How to sell your imperfections

Tips and Tricks to Truly Sell Every Part of You

One of the most important skills I learned during my undergraduate years at the University of Washington is how to sell my imperfections. One of the experiences through which I learned was as writing tutor at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center at UW, where I helped many students improve personal statements for a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, internships, scholarships and more; I worked with so many students who I could tell were extremely talented and bright individuals, but who felt held back by one small thing: a bad grade, a difficult period of their lives, or something else. I remember working with one student who was making a career switch from a STEM field to Business. Because she had spent so much time in STEM, she seemed very unconfident about her ability to get into business school. She repeatedly told me that all of her talents were useless to her new field!

It took us a while and I could tell that for a while she was frustrated, but I think we finally got to the point when she realized that this was not necessarily the case. We talked about how being different is not necessarily a bad thing; it only seems that way if that is how you market your skills, to yourself and to others. If you keep telling yourself that you aren’t good at something, you’ll never be able to develop that skill or even find the motivation to try and do so. On a similar note, you’ll never give others the ability to have faith in you that you’ll learn, or even that you’ll be able to use your different skill set to contribute meaningfully to your new work environment.

In other words, having imperfections or lacking certain skills can absolutely be an okay thing if you show a willingness and eagerness to learn and improve. Learning how to talk about this eagerness is what I’ll call “positive marketing” for the rest of this post.

Another way that I realized the importance of positive marketing was after I lost out on a scholarship opportunity I applied for last summer. It was the first big funding opportunity that I applied for. I worked on this application for about a month, and even made a point to show my application to co-workers at the writing center, guidance counselors in our University’s scholarship center, and my research mentors. One aspect of my essay was talking about what I planned to do with my degree, and at that time I was planning on taking two years to gain more research experience and figure out what I wanted to do for graduate school before proceeding. But in my essay, I called it a “year off” of school. One of my mentors pointed out the negative connotations to “year off”, because it sounds like I’d be taking a year to do nothing when this was not at all my plan. Why didn’t I instead say that I was “using the next two years after a graduated to advance my research skills in developmental psychology so that I’d be prepared to successfully apply to a PhD program in this field”? That phrasing wasn’t even something that popped into my head at the time, but it was what I planned to do.

Something that I’ve realized is that people, including me, often like to sell themselves short, and for me this was an extremely difficult habit to break. I remember that in this very same application, I wrote that I wanted to be a lecturer in a university and do research when there is a higher title for this job: professor. This was what I actually wanted to do, but I was too embarrassed to say it at the time, and looking back on it now, I know it sounds silly.

Now, every time I write personal statements like that, I make a purposeful effort to go back through my writing after I’m done to run through my work and make sure that I’m always talking myself up. When I first started doing this, I felt really self-concious, like I was constantly bragging, but once I got into a habit of doing this, I realized that I was just saying exactly what I wanted for myself and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And this simple addition to my writing routine not only changed how confident I sounded in my writing, but it changed how confident I felt about myself and my abilities.

This, along with some other lifestyle changes I made, really helped me see myself as a work in progress rather than a finshed product and that really helped find ways to positively market every part of me, including the bits I’m still working.

That is what I want for every person who reads this post: having things you still need to work on does not make you worthless.

Here are a few ways I’ve thought of to positively market things that you’re working on. These are some really useful self-promotion techniques. Can you think of other ways?