Meet the Climbers: Jessica Johnson, 2020 Climb Hire cohort
At Climb Hire, we are spending this month creating personal journey maps as we prepare to tell our stories and answer that ubiquitous first interview question…“tell me about yourself.” As we write, I find myself wondering “what makes a great story?” We all know the phases…an introduction, some kind of conflict, and a grand resolution. Great speakers inspire us — they make us desire change — either for ourselves or in the world. They quickly transform from being strangers to people we connect to as they present a fight through poverty, addiction, or prejudice. While many of us have not experienced starvation or the powerful claws of addiction, we do connect around a common struggle. The best storytellers do not leave their saga in the middle. A resolution is what makes them inspirational and propels us to action.
While it’s clear that motivational speakers are trying to inspire us, I hadn’t realized the parallels to interviewing with potential employers. Hiring managers are looking for an “arc” in our stories. What adversity did the applicant face? What did this candidate do to overcome those obstacles? Who is this person now because of the struggles they’ve conquered in the past? The answers to these questions are a quick snapshot of who a candidate is and helps an employer quickly screen for perseverance, grit, and tenacity.
A woman I know recently told her story beautifully and demonstrated this arc perfectly. She was labeled a special education student and finished high school without ever having read a book. She went on to tell of how she overcame these obstacles. What she may not have known is that I knew from the moment I heard her name that she had a resolution to her story. I was sitting in a chair, partaking in an organization she had founded. I knew she held a master’s degree, founded another program to bring students back to finish their college degree, as well as creating an organization that exponentially increased the rate of high school graduates. This woman is well-known, well-connected, and easy to like. You hear her story and feel like she could have easily been you. Somehow, no matter where you are in the arc, you hear her story and start to believe with the right attitude, skills, and connections; success can be found in your story as well.
I listened to her speak and have actively reflected on it to great lengths. What is it about my story that is so different from hers? I have had struggles, have adequately overcome them, but have yet to aspire to a level professionally that I am proud of. I believe I have the aptitude, the eagerness to learn, the ability to connect and know if given a chance I could learn the skills. In the Bay Area, you can’t live on a dream; you can’t eat effort, so I have been in a cycle of taking jobs that pay the bills instead of taking time to invest in myself, so I may be better connected with higher-level skills to offer in the workplace.
I was recently accepted into a program called Climb Hire, the CEO being the woman whose inspirational arc I referenced above. This program has helped me realize that my own story arc is incomplete. My story is a lot more than childhood homelessness and abuse from an addicted parent. I am a resolute person; I am an empathetic person. I am a team worker, a team builder, and a team cheerleader. I did not know how much value these attributes held before coming to Climb Hire. These paired with the right connections and technical skills may help me finally advance towards a career that I am passionate about and be financially solvent. I am so excited to work on my “arc.” because my story is only half complete and success is on the other side. I will get to tell this story again. This time with a successful job and the ability to bring other people up with me. It is not enough to make sure that I succeed. Once I do, it is my responsibility to make sure that others do as well.