Applying in their language

by Sarah McCarthy

Almost all good experiences I have had, almost all friendships I have made, almost every single piece of my life has been set in motion by me sitting and staring at a blank computer screen with that infernal first question: Why do you want to be a member of ____? Always that question, or perhaps its equally pernicious twin: What do you feel you would bring to _____?

The answers are, of course, always impossibly simple. If it’s a job, the answer is “Because I like money” and if it’s an unpaid internship thing it’s “Because I like experience.” These answers are too blunt for the delicate application reader, though, and thus the answer always must be a deftly woven combination of the words “opportunity,” “exciting,” “important” and “environment.” These words served me well, both explaining why I wanted to work at Ben & Jerry’s (it had an exciting environment) and at an evil corporate law firm (it was an important opportunity).

Sometimes the application delves deeper, asking particularly nosy questions like “What do you consider to be your strengths? Your weaknesses?” My strengths, my real strengths are things like committing other people’s conversations to memory, being able to live off Top Ramen, singing high notes, and declining Latin nouns. The application, however, is uninterested in my practical strengths, and instead I am always surprised to find myself using words like “attitude,” “work-ethic,” “willingness” and “people-person” to describe myself. In writing about my strengths I probably reveal my most important one: my ability to write things that actually mean absolutely nothing at all.

Things I am bad at, likewise, include but are not limited to: eating neatly, taking naps, being un-awkward, taking criticism, staying on course in driving video games, waiting for my turn in Scrabble, tearing my eyes away from Us weekly, and winning Ironman triathlons. My weaknesses on the application, however, state that I sometimes “have a little bit of difficulty adjusting to new situations” (the understatement of both the last millennium and the one to come) and that “sometimes I get nervous around people I do not know.” I have to be sure not to reveal that human beings scare me too much, for if that were the case my assertion that I am a “people-person” would start to look mighty suspicious.

The last question though is probably always my favorite one: “Is there anything else that you’d like us to know about you?” This question always brings out the cliché poet in me. “I wish you to know that I am a child of the stars and that I am like an ever-changing river” or “I wish you to know that I am large, that I contain multitudes, that I am like the night sky” always seems like they might be at least a little more exciting than a simple “no.” Alternatively, would they like to know that I have recently developed a penchant for looking at topographical maps of Iceland? Would they be curious to know that I used to have five imaginary friends, three of whom were named Emma? How about the fact that in third grade I sold the most Sally Foster gift wrap of anyone in my class? Though I think that they actually might appreciate a childhood anecdote, I just mess around with the previously acceptable word until I have something in the vein of “Just that I am so excited for this opportunity!” It is, after all, the application way. Were you to write something entirely honest and concrete on an application, it would probably spontaneously combust.

Perhaps some day, I will have my life put into place enough that I won’t have to apply anymore. That day, however, like the day that I am really forever done with homework, seems like the far off shadow of a forgotten dream. And so I may mock the inherent silliness of it, but I’ll keep filling them out and including that self-addressed stamped envelope. I really wouldn’t want to miss an exciting opportunity.


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