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Careers Café

Two tricks to help others understand your career path

Connecting the dots to highlight your trajectory and using plain language will give contacts, readers and interviewers a more natural picture of you.


I recently reviewed applications for the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award. They were, across the board, spectacular. They also reminded me of two “tricks” that help greatly – in networking, cover letters, interviews and, for that matter, talking with loved ones who can’t quite wrap their heads around your career plans.

Connect the dots

You might have learned to fill your resumé with accomplishments. You might have learned to tell a story. You can actually do both by focusing on the “why.” Your list of accomplishments provides some evidence that you’ll be good at your next endeavour. Connecting the dots to say why those accomplishments mattered helps express why it matters to you to be good at it.

Knowing the “why” of your path also helps if you have an unexpected opportunity and are on the spot. I know that I find work most meaningful when I’m supporting people’s development and self-understanding, and when I can improve their material circumstances. It has come in handy, more than once, to have that knowledge at my fingertips.

Connecting the dots to highlight why your path is what it is helps take off the pressure to be “interesting.” Meaning is interesting. It means you don’t have to worry about catchy openings or gimmicks that might come across as inauthentic. A clear purpose is nearly always interesting to read or listen to.

Use plain speech

It’s perfectly polite to use plain language in networking conversations, work search documents, and interviews. If every job seeker used formal language or slang, they’d all sound the same – and would sound slightly disingenuous.

One of my favourite ways to warm up a stiff-sounding cover letter is to replace Latinate words with Anglo-Saxon ones. The applications I’ve just read were nearly all in plain language – presumably, each author’s own plain language, which allowed a different voice to come across in each document.

By sharing the meaningful common thread in your experiences, and doing so in your most straightforward natural voice, you give your contacts, readers and interviewers a chance to connect with you across the artifice and genre constraints of the work search.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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