You were president of your sorority or captain of the soccer team. You headed up your college’s chapter of College Democrats or Young Republicans. You organized charity bake sales, edited a section of the yearbook, and planned the annual campus ski trip. And if a committee needed a leader, your name was first on the list.
Whether you loved these experiences or you got sucked in to them, you were probably motivated at least a tiny bit by the fact that they would become great bullets on your post-college resume. And yes, being a leader in college can definitely help you land your first job—if you know how to position it in a way that it translates to your future responsibilities.
If you’re a soon-to-be grad soon to be job-hunting, check out our guide to making the most of your on-campus leadership activities.
1. Build a Bridge
Putting “Homecoming Chair” or “Campus 5K Organizer” on your resume won’t tell employers that you’re qualified for the job—but showing them the talents, skills, and results you’ve gained by pulling off that event will. So, take a look at the job description. For each task that’s outlined, think about how your leadership experiences are applicable, and how the skills you gained enable you to handle that specific responsibility.
For instance, one of my colleagues was producer and director of a play in college. She managed a production team, directed a cast, and worked with various on-campus offices and local businesses to raise money for the show.
Now, in her first job, she’s responsible for managing her boss’ schedule. She’d never done that before, but the skills she learned as a director—good organization, the ability to negotiate logistics and work collaboratively, and comfort juggling schedules—have all come in very handy. And by identifying those abilities in her interviews, she showed that she would be able to keep up with the busy nature of her boss’ schedule, work effectively with all the people requesting meetings, and coordinate well with team members.
Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned from your leadership positions, and figure out which skills best connect you with the required job tasks. These “bridges” are what you’ll want to highlight most in your cover letter and your interviews.
2. Focus on the Results
When employers are looking at the experiences on your resume—be it jobs or your college leadership positions—they care less about what you did day-to-day, and more about the tangible results you achieved. And that’s not just the number of people that showed up to your event or bought a cookie for charity, it’s about the impact of your leadership. How did you change campus culture? How did your efforts help improve lives?
Also think about how you improved your organization from years past. Did you increase attendance at a conference 50%, or raise twice as much money for your group than ever before?
You should put these accomplishments on your resume or in your cover letter, and don’t be scared to talk about them in your interview, either. Your ability to achieve results and articulate them in a confident, clear, and tangible way will set you apart—you’d be surprised at how many candidates focus on duties and completely forget the results.
3. Use Your College Network
It helps to remember that you’re not the first one to ever go through the college-to-job hunt experience. And in fact, the best advice on how to land a job using your leadership activities may come from those who’ve been in your (exact!) shoes before.
Reach out to the predecessors in your positions—previous club presidents or committee chairs—who have already graduated. (If you don’t know them personally, ask the organization advisor or alumni services for help.) Ask them how they used their collegiate experience to land their first job, what transferable skills they often mention in interviews, and any other tips they might have.
If you’re not yet sure what type of job you’re looking for, they might even have advice on fields or positions that would make good use of your talents. Most of the time, people are more than willing to help out, especially when you have some kind of connection.
Your college leadership experience prepared you for what’s next—and now it’s time to learn how to use it. If you can identify and express the tangible skills you’ve gained and results you’ve achieved, your college years can do a lot to show your prospective employer what you’re made of.
Check out more from Job Search Month at The Daily Muse
Photo courtesy of Elmira College.
Kate C. Farrar spends her day as the Director of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) Leadership Programs. Her role is to ensure college women assume leadership roles and acquire the skills they need to succeed in their academic, professional, and personal lives. She’s proudly spent her post-college career as an ex-pat in London, a lobbyist “for good”, a national park employee, an intense graduate student, a giddy presidential campaign organizer, and a women’s org nonprofiteer. A Connecticut transplant (go UConn Huskies), she lives in Washington, D.C. with her fiancé and too many books. Follow her musings on Twitter @kcfarrar.More from this Author