英文

Onward and Upward:“Tell me about yourself”

【明報專訊】As a writing coach who often helps clients write their personal statements—they range from students applying to boarding schools to about-to-emigrate doctors and engineers who have been told by the professional bodies in their destination countries to introduce themselves in print—time and again I've seen the terror the question ''Tell me about yourself'' induces in its recipients.

They tremble for good reasons. Having strengths alone isn't enough. The schools and institutes doing the asking can make or break their future, so they must articulate their strengths in ways that can distinguish them from other candidates.

One way to do so is to avoid speaking of oneself in general terms. In the sample below—the opening paragraph of a college application essay—the personality of the student fails to come through. In my rewrite, in contrast, her turn of mind becomes apparent:

Sample

When the time came for me to choose my electives, I opted for economics because I'd read a few books on it before, and I was fascinated by how individual choices can have a larger impact on society. My formal study of it has only enhanced my interest.

My rewrite

Long before I had heard of the term ''economists'', I was already thinking like one: as a child who was raised in Hong Kong, where housing is the world's costliest, whenever my parents took me to the suburbs, I'd gaze at the vast swaths of land and wonder why no one built residential complexes there. Then one day, my grandma told me about these unscrupulous traders who hoarded rice in wartime China out of the belief that the later they sold, the more profit they would reap; they didn't care that people were starving to death. I then put two and two together—aren't those rice sellers acting like owners of those unoccupied lands?

When I finally got the chance to study economics in Form 4, I immediately took to the subject like a duck to water. Seldom is there a school subject that is so intimately related to real life.

Another clarification I often make to clients is composing a personal statement that works isn't merely a matter of being fluent in English. It's also a matter of mining their past for details that can tell the story of their capabilities.

Below are two versions of an (imaginary) hotel staffer giving his boss an account of his accomplishments before he is to ask for a raise. One is ''action-packed''; the other isn't. There is no question which is superior.

Sample

I joined H Hotel straight after graduation three years ago. During this time, it has often been remarked that I have played a variety of roles more than adequately, excelling especially in customer relations. I have also gained confidence in serving mainland and foreign customers.

My rewrite

When I finally tracked down in the private collection of a local tea expert the exact grade of vintage pu'er a mainland customer had requested, the sense of triumph that gripped me was memorable enough. But that feat was nothing compared to the time when an American patron brought to the hotel her own 1000 thread count Sferra pillowcases to sleep on; since appearance-wise, they were indistinguishable from the hotel ones, Housekeeping laundered them along with the hotel linen, and from then on there was no trace of their existence among the zillions of pillowcases we own. As soon as I realised our lapse, I asked Lane Crawford to deliver their Sferra stock, and so at the last minute, I was able to replace the lost pillowcases behind the customer's back.

The past six years I spent with H Hotel have been drama-filled times; if they have taught me one thing, it is that I'm energised by unexpected requests and emergency situations. The fact that I'm able to find a profession to my liking a mere three years after graduation has made me the envy of my peers.

文︰Michelle Ng •吳若琦

作者簡介﹕I'm an Oxford-educated writer and writing coach based in Hong Kong. My personal website is https://michellengwritings.com/

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