No Straight A's? No Worries

Published: Apr 01, 2014

 Interviewing       Job Search       Resumes & Cover Letters       
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In order to create the next generation of “deeper, fuller human beings,” NYT columnist David Brooks has some tips for employers. Hiring managers, Brooks argues, have the power to break the mold when it comes to candidate selection, thereby shaping the quality of the rising ranks of professional leaders. I am tempted to say “don’t try this at home” because until recruiters actually start following these practices, rewriting your cover letters into a stream-of-consciousness rant is probably not your best bet. Extra special disclaimer if you are in the legal profession, where we all know that convention rules the day. Still, taking these tips with a grain of salt, candidates can be inspired to go beyond the typical dry cover letter to establish a personal brand that makes them stand out. For example:

  • The highest GPA doesn’t need to win. Students who are passionate about one or two subjects might get A’s there, and B’s in other places. If this sounds like you, start owning your expertise. Aced all your government classes because that’s your passion and your desired career? Don’t let weaker grades in econ hold you back, and don’t let employers think it should either.
  • Setbacks add to the richness of your story, and are not something to be ashamed of.  Brooks emphasizes that a person whose life has been a series of conquests is not necessarily the colleague you want to have a drink with after a horrible presentation.
  •  Be ready to answer this question: “Could you describe a time when you told the truth and it hurt you?” If you hesitate to think of a time when you were honest, that could raise a red flag for employers.
  • Distinguish yourself from the “flavorless” perfectionist.  That’s right, the applicant next door who was the class president, journal editor, etc. AND got straight As, AND was in the Peace Corps… that’s all well and good, but there’s 1,000 more where that came from. Forging a path away from this traditional mold of success demonstrates courage and innovation. 

Anyone applying for jobs, or thinking of doing so soon, should add the full “Employer ‘s Creed” to their list of inspirational prep reading. Don’t assume employers want you to be a carbon copy of everyone who already works at the company, and don’t focus on what you think you lack. Instead, think about the assets that make you unique—the “Deeply Unfashionable Thing” in your past may actually be the interview topic that ends up landing you the job.