An open letter to my future employer, from a capable liberal arts major with no real experience

To Whom It May Concern:

I am so thrilled you are reading this letter! You see, I have been struggling to be taken seriously on paper, despite knowing that I am the perfect fit for this job. If you’ve had a chance to scan my resume, you may notice I have no experience in this field and did not study anything in college that even remotely resembles the type of work I’m applying to do. But I read through the list of desired qualifications and required experience on your job posting for “Analyst” and felt compelled to apply anyway.

I do not have the required degree in math, science, economics, business, or really much of anything, actually. I have a Bachelor’s degree in “General Studies.” Literally. This is really embarrassing for someone as capable as I am to so openly admit, but let me explain myself. I promise it will be worth your time to hear me out. By the end of this letter, I am confident that your confidence in me will warrant a job offer at your company.

It may sound vague and easy, but it took me nearly 7 years to complete that General Studies degree, during which time I completed 140+ credits and explored topics ranging from economics to gender studies to biology to studio art to culinary arts to deductive logic to environmental ethics and back again. I got all A’s and B’s in college, except that one semester of summer school where I sunk into an existential crisis that prevented me from taking college (or anything) seriously. That was the same summer I sold all of my things including my bed and computer, in an admittedly stoned attempt at monkish asceticism. It was a dark time, characterized by a deep depression that I eventually used medication to get out of. So if you’re wondering why I got a “D” in “Creation Stories of the Middle East” in 2008, it’s not because I couldn’t summarize the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s just because I never once did my homework, which happened to represent 40% of our grade.

And I am sorry I never did take math, but that was only because I did not feel the need to. I graduated from high school a year early by cramming junior and senior year into one, and I took AP Calculus via a set of DVDs in 2005. Online education wasn’t yet a thing and my high school only went to Pre-Calc. Can you imagine teaching yourself Calculus on Windows 98, without a teacher? That class kicked my ass and completely demoralized me, so I did not have an interest in continuing on to Differential Equations and Linear Algebra freshman year of college. Plus, I had to take some kind of entrance math exam to prove that I did, in fact, know Calculus, and that made me nervous.

The primary concern of my college years was navigating my social landscape, proving I wasn’t a square prude, and figuring out how to fit in where I once never could. I had zero guidance in college from either my parents or a guidance counselor (do they even have those in college?). Nobody was there to encourage my confused, over-medicated, 17-year-old self to pursue my strengths or study something practical. It never occurred to me that college was actually an expensive preparation for my future career and that it would behoove me to study accordingly. So instead, I took studio art because art sounded fun and up until that point, I’d been a straight-A, straight-edge, perfectionist math and science nerd. Years later, confronted with the fact that I needed some kind of math credit to graduate, I’d take the College Algebra CLEP exam, where I’d learn that I did not, in fact, still know Calculus, or much of anything else, either. I scraped by with a passing score and never thought of math again.

At one point, I spent a year in culinary school, which you probably cannot tell by looking at my resume. I also went to 4 other colleges besides the one listed as my alma mater. But you’d never guess this, just looking at my resume. You’d also never guess that there are about half a dozen jobs I never put on my resume, including the few months I worked as a SCUBA instructor in Hawaii or the few months I spent cataloging serials at the University of Utah library, or the boring month I spent as a Paralegal. It’s almost irrelevant now that I served as President of the Philosophy club for a semester in 2009, or spent 6 months in the Navy, or that I have traveled to something like 20 countries and even learned conversational Spanish in 2012 when I hitchhiked Central America with my friend Rachel. The thing is, all of this erratic experience is old news. There is too much of it to look real and none of it much matters anymore. If I listed everything, I would look unstable and incapable of sticking with anything for more than a few months. But if I pick and choose, I have all these weird gaps. So I just left out everything before 2013. Now you’ll never know I helped teach special education for a year in Alaska or owned a food cart.

