Everyone has a story of interest to someone else; sometimes they just need a little assistance in telling it or selecting which aspect will be of most interest to their audience. A common thread of my career thus far has been exploring and taking opportunities aligned with my passion for learning and crafting these stories.
I was recently invited to capitalize on my expertise crafting resumes and employment and personal statements by joining a team of reviewers that will collectively evaluate close to 200,000 applications for a top tier university. It will be hard work, a privilege and, hopefully, a lot of fun to read thousands of stories over the next few months. Among other things, I’ll be looking for stories that are out of the ordinary, moving, and/or show that the applicant is keen to grow, understands the values of the university, and is committed to contributing to and furthering its mission.
More people than ever before are attending college. Due to the volume of applications that admissions teams around the world will be receiving, it goes without saying that you need to convey all of the above in the few minutes the reader will have to decide on your fate. Note that many colleges employ a chavrusa system whereby two readers review each application against the set of admissions criteria, and share the responsibility of making a decision between them. If there is a significant discrepancy between the two readers, a third reader will weigh in to help decide whether an offer will be extended or not.
Rashi would have made a good college coach. In the opening to our parsha he cites the Medrash that succinctly summarizes the salient features of Sarah Imeinu, i.e. she was immaculate (perfect) and beautiful, to which he adds that the years were (equally) good to her. Of all the things that could have been written on her tombstone, these are the characteristics that are highlighted. It is strikingly different from the way we might imagine she would want to be remembered; it grabs our attention and is highly memorable.
Regardless of where you are in life, start preparing now for the next time you have to write a job or college application or are asked to answer “Tell me about yourself” at an interview – or by a grandchild! I’m honored to share this section of The Jewish Press with Jonathan Shenkman, and I’m sure he’ll tell you how important a diversified portfolio is. As in finance, so too in our lives. Consider the two or three adjectives that a friend would use to describe you. Let’s say these are: “funny, athletic, and artistic.” If these adjectives are very similar to those describing everyone else that’s applying for the same scholarship or college, you’ll benefit by showcasing ways that you are different and that can add unique value to the program or institution.
To help you do this, take inspiration from Sarah Imeinu and seek ways to perfect and beautify yourself and your environment. Sarah brought her light to the world – what are ways that you can do that? Sarah brought laughter into the world – how can you emulate that and bring joy to others? Find and engage in these types of activities; even if we fail, we’ll have some great stories for our applications and interviews about learning and growing from our failure. And even if these endeavors aren’t highlighted in a college application, perhaps they’ll be inscribed on our tombstones after 127 years.