Wow Co-Founder Lifton Searches for the Great Hook

Having trouble coming up with a great hook for that story about you for your college essay? You can sleep soundly tonight; you are not alone.

Recently, I interviewed more than a dozen corporate leaders and employees for the Detroit Free Press/Workplace Dynamics Top Workplace competition, which was published in today’s newspaper (Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010.)

This year’s winners were an impressive group; they can cite stats, give tutorials on business strategy, share trends and quote business gurus Warren Buffet or Jack Welch without using cheat sheets.

Funny thing is, when asked to brag, many of these men and women had trouble articulating with great details just what makes their organizations such extraordinary places to work.

“What makes your organization special?” I asked each corporate executive.

“We have a compensation system that is better than any other company,” one said.

“We have one of the lowest industry turnover rates,” another exec told me.

“Our business took off with a different philosophy,” added a founder and CEO. “We are the best at what we should be providing as health care professionals.”

It was challenging drawing out great details from some of these folks. So to get their stories, the real stories, full of fun and interesting facts, I asked them the same types of questions we ask our students in our college essay writing workshops.

I asked one humble exec this: “So if I worked there, would you give me free breakfast each morning and a cup of freshly brewed coffee from Starbucks?”

Turns out this surgery center serves up fresh fruit, bagels and homemade guacamole every day. The nurse who manages the facility makes it; the boss chops onions while they discuss business.

What a nice place to be. I want to work there. Don’t you? The message is clear: We are all the same here. We don’t think we are better than the people who work for us. Oh, and by the way, they do brew fresh coffee at the surgery center I highlighted.

When reporting on a story,  I often find myself pushing sources and probing for details. Why? Details make others read. They bring outsiders into the story. I worked hard to draw out specific examples to show readers how great these companies are. It took a little more effort, but I got the great details I wanted.

This is what you need to do in your essays. Your job is to bring college and graduate school admissions counselors into your story so they feel good about you and recommend you for admission to their university. Probe, brainstorm, find your story, and then tell it in your own words, in your own voice.

Click here to read Lifton’s large company winner profiles in the Detroit Free Press.

Click here to read the medium company winner profiles.

Click here to read the small company winner profiles.

Click here to read the entire Top Workplaces package.