Easy writing makes hard reading.
As a graduate student taking fiction writing workshops many moons ago, I recall what was most motivating to me as a creative writer. It wasn’t the reading of published or award-winning work, and it wasn’t the classroom critique given on high from the professor nor the scribble from my classmates on my manuscripts. All these things were helpful and valuable, but nothing motivated me more than comparing my fiction to the work of my peers. As I read their work carefully, both objectively and subjectively, I found myself thinking at times that I was sure I could write better than the others around me at the seminar table—then I’d read an artful, poignant story that made me wonder whether I could ever even compete.
Perhaps somewhere between these two attitudes is the most profitable approach when studying the work of your peers. In critiquing the work of others who essentially represent your competition, you should take a respectful stance both critical and kind, just as selection committee members are likely to do. The sample essays in this chapter represent personal stories that are intriguing, diverse, complex, honest, and humanizing. These samples present opportunities for you to study, admire, question, emulate, reject, and—most importantly—consider how to present the best, truest, most effective picture of yourself, carefully refined for the eyes of others.
Potential employers often want more than cover letters and resumes; they want to know how well you express yourself, handle spontaneous tasks and follow directions. If you want to nail your job application essay, don't rush. Take your time and double-check your work. Remember -- without making a good impression on paper, you won't get the chance to make an impression in person.
Pay close attention to the instructions. Employers often use job application essays, in part, to determine whether you’ll be a good fit for their company. If you go off-topic in your essay, they’ll know without meeting you that you have trouble following directions. As you prepare your essay, make sure you answer the question they’re asking -- no more, no less. Also, stick with the parameters set, as far as the length, formatting and font. If no parameters are set, try to make your essay no longer than one page. Your potential employer wants to read an essay, not a term paper.
Take notes on your essay before you begin writing the actual draft. Perhaps you have several ideas about how to begin, or several angles from which you’d like to approach the essay topic. Use your brainstorm session to try out different ideas and find the one that suits you best.
Outline Your Essay
As the architect of your essay, you'll need a solid blueprint. Use a few sentences apiece to summarize your thesis statement, your introductory paragraph, your supporting paragraphs, and your conclusion. Use the outline like a map to determine whether your essay is headed in the right direction. Ask whether your introduction supports your thesis. Do the supporting paragraphs support the introduction? Does the conclusion summarize the main points? Looking at the bare bones of your essay will help you understand what works and what doesn’t, and what needs to be added or taken away.
Make clear and concise statements in your essay to keep your potential employer's interest. Refrain from using vague phrases. For example, instead of writing, “I’m a good employee and I love to work,” write, "I showed that I love to work when I served as chairperson for ABC Company's weekend initiative -- we successfully lobbied to have the offices opened during the weekends, so employees can catch up on paperwork and meetings without the distraction of clients calling."
Show and Prove
Your job application essay should provide clear examples to back up each of your claims. Instead of, “I’m a great salesperson,” say, “In my last position, I had the highest record in my entire region for three consecutive quarters.” Instead of, “I’m really good with people,” say, “Due to my outstanding service skills, I had the highest number of repeat customers in the district. People requested me by name.”
Even if you are given creative license, recognize that this essay is your potential employer’s first glimpse of your work persona. Don’t put anything in the essay that you wouldn’t want to say to her face. Treat the essay like an interview and write accordingly.
About the Author
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.
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