncertain reward?

Yes, a college degree promises that you will earn more money, live longer, and enjoy better health than the hourly-wage worker. College graduates are less likely to be laid off when the economy dips and dives. They are more likely to enjoy the work they do, but they have none of this in hand. They must believe, and when everything seems too hard, they must be able to recall the reasons for pushing through, for persevering.

So dream the dream. Imagine graduation day with a career on the horizon. Then write about it. This essay will answer a second question that interests future employers and admissions officers: where do you think you’ll be in five years? In other words, what do you want to be when you grow up?

The wisest among you will know that this is an essay you should write as a freshman in high school, again as a sophomore, and annually, thereafter. Life shifts and changes course with every stream of knowledge so be patient as you dream and reflect. Be willing to write and re-write.

Finally, scholarship committees want to know what employers and college admissions officers want to know: do you have a sense of purpose and can you go the distance? Scholarship committee members, like employers and admissions personnel, want to know what you have done to prove that you have purpose and can persevere.

Can you demonstrate long-term commitment, or are you a serial joiner? In other words, if you have a talent for soccer, have you played the game, win or lose, coached by jerks or inspirational role models, beside committed and uncommitted teammates, for the love of the game? Or did you quit after a series of losses, after a foul-mouthed, blind coach took over? Your answer speaks volumes about your sense of purpose and abilities to persevere.

Some students, on the other hand, never commit so they do not have the opportunity to quit. They resist becoming involved until the senior year in high school. Then, they join anything and everything to pad the résumé, but last-minute membership does not prove your willingness to pursue talents, to learn, and prove your gifts for getting along with others. Last-minute membership rarely provides the opportunity to lead, another quality that interests scholarship committees.

Scholarship applications also ask about your abilities to think beyond yourself and your immediate needs. They often pose questions to learn if you have an attitude of gratitude.

Are you grateful for the challenges and opportunities that your high school and greater community provide? Have you selected the more difficult courses? Have you made time for electives that allow you to prove your talents and interests? Have you auditioned, striven, performed, and given in order to enrich your own life and the lives of others? Can you imagine yourself as a satellite orbiting a grand, central purpose, or do you imagine yourself as the center of the universe? Above all, can you write answers to these questions?

Writing Challenge:

Write about your sense of purpose to a) enter college, b) compete for scholarship money, and/or c) land the job. Prove that you can go the distance, that you can and have persevered. Prepare answers to the many questions from the last paragraph, and if you cannot answer that you auditioned, performed, and gave, explain why you will now. Perhaps you had no choice but to work part-time and consequently, your grades are average, your extracurricular activities non-existent. Explain convincingly what your choices and work ethic prove about you. If you reflect upon them and write genuinely, you and your audience will see that you have purpose and the ability to overcome.