How to Write a Compelling Application

Ever looked at an opportunity and thought to yourself, “nah, this is not for people like me?”  It could be anything- a job advertisement, a scholarship, a certain institution, anything that makes you question whether you are good enough to get in…

What prompted this post is the amount of questions that I am getting with regards to the Young Professionals Program at the World Bank. Several people have written me to ask whether they can get in if they are not an economist, if they do not have a PhD… and some reach out to ask me to look at their CV or LinkedIn profile and tell them if they qualify. The truth is, I do not know for sure if you will get in or if your CV is good enough. But here is what I know:

I have been there before.

Actually, I doubted my own chances of getting into the World Bank, let alone compete with 9000 people for the highly selective Young Professionals Program. I too, did not think that that the work of the World Bank had any relevance to people who were non-economists. I had not done an internship, fellowship or consultancy with the Bank before and I did not have contacts in the institution. Plus, I come from Malawi and I did not know any Malawians- past or present at the time- who joined the Bank as a Young Professional. And I do not have a PhD (yet!). So, I hear your concerns.

So what made me try? I read the advert again. And again. I made a list of all the skills and competencies on the advert. Then I took my CV and began to think through all my experiences up to that point to see if I had examples to match. I jotted that down. Then I thought through my personal experiences outside of work to find more examples of my passion and commitment to development work. I did not only have a list to match, I had stories to tell. And I wanted the recruiters to hear them. That was my first step: self-affirmation.

I am a big believer in story telling. That all our unique professional and personal experiences create a beautiful story of who we are and what we have to offer. Between me and someone else who is equally qualified for the job, I want the recruiter to distinguish me by the stories I tell about who I am and what I can do beyond my paper certifications. Using my stories, I want to show the recruiter that not only do I understand the mission and priorities of the organisation, but also that through my past experiences, I have demonstrated commitment in areas of mutual interest. I don’t just want to tell them that I am a self-starter, or that I take initiative, or that I am a team player… I want to to show them all these personal qualities with specific examples.

You cannot tell a compelling story about yourself if you do not feel confident in the value of your experiences. You cannot look down on yourself in comparison to other people’s achievements and still feel like you will convince a recruiter that you are the best candidate for the job. You need to first validate your experiences. And I know there are several ways to seek validation but none of them are as powerful as when you affirm yourself.

Once you meet the basic eligibility criteria for any position, I am of the opinion that the rest are details (and perhaps a stroke of luck). For example, you may not have gained all competencies required for a position through work experiences. Yet you can draw from examples of your life outside of work to make a case. Why not? But you can only do this if you are convinced that all of this ties in together.

During my panel interview, I remember being asked to share a bit more about a story I put in my application about an experience I had very early in my career, right out of college (8 years prior). I was a radio program producer and host and had live chats with political players of note in Malawi. I was 21 at the time, with zero broadcasting experience. In my application, I used this example to show that I take initiative. But when we discussed it during the interviews, I was able to talk about how running the show helped me sharpen my communication skills, how I learned to simplify technical political concepts into simple language which the ordinary listener can understand. I also shared how this experience was my first lesson at diplomacy because I saw that to be able to facilitate a conversation on very heated political topics on live radio is a big responsibility. And, I talked about how I am eager for a challenge and can learn on my feet because the first day I stepped into the studio was the first day I was sitting in front of an audio console and about to go live on air. I cannot tell you exactly how these story contributed to the outcome of that interview, but I can tell you that this was the most curious I saw the panel in terms of trying to understand me. And I can bet, no other candidate has this exact same story.

So this is where this post stops being about the Young Professionals Program. This is about everything you will ever try for. It is about your deepest aspirations and wildest ambitions. You have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is where you recognize the currency of your story. Affirm it. And you use it. Especially when you are applying to something so competitive, you have to learn to be compelling and outstanding.

You can read more about how I got into the World Bank Young Professionals Program and other posts on the art of applying , about references and referees , and a cheat sheet to help you build your professional brand. 





  1. youthikachauhan

    Dear Chifundo,

    I can’t thank you enough for the encouragement and motivation that you gave me with this article. With your skills and stories, you truly establish a deep connection. I hope you continue to write and inspire 🙂


  2. oxblood orange

    This is beautiful Chifundo, and it seats very convincingly with the mind.
    Asides the fact that you write so well, you also have the right experiences to have backed up such endeavors and this is a winning combination.
    Do you mind if I reblog this on Oxblood orange, hopefully, it could reach some young people with a similar intent and passion as yours.

  3. Salome Chingaira

    You are a great storyteller Chifundo. I’m inspired, thank you for choosing to share your stories to transform and motivate lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s