Finding Your Story: Working through the PMO Youth Council Application with Twelve Canada and the LYAC

What is your story? It can be a complex and challenging question to answer, but we answer it in some shape or form every time we fill out applications for jobs, volunteer positions, grants, or even youth councils.  On August 11, 2016, the London Youth Advisory Council and Twelve Canada (formerly Academy 12) hosted a workshop to aid applicants to the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.

Together the group read through the application, and then Adam Fearnall and Zach Anderson of Twelve Canada led the group in an exercise to help the applicants find their stories. Adam explained that there is a benefit in getting together in meetings like these because sometimes we miss our own stories, simply because we live them. Emma Blue from the LYAC added that such workshops are all about bringing more people to the table. Often there are people full of ideas and insights who simply need to find the right table to sit at, and both LYAC and Twelve Canada are aiming to provide the chairs.

Who Should Read This?

  • Youth interested in applying to any sort of organization or council who are looking for insights into the application process
  • Anyone who has struggled in the past with telling their own stories

The Application Itself

Emma noted that in the application for the PM Youth Council, there is a lot of content to read in-between the lines. She asked the group what type of questions they would expect to be asked, based on applications they have filled out before. These are some of the questions suggested by the group:

  • Why do you want this position?
  • What are your relevant skills and experience?
  • What do you bring outside of the baseline expectations?
  • Why would the organization benefit from having you?

From these questions, already some of the challenges of the application process are becoming clear. A prominent concern in any application process is finding the best way to mold yourself into the person you think that the organization wants. Fitting a mold can be a challenge when trying to reconcile that level of filtering with being true to telling your personal story.

After taking a few minutes to read through the application for the PM Youth Council, the applicants were asked whether there were any parts of the applications they found to be awkward or confusing. Here are their thoughts:

  • Some applicants had trouble with the vision of Canada’s government section of the application. It’s a difficult question to parse, and some of the applicants felt pressure to have the ‘right’ answer.
  • The volunteer commitment section required some math work in order to create a weekly average of hours. Some applicants did not have a weekly commitment, but rather would regularly volunteer at standalone events, making the question challenging to answer accurately. Also, does an average number of hours really tell the story of someone’s volunteer experience? How do you quantify the impact of you?
  • Some applicants commented on the application supplying checkboxes for life experiences. They wondered whether simplifying experiences into checkboxes allows the Prime Minister’s Office to quickly filter the applicants to fit specific experiences and stories they are looking for.

Telling Our Own Stories

After reading through the application and discussing some of the difficulties and interesting points, the group moved into the second part of the meeting, which revolved around the idea of personal storytelling. Adam explained that the PM Youth Council application is an exercise in storytelling and performance, because performance involves both revealing something and obscuring something – applications involve performing a certain version of yourself. Adam asked the group to look at the application differently: Who are the people you help? He said that it doesn’t have to just be organizations; the help applicants provide to their friends and family is also important. The key, according to Adam, is not letting the application define what big or small is in terms of the impacts that an applicant can have.

Adam and Zach then led the applicants through an exercise. Drawing a series of rings expanding out from the center of a large sheet of paper, Adam asked the group to write a question in each circle. These were the questions:

  • Who is somebody who has helped you?
  • What did they teach you or help you with?
  • What was the impact of the help or the teaching?
  • Who doesn’t get this kind of help or doesn’t get taught what you were taught?
  • How could we make sure that others get the help that you got or learned what you learned.
  • What might happen if others received this help? What would be the impact?

After working through these questions, Adam asked the group what they noticed about the exercise. One of the applicants noted that going through the process is a way of organizing your personal growth and story and it gives the story depth and weight. When looking at the papers on the ground, they resembled the cross section of trees, each outer layer enriching the writer’s personal history.

After the exercise, food arrived and the formal meeting portion of the meeting closed as the group mingled and discussed their further thoughts. The evening closed in an atmosphere of collaboration, excitement, and pizza. Telling your own story can be intimidating, and as Adam pointed out, there is certainly an element of performance. However, sometimes storytelling is about asking yourself the right questions rather than trying to fit your story into what you think might be the right answers.

Big Question

  • How can we be part of reshaping the application process so those applications where personal stories are a vital part of the intended role are structured in a way that actually allows for personal storytelling?