Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The dreaded Essay Questions

I'm filling out an application for an internship in Washington, D.C. this summer, and I feel like I'm applying for college all over again. There are four essay questions I have to answer. This feels like a uniquely American obsession, the Essay Question. To be fair, I had to write a statement to apply for my British master's program, but that was different. They wanted to know why I wanted to do the course and what I expected to gain from it.

These questions are all about the challenges I've overcome in my life.

What unique characteristics and challenges have you encountered which make you an ideal candidate for this program?

It gives the impression that Americans view life as a series of difficulties. Or perhaps more accurately, gives the impression that we're obsessed with how creative and thick-skinned we are and like to talk about it with total strangers. I can't really view my life as a series of challenges, because that wouldn't be fair to people who have overcome very real and profound set-backs to thrive in their careers, but that doesn't make me a worse candidate for the role! It's this distinctly American mentality that, if your life experience hasn't been riddled with misfortune, then it's somehow less valuable.

And then there's this one:

Please provide us with a specific example of a time when you have perceived an unfairness or injustice; what actions did you take and what outcomes did these actions produce?

Who talks like that?? What outcomes did these actions produce? Usually, the only outcome is that everyone thinks you're an asshole for rocking the boat. "Well, this one time, I'd been working for this company for a year and a half, and they wouldn't promote me, and then they promoted this really annoying, inexperienced girl ahead of me, so I acted like a total bitch to her and then left that job. The outcome from my actions was that I got a much better, more relevant, and higher paying job." Hm, maybe not the anecdote for this particular application.

I've clearly been out of America too long.