So you want to be a manager—you want to be a leader. You want to guide a group of colleagues into the wilds and live to tell the tale. First, you must convince a group of superiors—in this case, the Global Management and Strategy (GMS) faculty—to support your expedition. That’s where we come in. This resource supplements the Management Briefcase Requirements & Suggestions/Guidelines and offers useful strategies for organizing and writing your competency narratives. Still feeling overwhelmed? Consider Mark Twain’s sage advice, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." Your advisor and department readers, with whom you will work closely throughout the process, and trained graduate assistants in the Writing and Learning Commons will gladly help. Ultimately, your goal is to produce a professional, well-organized collection of narratives and supporting evidence that demonstrates your strong management skills. Happy trails!
A Word about Voice:
Your written voice is the particular way you express yourself, established through word choice, sentence rhythm, and awareness of audience. This voice distinguishes you from other writers and establishes a sense of continuity within your work. Construct your narratives in a confident, professional voice; no one wants a reluctant manager who is afraid to shine. The following guidelines will help you:
• Use “I” to describe your perceptions, experience, and behavior, for example: “I have realized . . . I anticipate . . . I have exhibited . . . I positioned myself . . . I was responsible for . . . I became skilled in . . . I learned . . . I completed . . . I have developed…”
• Use verbs with weight to them, such as “conducted” rather than “did.”
• To see a wide variety of “weighty” verbs, visit our list of action verbs for resumes.
• Use active voice, for example, “Both employees said things they did not mean,” rather than passive voice, for example, “Things were said that were not meant.” Learn more about active vs. passive voice.
• Use whole verb phrases rather than contractions; you are speaking to people whom you want to impress, not to your buddies.
Above all, be confident; be adventurous; be the person no organization can live without. A striking and powerful attitude communicated through effective language will sell you as a candidate above all the rest.
Professionals (including your instructors) are busy people. To get their attention, you must hook them quickly. The hook lies in an effective thesis statement—a strategic, focused sentence that persuades your reader to keep reading. The following example comes from the introductory paragraph in a briefcase executive summary:
The course assignments and extracurricular activities that enable a manager to gain the necessary skills for success are highly significant, but enthusiasm and fervor are imperative for a manager with passion.
This sentence tells the reader—a potential employer—that the writer—a potential job candidate— values enthusiasm, fervor, and passion. Adding a thesis statement narrows the focus and strengthens the message.
The course assignments and extracurricular activities that enable a manager to gain the necessary skills for success are highly significant, but enthusiasm and fervor are imperative for a manager with passion. This briefcase of work produced throughout my university experience will demonstrate such enthusiasm and fervor.
Now the potential employer knows that the writer not only values enthusiasm and fervor but also wants to demonstrate his or her worth. Instead of leaving the reader to think about passionate managers in general, the sentence shifts the reader’s focus directly on the writer and the writer’s evidence for his or her claim. Remember: Sell yourself with substance at every opportunity.
The executive summary (ES) is a one-to-two page introduction to the briefcase that describes its concept and purpose, explains how it is organized, and briefly references the contents. Compose the ES as a short persuasive essay with its own introduction, body paragraphs organized by topic, and a brief conclusion. Although the ES comes first in the briefcase, write it as the final step in completing the briefcase. after reviewing the entire document and noting important elements to help you reference each competency, not only briefly but also strategically.
You may be ambitious and enthusiastic, but if you are incompetent, you will go nowhere. To succeed, you must be skilled, perhaps even extraordinary, and you must be prepared to demonstrate those traits. Imagine your superiors have accused you (notice the active voice “accused” rather than the passive “imagine you have been accused”) of managerial incompetence, so you must build a case for your effective demonstration of each competency. GMS faculty members have identified six competencies that are essential to becoming a successful manager:
1. Communicating effectively and responsibly
2. Making sound decisions (based on an assessment of personal and professional values) and solving complex problems
4. Working with others, including within and across groups
5. Exhibiting professional behavior, including civic engagement
6. Integrating information from a variety of contexts
Divide your briefcase into one section for each competency. Paying attention to the Management Briefcase Requirements & Suggestions/Guidelines for selecting briefcase evidence, collect comprehensive, diverse, and pertinent documents for each competency. Compile as many types of evidence as you can: writing samples, PowerPoint presentations, DVDs of oral presentations, descriptions of your effectiveness at work and within academic courses, and documentation of extra-curricular experiences, including club participation, community service, and travel abroad. Diverse evidence provides your reader with a more complete picture of your temperament and abilities; students who limit their evidence to writing samples only may fail to display well-rounded management skills. The more varied your evidence is, the more faith others will have that you can handle any situation.
Formatting Guidelines for Competency Narratives:
• Use Times New Roman 12 point font
• Double space text
• Set margins at 1”
• Center and boldface headings
Your narratives, supported by evidence, explain in detail 1) how you identify each competency in a manager, 2) why each competency matters, and 3) how you excel in each competency.
