How to Find Your Beeline to Job Success

An insider's take on the world of spelling bees

Manuel Baice Ceneta/APAnsun Sujoe, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., co-champions of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
This past week was the culmination of the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Regardless of where you live in the country, you'll likely hear, read, or see newscasts of local competitors, as well news of this year's winner. Actually, this year, for the first time in 52 years, the bee declared a tie and awarded the championship to two amazing spellers.

Why write about a spelling bee in a jobs blog, you ask? Believe it or not, there's much to learn from the bee. For one, it's someone's job to administer the bees. In my past post as the marketing director of The Bergen Record newspaper in North Jersey, my team and I were responsible for administering the North Jersey spelling bee, one of the feeder regional bees to the national Washington D.C. event. Here are lessons I learned in coordinating 10 years of spelling bees.

Bee Buzz 1: Experience Your Passion

The kids who compete in spelling bees are passionate about it. They don't care that other peers would rather play baseball, perform in dance recitals, or star in school plays. Spelling is a passion that gains them entry to many unique experiences. According to Scripps Howard, 90 of this year's 281 national competitors saw the nation's capital for the first time and for free as their reward for winning to that point. Just by participating they broadened their experience of the country and may be inspired to subsequently try other things based on sights seen in D.C.

Many participants go on to become judges, pronouncers, and coaches in adulthood, usually on a volunteer basis just to stay involved. But there are others, like me, who never heard of a spelling bee until it was my job to coordinate one. If you're passionate about spelling and literacy, you might wonder how you, too, could get a job as a spelling bee coordinator. The answer might surprise you.

Bee Buzz 2: Look for Parts to Build a Whole

Most spelling bee coordinators administer the bees as a small portion of a much larger job, with very little of their main job having anything to do with spelling. I was a marketing director, responsible for consumer engagement contests, hence also the spelling bee. My successor who now manages the bee was previously the Newspaper in Education (NIE) manager. The bulk of her job was getting newspapers delivered into local schools with the bee just a portion of her job only during bee season. At the Press of Atlantic City, the job also fell to the NIE manager in the marketing department, until the newspaper abdicated its bee option to a local radio station. There, it was handled by sales teams who sold sponsorships around bee coverage.

The moral is that your passion may not be an entire job, but just a portion of a job. But, if you can land a job where enough portions address different passions, then you've got yourself a great, diverse job!

Bee Buzz 3: Ask Questions

A great lesson comes from watching how contestants train. Spellers are schooled in not jumping to conclusions and the value of asking questions. Before spelling any word, even the obvious ones, participants are advised to ask a series of questions on a word's origin and definition before attempting an answer. The reason is that there may be clues in the answers that help them to spell a word correctly. Take the word bow. If you bothered to ask it's origin and heard it was French, you might realize you need to spell beau not bow.

In an interview situation, job hunters are asked many questions. When in the hot seat, we frequently feel we have to answer quickly, succinctly, and surely. Rather, it might be in our best interest to pause, ask a validating question, and then answer after having given the question some deeper thought.

Bee Buzz 4: Don't Fear the Odds

Once you get an interview, you have made it to an elite group of finalists just as 281 spellers from around the nation made it to Washington, D.C., for the national spell-off. Generally only one student emerges as the champion, but each finalist is told over and over how he or she is already a winner. As adults we know it's true, so we're comfortable telling the kids that losing the bee is not a loss, but a win. They made it that far, and everyone knows it took talent to get that far.

Every winner of the bee knows it takes practice and skill, but luck is also involved. As Sriram Hathwar, one of the co-champions was quoted by NPR.com, "We both know the competition is against the dictionary, not each other." If you've ever been to a bee, you know he's commenting on the luck of the draw. You can't choose the word you're given and the winner must count on luck as much as skill.

The odds of winning are against each contestant, but that doesn't stop them from putting themselves in the game. In an interview situation, most job hunters aren't competing against 281 other skilled players, but usually just the top 5 or 10. You may not get the job, but you made it to the finals, so be proud that you rose to the top even if you don't ultimately take home the job trophy.

Job hunting is definitely not a kid's game. It's serious business. But, there's much to be learned by watching how competitors compete in everything from basketball games where you have to cover a full court, to baseball games where strike outs are part of the game and to spelling bees where a win can rest on a schottische, a round dance resembling a slow polka. Either way, know that it is a game with rules that, when followed, can help speed a win coming your way.

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