The scenario: You’re sitting in front of a blank page struggling to answer some form of the question, “Tell me about yourself and why you’re interested in this position.” You thought you knew the answer. After all, you are you and have been your whole life, and, most importantly, you chose to apply for this opportunity. But now, your mind has gone blank and all you can muster are a few generic lines about self-improvement, progress and long-term goals.
The problem is: generic is not only forgetable, but it’s also a poor representation of your unique value or fit.
So how do you convey your individuality in a small space?
1) Freestyle. So often, the professional format and word limit of a cover letter or college essay stumps us. You can go back and fix the language or delete inappropriate information later, but first, go with your gut and let the words fly.
2) Get personal. The biggest mistake I’ve seen in any communication is broad information being repeated without any follow through. A lot of times this is because we feel uncomfortable peeling back the layers of our HOW and WHY. But your reader will find your story a lot more compelling if it comes from a personal, specific place.
3) Focus on 1-2 core points. When you try to share a laundry list with your reader, nothing stands out. Emphasize the most relevant attribute(s).
4) Use anecdotes. Even in professional writing, it’s important to go beyond an academic answer and provide examples that back up your statements. For instance, if you say you are passionate about the environment, share a story about what first linked you to this cause.
5) Edit like mad. Does it need to be as long as it is? Even if you have unlimited space, try to make your statement as short as needed to make your point. When you do so, you tend to also choose better words and make stronger statements.