It is irrelevant to my professional experience, but might you look at me differently if I told you that between 2003 and 2011, I was on and off prescribed medications that significantly altered my personality? Would it change anything if I told you that all of this was prescribed by a doctor who would eventually prescribe me a near lethal dose of a drug that caused me to forget my name and which hand I write with? I was hospitalized more than once. Where does this kind of information go on my resume? Where do I convey the personal transformation I was forced to go through as a result, and how I’ve since disassociated from my erroneous mental health problems and been medication-free since that episode? Nowhere. Nowhere can I help you grasp the exhausting saga I went through to get where I am now, and how all that time spent in and out of psychiatry seriously affected my life trajectory.

In the end, the only thing that earned the right on my resume is the final generic degree from that final generic school. But that line is not my whole story.

Once I finally graduated in 2013 at age 25, a few years after I’d distanced myself from my episodic depression and psychiatric misdiagnosis, I had this moment of panic because it suddenly occurred to me that the previous 7 years I’d spent finishing my degree and finding myself were now totally useless and reduced to a single, oversimplified line: BA General Studies, English minor, Philosophy minor. I’d majored in nothing. I’d studied so many different things that I’d failed to secure a direction and pick an actual major. Even worse, I had no job experience related to my actual talents, strengths, or interests. Everything I’d done up until that point had relied heavily on my friendly personality because those jobs were so easy to get without a degree. What had I done?

Who wants to hire a General Studies major with job experience ranging from bartender to scuba instructor to senior caregiver? What actual skills did I have? How could I prove to future employers that this General Studies major is also the same student who consistently scores in the top 97% on standardized tests and aces classes without trying? Does that stuff even matter in the real world? How could I prove that, if I’d wanted to, I could have gone to a much better school (and even had at one point) but that I ended up graduating from the school with the most liberal transfer policy? How could I convey that despite not having taken math, I am actually quite adept at it and that analytical thinking is perhaps my top mental strength?

In short, I was fucked. It felt as though I’d dug myself into an ugly average hole I couldn’t get out of. But looking at my resume, you’d never guess this. Alternatively, you might guess something quite the opposite. On paper, I looked generic and average.

So what did I do? I got into real estate, a career with a barrier to entry so low that anyone over 18 with a heartbeat can do it. And I excelled. I excelled because that is what I do when I take on a new project or a new subject. Had I been forced to prove that I had experience or knowledge in anything business, finance, or real estate related prior to getting a job at my first brokerage, I would have been laughed away with my useless degree and lack of experience. But I made it work because my success was completely within my power.

A few years later, I’d move on from real estate and found my own nonprofit yoga mat company, which would sell in 6 continents, dozens of countries, and hundreds of cities worldwide. Looking at my 10k+ organic social media following, sales statistics, and near $0 marketing budget, you would never know that the mind behind the operation was someone who had no experience in e-commerce and had never taken a business, finance, or marketing class. Everything I learned I learned on the job because I had to. I made it work because that’s just what I do. I take a problem and I goddamn solve it.

So here I am, applying for a job that requires a degree I don’t have and a list of experiences I can’t yet claim to be true for me. But what I do have is the ability to learn and learn fast. On sports teams growing up, coaches often commented how coachable I was. Teachers commented how teachable I was. I am a sponge and I love to absorb everything I can. That same childlike eagerness to learn is still my defining trait. I am eager, willing, and most importantly, capable of learning whatever necessary to get the job done and get it done well.

So you need me to master various software applications and analytic tools? No problem. You need someone to interpret data and convey it visually using some specific software? Ok. Show me once and I’ve got it. But between now and then, I am doing everything I can to teach myself all I can online. Why? Because that’s what I do. One way or another, I will gain these skills and I will be the best person for this job. It’s just a matter of convincing you.

I have a very strong set of what you call “soft skills,” meaning I make an excellent addition to any team. My communication is excellent. My time management is excellent. My organization is excellent. Drawing from my diverse background, I can connect with virtually anybody and I am a more creative problem solver as a result. Yes, I have been largely self-employed since graduating from college, meaning I do not have a history of raises and promotions and impressive previous employers and similar job titles to this, but I’ve been successful with everything I’ve done and I believe this only demonstrates my resourcefulness, drive, and ability to learn what is necessary to do a job well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope you consider extending me an offer to add value to your company. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Ashley Celey-Butlin

2 thoughts on “An open letter to my future employer, from a capable liberal arts major with no real experience

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