Tag: Interview

Why Big Brother Should Be the Model for Your Professional Narrative

Why Big Brother Should Be the Model for Your Professional Narrative

Your narrative isn’t some natural story waiting to be discovered — it’s something you develop.

By Arthur Shemitz, NxtGov Member Liaison

The start of summer is the best-worst time of the year: the annual return of Big Brother, the trashy real-time reality-competition show that locks a dozen or so strangers in a house/soundstage for an entire summer to fight, make out, and vote each other out. This season, I’ll be watching with an eye toward my next job interview.

See, I’m concerned by the question that traditionally starts the interview: “tell me about yourself.” It’s classically frustrating: seemingly freeform and inviting, yet in reality vague and confounding. How do I give you the highlights of my 20-odd years of life in a couple minutes? Can’t you ask me something more specific?

Sometimes it feels as if there is a right answer just out of reach. The question invites us to share our professional narrative in some concise and neatly packaged form. Answering it can feel as if we’re trying to gaze into the future towards the Wikipedia page that someone will hopefully write about us someday, screenshot the opening paragraph, and paste it neatly into the interview.

When I’m asked the question, I talk about how I fell in love with public policy in college through student government and my summer internship at my county Board of Supervisors. In my career I’ve worked for two State of California departments where I’ve developed expertise in project management and legislative affairs. I approach every policy problem like a jigsaw puzzle that I’m thrilled to solve, and I am grateful every day to work as a public servant.

The story I tell is neat, linear, and confident. It can produce the illusion that I purposefully set and followed a plan for myself.

But in reality, it is carefully assembled from a history that more closely resembles a jumbled mess of crayon drawings.

What you don’t hear in my narrative is all the things I left out. The primary motivation behind my first student government campaign was that I thought it would be really exciting to design campaign posters. For two years of college, I inexplicably thought I wanted to go into marketing. 

As I grew less interested in marketing and more interested in government, I focused less on poster design and more on my successful track record of policy implementation. When I grew passionate about retirement programs, I emphasized my experience working with budgets and the tax code.

This is where we return to Big Brother.

Big Brother airs in real time, producing three episodes per week based on its contestants’ contemporaneous activities. Unlike peer shows such as Survivor, the show doesn’t have the liberty of crafting the season’s story after all the footage is recorded. Instead, the editors might build up one player as a summer-long villain only to see them voted out halfway through the season, forcing them to pivot and focus on other characters.

This is how our careers work too. You can think one thing is absolutely the path you’ll go down, only to realize it’s something else entirely. You may begin telling a certain story about yourself, but realize after a few years that you don’t want that to be your story any more.

It can be tempting to think of our careers as something more like Westworld or The Good Place, following a master narrative carefully planned out from the first episode. But like Big Brother, our narratives are how we reconstruct a cohesive story from inconsistent plot development. The show adapts the story it’s been telling to match the real-time conditions in the game, and disregards the previous stories that don’t align with its current narrative. 

When you see a job that interests you, even if it doesn’t align fully with the story you’ve been telling yourself so far, you should ask yourself: how do I craft the narrative that will get me there? For me, it was empowering to realize that a narrative is not an objective and natural thing, but rather a selective recounting of my experience. It’s not that there’s one correct version of my story out there just waiting to be discovered. Instead, it’s a tool that I can shape to meet my needs.

Please don’t watch Big Brother this summer — it’s a terrible show and you should resist falling into its clutches — but as you ponder next steps in your career, take a moment to learn from its lessons.


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Statement of Qualifications Workshops

Statement of Qualifications Workshops

By Courtney King, NxtGov Member

In May I had the opportunity to provide two workshops on the Statement of Qualifications writing process organized by NxtGov’s Professional Development team and hosted by the Department of General Services (DGS). If you were in attendance, thank you! It was awesome to meet you.

I currently work in Talent Acquisition for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), but these presentations were informed more from my position as a former college writing instructor. Before I came to state service, I taught English language and writing courses at universities across America as well as in China. My focus in these courses was on making writing more accessible for people who had feared it in the past. In Demystifying SOQs Part A (Slides | Handout), I tried to address the SOQ writing task as I would a writing prompt in my classroom: by analyzing the audience, author, and purpose. All writing tasks are more manageable if we know why we’re writing and who we’re writing for.

The SOQ can be a particularly challenging assignment because it feels like yet another generic hoop for busy applicants, but this document serves a very specific purpose in the larger picture of your application. When we can reframe our approach and put ourselves in the shoes of our hiring managers, we can be more successful in communicating our fit for the position. With a better understanding of why hiring managers require this document and what they’re looking for, applicants can approach the task with more confidence (and with confidence comes better writing).

In Demystifying SOQs Part B (Slides | Handout) we explored the features of the SOQ prompt as a genre. Many candidates lament the time it takes to create their SOQ from scratch (especially if you find out about the job on the final filing date), so we looked at ways we can prepare for upcoming SOQs by doing some of the writing beforehand. Using AntConc, I analyzed 50 SOQ prompts for shared language. Unsurprisingly, experience and abilities are asked for in almost every SOQ prompt.

Why do we care about word frequencies? The jobs you apply for may differ, but you remain you, with all your accomplishments and skills just waiting to be described. This is why creating a repository of the specific work tasks that illustrate key qualifications can significantly speed up our SOQ writing process and add some calmness and control to an otherwise stressful experience. Lastly, we shared some predictable sentence structures we can use to simplify our writing (all available on the handout).

This second talk also afforded me the opportunity to conduct a peer review and talk one-on-one with applicants about their experiences with the state hiring process. It was so inspiring to see the crowd chatting and workshopping their applications, adding so much value with their different perspectives.

Thank you to everyone who shared their lunch with me last month. I hope you all land the state job of your dreams!

Courtney King is a NxtGov member and a Talent Acquisition Analyst at CalSTRS. Connect with her on LinkedIn!


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DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.

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