In a job search look outside, then inside

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2010 - 3:23 PM

If you're lucky enough to have a job, you've probably written a self-evaluation for your annual job performance review. If you're unemployed or underemployed, you've no doubt written a letter of application -- or maybe dozens of them.

Either way, you may feel overwhelmed by the task of pulling together so much information. Here's some advice to help you succeed.

•First look outside, then look inside, then look for points of convergence. Don't begin by thinking about your accomplishments. Begin by thinking about the institution's values, mission and goals. Make a list. When you do begin writing, use some of the same words and phrases you came across in the assessment guidelines or the job description.

•Next look inside. What have you accomplished? What are your most important qualities and achievements? What are your most valuable skills? What are you most proud of?

•Don't begin gathering information just before you write. Make notes throughout the year. Whenever you catch yourself doing something right or accomplishing something important, record the dates and details so you're always ready to go.

•Next identify areas where your accomplishments, values and goals converge with the institution's. Although you've done many wonderful things in the past year, month or week, look for the ones that have most value for the institution.

•Identify your themes. You're not just compiling facts and dates. You're compiling evidence to support two or three major themes, such as "I am a visionary leader" or "I am particularly good at motivating team members."

•Keep in mind that evaluations and assessments involve multiple steps. The purpose of your application letter is to create interest in your résumé and to help your reader interpret it. The purpose of your résumé is to get an interview. The purpose of the interview is to get a job offer. Use your themes to develop your story.

•Remember that all story or narrative involves three basic elements: characters, conflict and resolution. With self-assessments and applications, you are the protagonist, the hero who meets a challenge and overcomes an obstacle to achieve success. So what's your story?

•Now that you've gathered your information, devised your strategy and identified your story, write -- that is, write and rewrite, or draft and revise. Remember your main goal: to connect your accomplishments with the institution's goals (or your manager's expectations).

•Having drafted your story, edit for success. Have you created the right emphasis? In other words, have you used your topic sentences not only to introduce paragraphs, but also to reinforce your main points and central themes? The easiest way to check is to read the first sentences of your paragraphs.

Self-assessments and application letters are challenging to write. But you may as well have fun telling a good story.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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