Updated: May 26, 2021
Teenagers and young adults entering college, the job market, or graduate programs face immense competition. The New York Times states that top universities such as Stanford accept less than 5% of applicants. With steadily more individuals attending college, entering the job force, and getting advanced degrees, competition amongst applicants is intensifying.
Whether you’re applying to college, in college thinking about a first job or grad school, or already working and thinking about grad school or an MBA program, a few things are universally true. Colleges, grad schools, and companies want to fill their class with people who:
Have leadership skills
Function effectively within groups
Have good communication and professional skills
Show genuine interest in specific pursuits
Care about the community
It’s important to start early in planning the overall picture your resume will outline so that the positions and activities are substantial (and ideally lead to leadership roles). People reading your resume can often tell when you’ve done something just to get it on the resume. If you are applying to business school in two months, it’s hard to get something on the resume or application related to an interest in community service without being less than genuine.
Be Interesting & Show Genuine Interest in Specific Pursuits
To be interesting, one must show some personality in his/her career and hobbies. Although usually, it’s unwise to include personal hobbies, according to Business Insider, it may be beneficial.
"When a potential employer sees a candidate's hobbies, it provides insight into personality traits, industry knowledge, and can make you more attractive for a role”
However, you must make sure that a) you are able to speak passionately and knowledgeably about the hobbie(s) that you list and b) you consider what type of position or company you are applying for. It is smartest to list extracurricular activities that complement the job in question. It’s also been shown that this strategy works best with progressive companies.
For a list of attributes most likely to cast you in a favorable light, click here.
Show Leadership Skills/Are Motivated
When choosing amongst applicants, employers and college admissions experts will place motivated leaders at the top of the list. We want to step back and consider what picture we’re portraying even as early as high school.
Staying with companies, clubs, or organizations for a long time and progressing
Achieving leadership positions in organizations/outside endeavor
Students see more success when applying to college if they have achieved levels of leadership in student government, various clubs of interest, roles in their school’s National Honor Society, etc. As an article in Huffington Post states,
“No matter the activity, colleges look for the quality of involvement rather than quantity of activities. In other words, it is better to be consistently involved in one, two, or three activities and/or sports over a number of years, than superficially involved in eight, 10 or 12 for shorter periods of time.”
By staying involved and reaching higher positions within the activity, your motivation and commitment will shine through.
After college, when applying to jobs and grad school, the same theory holds true. Employers want to see the potential for leadership, and oftentimes, post-secondary educational institutions like to see that you’ve risen to at least another level in the hierarchy. It shows dedication, growth, and desirability as an employee.
Have Good Communication and Professional Skills
Demonstrating motivation and leadership on your resume, as outlined above, is closely connected to showing good communication and professional skills. If you’ve been able to advance within a company or organization, it’s likely you are able to communicate with others and have a knowledge of how to function with a high level of professionalism.
As a student in high school, it’s easiest to demonstrate this by acquiring a job that’s in line with your interests or potential major. Taking this step, even if it’s only 10 hours a week or a summer-long internship, will show initiative, leadership, and discipline.
College admissions consultants will understand that a student with job experience will have better communication and professional skills than a senior who doesn’t.
Of course, make sure to always actively portray professionalism through your correspondence with employers and admissions counselors. Maintain the correct etiquette via email and phone calls (always spell check, never abbreviate, etc.), send handwritten thank-you notes, and dress formally for all interviews.
Be cognizant of the image you’re portraying. This will convey an air of polite formality and gratitude that is often disregarded. It’s an easy way to stand out amongst the crowd of qualified applicants.
Function Effectively Within Groups
Make a point of indicating your ability to work in groups, whether it’s part of a team at work, a class project, or a club event or membership. Especially as an undergraduate applicant, sports teams and community service projects are fantastic ways to show that you’re a quality teammate.
See this article from Chron for more on the best ways to display your teamwork abilities. Describe the particular roles you have filled, outline the various goals you achieved as a team, and highlight moments when you were a liaison between people in charge and the group.
Care About the Community
It has been shown that most employers and colleges feel as though volunteer activities build leadership skills and exhibit a candidate’s ‘strong character’. It’s best to use your career skills or academic strengths when participating in community service (i.e. building a social media campaign for a charity) and to make it a prominent feature of your resume or application.
It is also noted in an article by Fortune.com that, every year, less and less people are volunteering. This is good news for you. Think of volunteer opportunities as easy chances to stand out from the crowd.
Being strategic about the application process means understanding what colleges, graduate programs, or companies are likely to be looking for and planning ahead such that you can craft a resume that is aligned with their standards, objectives, and beliefs about what makes a good applicant.
If you start this process years before you apply, you’ll be far better off than if you start thinking about these things 3 or even 6 months before the application is due.
About the Author – Morgan Bissett-Tessier
As a college freshman myself, I was looking for opportunities to intern with a growing business (to boost my resume and gain valuable experience), as I was a management-focused major. I came upon MyGuru, a (then) young private tutoring company, and hoped that it would provide me with multiple opportunities to learn various aspects of participating in a business, which it did. The internship allowed me to progress (showing leadership and motivation) through engaging in many different parts of the corporation and also gave me the flexibility to study abroad, participate in community service activities - all things that enhanced my resume.
My internship experience has grown into a longer-term source of flexible income and entrepreneurship knowledge that has expanded to similar positions with other companies and has helped to provide me with the skills necessary to be a desirable applicant via my resume when applying to graduate school or other employment opportunities.