Begin each narrative with an operational definition, followed by a discussion of the competency’s relevance to managing. Then describe how you excel in that competency, based on the evidence you have chosen. All evidence should be referenced in your narrative, and supporting documents should be labeled and organized appropriately, either following the narrative or as an appendix.
Remember, your purpose is to detail and explain the significance of your documents so your reader does not have to waste time deciphering their meaning. In other words, your reader should be able to read each narrative and understand the significance of all evidence without having to read or view anything else.
The following example suggests that the writer is lazy, not a sterling quality for a manager:
Effective oral communication requires a thorough bond between speaker and audience. The enclosed video illustrates my ability to communicate effectively and responsibly.
A potential employer is left wondering how the enclosed video illustrates the writer’s ability. In the example below, the video is precisely detailed:
Effective oral communication requires a meaningful bond between speaker and audience. I demonstrate such a bond in the enclosed video for my Introduction to Speech Communication course. You will find me to be an animated and articulate public speaker who speaks to my audience rather than to the back wall or podium. Note my approachable body language, my eye contact with the audience, and my willingness to answer questions.
In another example, the writer details a professional experience:
One of the most important skills a leader will exhibit is being able to facilitate others’ personal and professional development. As stated above, this is done by example and through encouragement. Sharing knowledge is one way to help others be successful. As a Finance Manager, I had the responsibility of training employees on how to efficiently complete paperwork, communicate with customers, and follow up on their service. These were all areas that I had had experience with and had much success in applying to my own work. These skills led to my promotion at (organizational name withheld). By training employees, I gained competency in guiding them to be more productive and confident in their individual abilities.
Narrative Common Pitfalls:
Remember, the competency narratives not only present your management qualities but also demonstrate your written communication skills. Sloppy writing undermines your entire endeavor.
Students typically have the most trouble addressing Exhibiting Professional Behavior, Including Civic Engagement and Integrating Information. Below are some strategies for thinking about these two competencies:
Exhibiting professional behavior, including civic engagement:
Think of professional behavior as maturity, independence, and dedication. The questions below will help you analyze your own professional behavior:
• Do you begin projects when they are assigned or a few days before their deadlines?
• Are you an independent learner? That is, do you work to learn, or do you work to make an A?
• Do you welcome constructive criticism and suggestions?
• Do you accept responsibility for your actions rather than seek loopholes to exonerate or justify your actions?
• Do you follow through on your commitments to your instructors, employers, and friends?
Students can be adept at finding loopholes in attendance policies and syllabi, just as employees can be adept at finding loopholes in company policies. To authentically address this competency requires practicing, cultivating, and reflecting on your own professional behavior and civic engagement.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrate as to “combine (one thing) with another so that they become a whole: transportation planning should be integrated with energy policy.” Being able to combine information from one context with information from another context demonstrates your intelligence. For example, consider how local, national, and international business climates are influenced by political dynamics. Then consider how your personal awareness, knowledge, and experience of other disciplines, cultures, and languages may shape your managerial approach. Read how one student integrates knowledge from an anthropology course with management skills:
One area of study that I have come to recognize as an important key in managing is looking at populations and organizations through their culture. Culture is a product of human activity and thought, and managers must be able to understand and empathize with others. When one understands others’ cultures, one can better understand how other people’s behaviors and motivations are shaped. In a recent course I took in anthropology, I realized what an important role culture plays in our everyday interactions with others. Applied anthropology is a field that uses anthropological knowledge to help solve current social issues. I feel this course allowed me to understand anthropological theories and foundations that I can integrate into my career. During this course, I completed a research paper on the different cultures that exist within an organization (Exhibit 23, “Organizational Culture”). I was able to combine my study of anthropology with my interest in business. The knowledge I have gained on organizational culture types and how they are formed has built my competency in understanding and interacting in organizational cultures.
The wider your range of experiences--including academic, cultural, and geographical--the more successful you will be in demonstrating this competency.
Remember, the entire briefcase represents your management skills. Every aspect of the briefcase—from the clarity of your executive summary, to how you organize and present your evidence, to how thoroughly you explain each competency’s relevance—is a reflection of your professional ability and communication skills.
At the Writing and Learning Commons, trained graduate students are ready to help you with any stage of the briefcase process. Consider making a regular standing appointment with the same tutor over the course of the semester during which you plan to complete the briefcase. Call 227-2274 to schedule an appointment, or visit us in Belk 207. The most effective writing comes from rewriting/rethinking, so remember to allow plenty of time for revision. Even the most dedicated tutor cannot save you if you wait until the last minute to ask for help.
Visit the resources below to help you polish your writing:
• A list of strong action verbs for aggressive, professional language
• Further discussion about thesis statements
• Sentence-level resources to help you improve your style
-- Prepared by Malcolm Pruitt, Maryann Peterson, Barbara Hardie, and Terry Kinnear; Writing and Learning Commons, Western Carolina University, 2007; revised by Barbara Hardie, 2010