Starting a New Chapter and Continuing the Story

In my newest job as a career adviser for government, non-profit and education at a local university, I find myself blessed with the opportunity to work with some amazing students whose stories are truly inspiring.

The trouble is, many people – students or well-seasoned professionals – have a difficult time getting their own stories heard. In my path from aspiring international development analyst, to corporate consultant, to innovation leader and research manager, I have struggled at times to get my own story down on paper.

But as I sat down to think about how to introduce myself to my students, a visible arc of a narrative began to form. It is in thinking through the story that I can see how pieces of my life that once seemed disparate now make complete sense. I hope to continue to share what I’ve learned with all of you here – and would love tips and tricks, or even suggestions I can share with aspiring students who desire to make a difference in the world. To begin, a few thoughts on knowing your story…

It is that time of year when students are busy writing cover letters, statement of intent, application letters and the like. Knowing how to tell your story, uniquely, concisely and sincerely is key to helping potential employers understand who you are, and what unique traits you bring to the organization that no one else can. Daunting, right?

It doesn’t have to be. Here are a few quick tips to get started writing your personal statement/cover letter. For more, check out other great articles on this same topic. 

The hot pen trick

Don’t know what to write? No problem! Just start writing. Set a timer for 10 minutes, turn off any distractions, pick up a pen and paper – no computer – and just write. Write about anything. Write about the weather, write about a crush, write about the professor that just gets under your skin. The point is to keep writing.

Find your story among the details

When you are done with the exercise above, look at what you’ve written. Is there a part of the piece that speaks to you or somehow is a seed of who you are? Take that and start working with it. Use available online cover letter and resume guides to help take what you wrote above to start crafting your story of who you are, why you would like the job to which you are applying and how you hope that job will help you achieve your long-term goals.

Don’t worry about not having a story

Not sure what your long-term life goals are? Don’t worry – most people have no clue either, rather general guidelines. Your life seems random, or you aren’t sure what your message is? That is ok… go with it. Try to tell the story about why you want the job right now, and how you think it will help you in the next two-to-three years. It’s ok if you don’t have life figured out, as employers are often looking for sincerity in the cover letter. Often, as I indicated above, the arc of a long-term story takes time to uncover.

Until then, just remember that the point of a cover letter is to make the case for the employer between their job description and the skills listed on your resume. It also is a great way for employers to get a sense of who you are as a person.

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