Applying for a job can be an exhaustive task -- you fill out forms, get letters of recommendation and order transcripts just to get your name in the application pile. In some cases, you are asked to supplement these materials with an essay about your life story. But writing an autobiographical essay is an intimidating idea. You must be honest and sincere without saying something that will hurt your chances. By using a few traditional writing techniques and focusing on what's positive about your life and activities that relate to your prospective job, you can start an essay that you'll be proud to discuss in an interview.
Get a notebook and a pen and sit in a comfortable and quiet place. You don't need to compose just yet; instead, use the tried-and-true first step of the writing process -- clustering. It's simple: write a single word in the middle of a blank page. Make it one related to yourself and why you want the new job, such as "loyalty" or "adventure." Circle the word and fill the space around it with whatever comes to mind. The idea is to create connections around a theme. After a minute or two, connect similar words together with lines and see if you can turn the set into an idea you want to discuss in your essay. Repeat the process on another blank page with a new word or phrase.
Another technique recommended by many writers is freewriting. Try it after clustering to keep your momentum. Open a blank page and just start writing about anything that comes to mind. Start with anything at all, even the dirty dishes in the sink, but then try to shift into a discussion about why you think you would be good at the job you want. Discuss life experiences that make you suited for the position. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires a high-level security clearance, write about your personal code of ethics and how it was formed in childhood. The goal is to explore your past and identify specific stories and anecdotes that add value to your essay.
You can try outlining after clustering and freewriting, or start with it. Sit down with a blank page -- at the computer or in a notebook -- and write a list of items you want to include in the essay. Create headers like "childhood," "high school," "college," and "30s" and move the list items under the appropriate header. Try to recall any awards you received, people who influenced you or goals you accomplished. When you have a good list, flesh it out with details. For example, if you went to summer camp throughout childhood, jot down how it changed you for the better. Perhaps you learned how to work in a team or learned to appreciate the natural environment. Once you have a few key ideas -- preferably one for each major period in your life -- outline them again on a clean sheet of paper or in a new document.
Take your outline and other notes to the computer to begin the first composition of your essay. Allow yourself to freewrite in spots to keep the thoughts moving. Don't allow yourself to digress about things that aren't somehow related to your work life. As writer Mitch Albom says, "What's interesting to you isn't necessarily interesting to the reader." Keep your voice friendly and crisp -- don't fill your sentences with extraneous phrases, cliches or redundancies. Avoid empty expressions like "I always try my best." Instead, use the famous rule of writing that says "show, don't tell." Explain where, when and why you did your best. After writing the draft, put it away for a day. Show it to a friend for feedback before revising.
Amy Stanbrough is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in "Bust," "Woman's World," "Southern Exposure" and many other publications. Stanbrough holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from George Mason University.