Heads up: this is one of those longer blogs. If you choose to read it, I’m sorry and you’re welcome.
Last week, I had an interview with an advertising agency I really, really like for a number of reasons. I won’t say much more about them beyond that, especially since if you Google my name and Fontbonne this blog comes up. That’s kinda nice for having my name out there to any potential employers checking me out, especially since I think these writing samples illustrate my communication skills, but it also means I have to be mindful of what I say on here!
Anyway, reflecting on the interview, and on other interviews I’ve had in my life, there’s a common question I am asked. It usually comes in some variation of “Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?” Sometimes it’s “Tell me about yourself,” or “Tell me about who you are,” or something along those lines. It’s a useful question for both the interviewer and the interviewee; the interviewee gets an opportunity to sell him- or herself, while the interviewer gets a sense of this potential employee, of how they see themselves, how they communicate, and what they think is important.
Being able to answer this question requires (and should require) some degree of introspection and preparation. It should not just be able saying what the employer wants to hear. While that might seem like a great idea, and it may help you get the job, it can also help you get a job you hate. Interviews go two ways, you know: you have to find a place where you like them as much as they like you. So, it requires a mixture of saying what they want to hear, and being brutally honest about who you are.
So, who are you? That’s a really challenging question, I think. Part of the challenge comes from our contextual definition: I’m a brother, a son, a student, an advertiser, a sociologist, I’m white, I’m middle class, I’m a fitness enthusiast, a bassist, a Baha’i… the list keeps going on. What’s relevant when it comes to an interview?
So who you are changes based on the context you’re in. There’s two conclusions I want to draw from this. One: you have to understand your position in life, and all the different statuses and labels that apply to you. You need to be comfortable with who you are in a variety of contexts. Two: you have to understand the fluidity of your identity. It pains me when I meet other people who try so hard to make a claim that they stand for this or that or the other thing and ignore the fluidity of meaning and identity (fortunately I meet fewer of these people the further I get in life; I confess I was one of these people myself back in high school).
So, who are you? Do you have an answer? It’s okay, you don’t need one right now. But maybe it’s something you should think about.
Now to tie it all back in. What does your degree mean? Coming from Fontbonne… well, that depends. When I interview people, Fontbonne isn’t a name they recognize. I can’t rely on my school’s reputation to speak to the quality of my education for me. This isn’t Yale or Princeton (or Syracuse or Mizzou, for example, if you’re an advertising student), so you have to be able to talk about what you’ve learned at Fontbonne during your time here. [Side note: personally, I’ve come to believe that being an Education, Deaf Ed, or Speech Path major actually WILL let you rely on Fontbonne’s name, at least in St. Louis area, since this school – and our reputation – seems to excel remarkably in these fields.]
When I talk about my education, I talk about the critical thinking I’ve learned. I talk the assignments I’ve completed, if they’re relevant. I talk about the experiences I’ve had here. I can’t just say “I went to Fontbonne.” So I have to prove how smart and learned I am on my own, using what Fontbonne has given me. And frankly, that’s worked pretty well so far.
Dr. Phelps, one of the sociology professors here at Fontbonne, has always emphasized the importance of education. She has said to me and my class multiple times that your education can never be taken away. What you learn, you will always have. So, you have to make the most out of what you learn here. You get out of it what you put in to it, as they say. When I talk about graduating with a 4.0 GPA (assuming I don’t screw up these last two final assignments), I don’t talk about how smart I am, because it’s not about that. I talk about how hard I worked for it. And believe me, I busted my ass for it. [Second side note: my significant other, a pharmacy student, pointed out that her education can in fact be taken away if she ever ends up with a criminal record; she would lose her pharmacy license and her education would essentially become useless. I could rebuttal to this, but I’m just too amused by her counter-point in the first place.]
So let me wrap this up and tie it all together. Who are you? You should figure that out. Who you are changes based on context. Part of you is defined by your education. So, give education your all so you can go places in life. Work hard, because it pays off (not equally for all people, unfortunately, but that’s another topic entirely). Make the most of yourself so you can sell yourself and find somewhere you’ll be happy. Know who you are and what’s important to you – and what’s not really so important to you after all.
Thanks for reading. Next week: my final blog post!