The child who was once small enough to fit in the palm of my hand stood towering over me, tears brimming her eyes.
“Are you crying?”
“No,” she said.
A renegade tear plunked down her cheek. She brushed it away, but that only opened up the wellsprings to near bursting. What had brought this on? There was only one way to find out.
“Why are you crying?”
“Because I don’t want to have to lie to get this done!” Her voice was tight with exasperation, apprehension…maybe a little bit of fear. I suppressed the impulse to scoff and invited her to sit on the bed with me.
“You don’t have to lie,” I said. “All you have to do is write what you feel, and we can refine it afterwards. Then we’ll read it and make changes until it’s as close to perfect as possible.”
That seemed to calm her down. She put her head on my shoulder. I patted it reassuringly and went back to the document I was working on.
An hour prior to this moment, I had come across an opportunity for an in-house graphic designer. I am friendly with the woman looking to fill the position, and since I have long overcome my adverse feelings towards nepotism, I informed her that my daughter would be applying and convinced my first born to do the same. Her immediate objections were justified.
“But I don’t have any work experience!” she moaned. “I have never done anything…”
Fortunately, I came into this arena armed and ready to shut down dissent. I waved her concerns away.
“You’ve actually done more than you know,” I retorted. I knew this because I had just gotten done reading an article about how to write a resume for a student with no work experience and the first line of the introductory paragraph read…’your student has actually done more than they know…’
I then tasked her with writing down all of the activities, clubs, awards and odd jobs she’s done since she developed any sort of capability.
“Even Girl Scouts?” she asked incredulously.
“Especially Girl Scouts,” I emphasized. Scouting was a huge impact on her personal development. It exposed her to art and culture, improved her presentation skills and introduced her to the wild world of sales. Heck, I even learned a thing or two as Scout support mom. (Shouts out to my fellow HU alums, Erica and Gwen!)
As we further then ran down the list of her other experiences and achievements, I couldn’t help but feel some sense of pride. I hadn’t done half bad by this kid. She had researched and produced her own product for sale at one of our local food markets; served as a peer art instructor at her school; had her work published in a local newspaper (with a reach of over 150K) and has been asked to give an address at her school’s graduation ceremony. All this by the age of 16! And so no, while she’s not raking in $30M from her YouTube Channel, she has plenty to be proud of.
The reason for the tears now was because I’d asked her to write all of this in her cover letter as part of the submission requirements. She didn’t want to lie. What I had to impress upon her was that the purpose of that letter is to present the best possible first impression of yourself to a potential employer – which is vastly different from lying. It’s taking unapologetic pride in your work and saying as much.
In assisting her with this application – building her first ever resume for her first ever application to a REAL company for the first time – I recognize and realize that many of the jitters applicants experience never really go away…one merely gets used to them. There’s a sense of imposter syndrome that plagues us all, and that somehow along the way your colleagues will unmask you for the fraud you are. Can your performance actually measure up to the words you print on paper? Of course they can, if you’re honest! And that’s why all sage recruiting advice steers job seekers away from fibbing. For instance, if you describe your work in a call center as “answering phones for 9 hours a day” vs. “fielding incoming customer queries and shepherding the problem until its final resolution” it has a very different ring. It doesn’t change the fact that you were chained to your desk in a miserable cubicle for the majority of the day, but it does give the sense that you recognize the importance of your work and that you dignified the position.
The other thing I realized is that many of us get our start in food. I remember revising my college resume after having worked a temporary job and the thrill of being able to delete Fazoli’s from my work experience. As dreadful as coming into work was on some days, I encourage everyone to work a year in the retail and/or service industry. It exposes you to all kinds of personalities and will either teach you compassion or restraint. (I was unable to learn compassion.) Either of the two will serve you in a “real job”.
My daughter has always had a passion for holding her own money. (The desire to work for it came much later.) Each of our children has had a savings account since they were 5 years old, but this year – as of yesterday – she has her own checking account where she can accept deposits and charge for her work. She is part of a community of artists who have been encouraging her to charge a fee for commissions. When I found out she had been doing them for FREE I contacted my credit union, opened an account and presented her with her new banking details. The smile that followed could light up Paris for a week.
The pandemic has robbed us all of so much, and I was sure that it would steal this moment from us too. A high school job is a rite of passage, and with our economies in shambles and more people out of work, I expected that she would not get a chance to experience this sensation. Not to say that she WILL definitely get this position (nepotism isn’t always a guarantee), but at least she will get to experience the sensations of job seeking in a safe space. And as of this writing, she is already creating her price list and working on a plan B to do freelance work.
“You feel better?” I asked.
“Yes,” she smiled.
“Then why does your face look like you’re in pain? Are you still scared to write this cover letter??”
“No! It’s not that… It’s just…I can’t believe this is all happening now. I can’t believe it’s happening to me.” She made a grand sweep of the arm.
“Yeah,” I said. “I know what you mean.” I offered a wan smile, remembering the season we were in.
It was this week – almost to the day – 16 years ago that my preemie baby had been discharged from the NICU and come out into the real world. And here we were setting the foundation to send her further in.
And just as I was when I brought her frail body home in that car seat, I am equal parts excited and terrified, hopeful that we are both up to the task.