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Advance Your Career by Using an Essay to Talk Yourself Up
May 31, 2022

Hands drawing on a piece of paper

Whether you’re writing an essay to apply for admission to university, graduate school or the Mandela Washington Fellowship to take your career to the next level, your job is the same: demonstrate to the decision-makers that you’re the best choice.

Emphasize outcomes

“Sometimes we focus on things we’ve done” — an initiative or a job we undertook — “but we don’t talk about what the result of that was,” said executive coach Patty Beach, who is a managing partner of LeadershipSmarts. By describing the tangible benefits created by your previous work, you can overcome what Beach calls the “‘So what?’ factor,” which leaves the decision-makers uncertain whether your work had any measurable value or not.

Remember three things

Beach suggests thinking about three things before writing an essay:

  1. What you’re good at (your natural and cultivated talents).
  2. What you’re passionate about (the area to which you’ll direct your talents).
  3. How what you’re applying for will help further your goals. “If you can effectively communicate those three things, you put yourself in the best position to be selected.”

Enough but not too much

Shawn Abbott, dean of admissions at New York University, has seen more than enough admissions essays to know what works when it comes to selling yourself to an admissions board. He suggests limiting your personal statement to one page. “Admissions officers are reading hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. We have to be able to read quickly, and you want to capture our attention. One page is enough.”

If it’s factual, it’s not bragging

Your essay is the first way an employer or school gets to know you, and you are competing against other qualified candidates.

“Your ability to tell — to communicate — about yourself is absolutely critical. If you don’t communicate your strengths, accomplishments and life stories effectively, you put yourself at a disadvantage,” said Lynell Engelmyer, an admissions expert at CollegeRaptor.com. Many are uncomfortable communicating their strengths and accomplishments, but if you keep descriptions factual, such as what you have created or managed, awards you have won, or successes you have achieved while overcoming challenges, “you’d be surprised at the context you can provide to your reader,” to give them “a very full picture of who you are” without sounding boastful, she said.

Are you interested in building your leadership skills? Visit our YALIProfessionals page for more tools and resources to advance your career.