Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To tell... or not to tell

Over the last few months, I've really been thinking about the contemporary opinion of "pageants" and even those that call themselves "scholarship programs".

When asked why we do them, many people often answer about the self-improvement aspects of competing in pageants. And this is very true. Even if you only participate in them for personal growth and never want to win Miss (Whatever State), you will definitely gain something out of participating. Every girl goes in with different intentions and motivations behind her own participation.

Unfortunately, though, I have to believe that these programs only harm girls if they pop up on your resume. Many people debate about putting it on your resume. For some people, it works really well if you want to go into public relations or a journalism job- being Miss Whatever is a great marketing job and you're constantly putting yourself out there to further the program. At the end of the day, though, pursuing other types of careers with this on your resume just leaves a black mark.

I'll speak from personal experience. I chose not to compete my final year of eligibility in this pageant program and for various reasons. Looking back, it was a choice I am very glad I made. It's allowed me to focus so much more on school- and in the long run, that- and not my two-minute stint in an evening gown- will pay off more. I felt like I had gotten all I could out of the program. I had really pushed myself, and now it was time to move on to something else.

When it came time last fall to fill out my PhD applications, I didn't hesitate at all. I'd been in academia long enough to know that at some times, even being female counts against you. The last thing I needed on my resume was to list pageant experience- the perfect reason to give a committee an easy reason to say "no" to me. Graduate school/academia and pageants don't mix well. At times last year I felt like I lived in two separate worlds- one where looks, body type, and outfits were key, and another where your ability to connect theory to teaching to paper-writing was vital. There were essentially two Lauras. Although this kept me sane by not allowing me to become too involved in either one, I always felt the academy's general feeling about programs like modeling and beauty pageants. There is a stereotype that women can't do that and be smart at the same time. While this isn't true, I've found this belief to be rampant.

So when it came time to include the important resume in my application packet, my mom and boyfriend encouraged me to include some of my pageant information under the heading of community service. I really didn't want to- I felt it would lead to me being typecast immediately. I told them both I'd check with my advisors and go from there.

The overwhelming opinion (and this came from professors at both my alma mater and current school as well as researchers and people working in various policy positions) was not to include it- at all. I was told to delete anything immediately, and that including it could be an easy admissions denial.

On a personal level, this did surprise me a little bit. After all, I had put in literally hundreds of hours cris-crossing the state doing programs for girl scouts, domestic violence shelters, children's miracle network, etc. I had developed my own self-esteem program, spent afternoons at Blacksburg Middle School talking to teenage girls, and spoken to over 180 people in Rotary, Lion's, Kiwanis, and Optimist Clubs all over this corner of the state about my platform. And suddenly none of that counted?

I would certainly never take those experiences back-I worked hard for them and I am proud of what I did. But I just want people to know that it's not very realistic to consider that your pageant experience will help propel you into a career. In fact, this might be a reason why women no longer choose to compete in such big numbers. With reality shows galore and more educational opportunities opening up for women, why compete in something that's only going to hurt your chances in future schooling or careers?

I'm sure there are some people out there surprised by this- and maybe those working in acting or communications feel like listing that experience helped them secure a job. And that's great! But a warning to those considering different types of careers, where you'll be competing against many other qualified candidates- many people don't understand the significance or volume of work it takes to be a local titleholder. You don't want to have to educate them about what it is. I was told to leave it off- and that advice seemed to work! So be careful. Be proud about what you've done and go into the program knowing what you want out of it, but don't expect that listing this experience anywhere is going to help you!


Anonymous said...

Another former here. I did not put it on my resume or CV and my boss told me it might have colored his opinion of me in the interview if I had.

Jillian said...

I felt the need to share my experience with you. I have never ONCE questioned whether to put MAO on my resume. More than anything - it made my resume stand out. Its a small number of women able to use it and I am not ashamed of it. I used to it get a marketing job - not a broadcasting or pr job. I was interviewed by the craziest, stiffest ceo's I have ever met and had the melting in my hand after they asked me about it.

Recently, I was admitted into a MED program. 40 people were admitted - at my admissions interview the Dean said - well your pageants sure led to you having great communication skills.

In a competitive job/school market - my dean's list just blended in with the rest...but how many of them were able to use MAO on their resume?

Food for thought from someone who has been there, done that and will do it again ;)

Hope all is well dear.

Laura said...

Jillian thank you for your comment. Obviously we all have different experiences and I guess different career paths have different opinions. In this brand of academia I was strongly advised by everyone never to mention it. Once some of my colleagues found out about miss virginia (by accident) I was teased endlessly about it even though my work spoke for itself.

I guess the lesson to take away is "it depends!"

Laura said...

by the way Jillian I'm not surprised at all you got a marketing job- like I mentioned in the post, local titles are all about marketing yourself!