By Anne Gregory
When I was 15, I set a life goal: become a classical flutist. And so began my investment in Gladwell’s heralded “10,000 hours of practice” – scales, intervals, half-speed excerpts, and more. I worked hard, really hard, and was accepted into the New England Conservatory. As a conservatory student, I practiced 6+ hours every day and gave performances on a weekly basis. It was one of the most rigorous, yet rewarding educational experiences I’d ever had. While performance was a priority, I also discovered a passion for engaging new audiences through outreach. It was this passion that launched my career in arts management, where I focused on a variety of education and community engagement initiatives. After 5 years in the nonprofit space, I was eager to master new tools… which inspired my decision to apply to MBA programs and explore opportunities in marketing and brand management.
I used to think my story was “nontraditional” – an assumption based on a surface read of my colleagues’ stories: individuals with pure marketing or finance backgrounds, all pursuing new career paths as either an extension of or tangent to their previous experience. Yet as I begin my second semester at NYU Stern School of Business, I’ve learned that my story isn’t terribly unique (check out this article, and this one, for examples of those who made the move from arts to business). As for those colleagues whose background I’d labeled as “pure”, it turns out their experiences are incredibly diverse (and awesome). Stern has shown me that competitive advantage lies not in what qualifies your goals: it’s what makes you stand out from the crowd that gives you character.
For those of you in recruitment-mode, you may have read that statement with skepticism: “If I’m not qualified, why would a recruiter even consider me?” Each of us has a powerful story – your resume is only a glimpse of who you are and your ultimate potential. People in business, music, and honestly any industry are not looking for robots: we connect with individuals who are REAL. Genuine personalities inspire greatness. So how do you bring life to your story in a recruitment setting? A few ideas based on my own journey…
1. DO celebrate the “not on my resume” moments: your story isn’t just a piece of paper – talk about those defining moments outside of the professional sphere. Love mountain climbing? Celebrate your passion for adventure! Caught the travel bug? Bring your inner explorer into the spotlight. Embrace these moments, and connect them back to who you are and what you wish to achieve.
2. DON’T be a conformist – find what makes you stand out: in any recruiting space, you’ll be confronted with standard expectations and qualifiers. If you’ve prepared yourself, both professionally and personally, this part will be a breeze. Instead, focus on the qualities that only YOU can bring to the table. Explore and exploit the qualities (professional and otherwise) that helped shape your journey.
3. DO find the through-line to your narrative: I discovered the following thread for my own story: “a passion for getting others excited and energized about an idea.” From sharing my music with new audiences to building a career in marketing, this statement frames my past, present, and future. Look at your resume, and find your drive – how did your passion for X lead you to work for Company A, and then perhaps Company B? Think about it as creating a “hypothesis” for your life’s thesis: this is how I got to where I am today, and it will continue to inspire what I do every day.
4. DON’T use jargon to describe yourself: Jargon has flooded our narratives, and the exciting color of our lives has been dulled by descriptions such as “creative thinker” and “fast learner”. Why use these phrases, when you can paint a confident and unique picture of who you are? Think BIG – “I’m a doer, and give my 100% to any project assigned” (way cooler than “hard worker”, don’t you think?)
5. DON’T be afraid of having a “lack of expertise”: this was one of my greatest lessons – whether you were sitting behind a desk, fighting forest fires or performing music for thousands, we are all human. Teamwork, discipline, confidence: these are needed for all three examples, and I imagine you can tie these into almost any narrative. It’s a question of how you can communicate the lessons you’ve had into the actions you can achieve. Don’t doubt yourself simply because your resume isn’t as “shiny” as other candidates. Be bold, be different, and show them why you’re the best candidate!
6. DO connect the dots in your experiences: this is essentially an extension of #3 – find ways to frame your experiences as a continuous narrative. How did X moment contribute to your passion for Y? Why did you move from Company A to Company B, and how did the former position your for success in the latter? In what ways have you incorporated your education into your passion?
When I was considering an MBA, I had no idea how much my training as a musician and experiences with arts nonprofits would contribute to the program. What I’ve learned since starting the program is that we’re entering a century rife with opportunity. Connectivity, empathy, innovation, creativity, leadership, technology – these terms are defining the shift of the professional space, and our generation is equipped with a readiness and passion to make a difference. The “cookie cutter” career paths are starting to fade, as an increasingly diverse and progressive workforce takes over.
I don’t pretend to be an expert – I still have a lot of growing to do, in soul and mind. But the message I hope to impart here is that being unique is a gift: the moments that brought you here are priceless. Learn to use those lessons, craft your narrative, and share your story. This isn’t about impressing others – it’s about knowing yourself, and being true to the “nontraditional” story we all bring to the table.
(This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is reposted with permission of the author.)
Anne Gregory is a first year MBA student at the NYU Stern School of Business in New York, NY. Prior to Stern, she specialized in education and community engagement efforts for arts nonprofits in Boston, MA. Her new focus is a career in marketing and brand management, building on the experience of “marketing” classical music to new audiences in untapped markets. She holds a degree in flute performance from the New England Conservatory of Music (Class ’10).