Friday, March 15, 2013

Selling Yourself in a World of Hyperbole

Paco recently applied to a very competitive summer program. He was not accepted. I reached out to the director of the program to try to understand which aspect of the application had been the weakest. Was it the grades (straight As)? the tests (#1 in his school)? the work samples? Turned out it was the essay in which Paco didn't convince the admissions committee that he was well rounded enough and a social enough kid that would contribute to the program. Real bummer because Paco is as well rounded & social as they come (soccer team captain, class delegate, jazz band player, competitive chess player, kitsurfer, etc, etc, etc). Yet he didn't do a good enough job at conveying these things in his essay. I actually read Paco's essay before he submitted it and remember thinking that it could be a lot better, yet the application instructions clearly stated that the parents shouldn't help with it, so I assumed they would factor in his young age when reading the essay. I wonder how many other parents did the same, and how many helped their kids...

The first time I applied to Stanford I got turned down. A friend asked me to see my application and his immediate reaction was: "of course they turned you down! you need to sell yourself better". I rewrote the application making a concerted effort at showing my accomplishments and strengths in the  best possible light and got in. This was just a matter of selling yourself. But what about exaggerating beyond the facts? Another friend who was applying to Harvard Business School shared his application with me. My reaction: "a) this is not you, and b) some of this supposed accomplishments are so outrageous I think they will realize they are not true". I was wrong. He got into HBS. Furthermore, I later found out that a very large percentage of the applicants who get into top programs stretch their accomplishments way beyond the truth.

The fact that many people cheat doesn't justify cheating. That should be a VERY clear line.  We do need to make sure we present ourselves in the best possible light. And we need to work early toward goals such as attending a particularly competitive academic program, so that when the time comes, the application mostly writes itself.

1 comment:

totefishing.com said...

You've touched on some many important issues here. How much should us type-A parents manage our children's lives? The importance of failure in teaching our kids those key lessons of life (that didn't kill us but rather, made indelible impressions that were probably key to our own successes). The overwhelming stress of parenting in these globally competitive times. Tip of the iceberg, eh?

Glad I found your blog (via last week's Tech Cocktail article). It's comforting to know that there's someone else out there dealing with similar parenting issues...