You Were a Student Leader… So What?

So whatBy Joel O’Brien — While at the Midwest Association of College and Employers Annual Conference in Chicago last weekend, I had the pleasure of interacting with colleagues from across the region and discussing best practices in career services.

Following the conference, one specific conversation and phrase about articulating previous experiences stuck in my head when a fellow colleague inquired, “So what?”

During career counseling appointments, I enjoy reading resumes and cover letters that highlight the wealth of leadership, service, and work experience that students accumulate while attending Marquette. While students are generally able to describe these experiences well on paper, the greater challenge occurs when I question students about the significance of the position. For instance, if you are the president of student government do not assume school administrators will automatically connect it with transferable skills such as communication, organization, and leadership.  Even if experiences look great, one must ask what value this experience will provide during their next job. You might also imagine a school administrator asking, “So what?”

While this might sound a bit direct and to the point, it can be helpful when considering the relevance of experiences and the specific skills associated with them.  I experienced this challenge firsthand when making the career shift from secondary to higher education.  Rather than breaking down the specific teaching skills that would be beneficial as a career counselor, I mistakenly assumed that higher education administrators would know what a high school teachers does…. They were all in high school at one point, right?  Wrong…. After a couple of unsuccessful interviews, I reflected more about how my previous experiences enhanced my skills and made me a viable candidate for career counseling positions.  Rather than simply presenting myself as a former secondary teacher, I also made sure to focus on specific skills that I developed while teaching and provide context through examples.  Highlighted skills included:

  • Communication and collaboration skills when working with students, parents, and colleagues
  • Presentation and facilitation skills implemented during classes and staff meetings
  • Creativity and effective decision making skills when planning and executing lessons
  • Integrating technology (e.g. iMovie, Google Documents, and MS PowerPoint) into the curriculum in order to maximize student engagement and presentation skills.

You might be asking yourself, what made me focus on these particular skills?  To put it simply, these skills were desired qualifications listed in the job posting.

  • Able to work effectively in a team environment and collaborate with on-campus constituents
  • Experience with delivering presentations and creating effective programming
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office (e.g., Word, Excel, and PowerPoint)

Through carefully reviewing job postings and reflecting upon your own experiences, you can confidently respond to “So what?” by intentionally articulating your skills and past experiences in a way that directly relates to the desired job. When implemented effectively, such strategies will eliminate questions in the minds of administrators, as to why you are the most qualified candidate for the position.

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