In business school, your professional background is important. It’s tattooed on your resume; it defines you for your classmates, and it can make or break your summer internship fate.
One of my friends has what is commonly referred to in business school as a “nontraditional” background. What does this mean? It means that before arriving at Wharton, she wasn’t a mainstream consultant, banker or a fill-in-the-blank occupation that at least 50 other classmates could boast about.
Her “nontraditional” background raised questions among interviewers: Could she have the skills, work ethic and potential associated with traditional pre-MBA mainstream jobs?
She struggled telling her story. She worried interviewers wouldn’t understand why she chose (or was forced to choose) the less traveled path. Furthermore, she was concerned that interviewers would ding her unless she was able to translate her “nontraditional” background into a format compatible with their preexisting notions of MBA students. Nonetheless, she practiced her pitch, learned to be proud of her background and answered difficult questions about her aptitude in interviews. Most importantly, she learned that coming from a “nontraditional” background and possessing traditional, desirable candidate attributes are not mutually exclusive. (Screw all interviewers who think they are, by the way.)
My reason for dragging you through this tangent of a story is because I have seemingly contrasting traditional and nontraditional elements of my own persona.
I had a traditional, nuclear, biological family, but – as you know – they died. I also have a nontraditional, nuclear, surrogate family of four. (And they are very much alive which is nice given the former.) One does not discredit the other, and I feel extraordinarily proud and grateful to belong to both.
Yesterday I was reading this month’s issue of Vogue, and I stumbled upon a line that jumped off the page for me with such ferocity, it nearly smacked me right in the face: “We learn – sometimes only the hard way – what our gifts really are”.
One of my greatest gifts is family, and that’s why this week is devoted to all dimensions of it – the traditional and the nontraditional.
Just don’t make me explain mine on my resume.