I distinctly remember one question that my biggest-internship-turned-first-job-out-of-college boss asked me as I sat across from her in a gray wool suit in my initial interview. It went something like:
How can you manage to be the executive director of a nonprofit as a college student?
I don’t remember how I answered, but I will never forget what that question taught me–that words are powerful.
The executive director role I’d placed prominently on my resume was like the role of a president in many other on-campus clubs at my university, yet it was obvious the title carried greater weight in the mind of my boss-to-be.
Beyond the impressive title, that extracurricular also gave me leadership experience with real world application: event planning; budget management; presentations and public speaking; even training and supervising the volunteer work of other young women in the organization.
Though the role was unpaid, it was still strategic, results-oriented, and extensive. And it very much shaped and prepared me for the internship the gray-wool-suit interview would grant me, the full-time job at the same organization that came after that and all those that followed.
My now seven years experience writing effective resumes that land interviews for both myself and my A. Jayne Writes clients–as well as coaching them in successful interview tactics that seal the deal–has revealed to me three simple steps for turning internship and volunteer experience into career fuel.
Like I said, that first major interview of mine made it glisteningly clear that words (and word choice) are powerful.
Start the description of every responsibility in your internship or volunteer role with an active verb that reflects what you performed and accomplished in real world context–the same you would give to a paid role fulfilling those same duties.
For example, I could have simply written, “Planned various events including beach bonfire, Thanksgiving dinner, field trips, and end-of-year banquet” for the event-planning portion of that volunteer executive director position, but instead I gave myself more credit by writing “Managed planning, budgeting, and execution of various events.” See how much more impressive the second statement sounds?
Fellow career coach Anita Taylor calls these phrase starters “proactive verbs that show exactly how you added value.” She encourages use of words like initiated, improved, led, designed, engineered, and implemented, and suggests using numbers whenever possible to quantify and demonstrate impact.
The amount of clout hiring managers and recruiters attribute to you is directly influenced by the amount you give yourself in their first introduction to you–your resume. Want to appear confident and highly experienced without a single “real,” paid job under your belt? It all starts with word choice.
The easiest way to cut yourself and your applicable experience short is by burying it somewhere completely scan-over-able–like a list of activities in your education section that says nothing more than the names of the organizations you were involved in as a student.
If you held a leadership role during college, I know you did a whole lot more than attend a meeting or event every now and then. If I’m wrong, by all means, please keep that extracurricular just where it is on your resume. If I’m right, elaborate on that baby and let it shine!
Taylor agrees, “Internships should always fall under ‘Work Experience,’” she says. “I generally record my volunteer work under a separate section called ‘Activities,’ but if the roles and responsibilities are directly related to the job you’re applying for, you could expand them under ‘Work Experience’ instead.”
Once you’ve received a call for an interview, take time to prepare anecdotes that support your experiences laid out in your resume and show how well you performed them.
One of the brief stories I shared in that gray-wool-suit interview with my first-boss-to-be backed up this responsibility listed on my resume: “Led a team of 20 college women volunteers who visited a local middle school weekly to mentor eighth grade female students.”
I talked about how every now and then disagreements and conflicts arose within the group I was leading. I mentioned that the way I dealt with those was to facilitate candid and honest conversations about what was going on and to remind the team of our ultimate goal–empowering and making a difference in the lives of the girls we were mentoring.
Taylor’s interview advice also echoes this tactic. “Speaking about the experiences on your resume in interviews is all about telling a story,” she says. “I advise the women I work with to prepare, prepare, prepare their ‘story boxes’ before their interviews, and to understand which of their stories demonstrate which of their strongest qualities.”
Frame your internship and volunteer experience in these ways and soon the person interviewing you will quickly become your boss, too.
This article originally appeared in Levo and is reprinted with permission.
—Andrea Landis is authentically storytelling her way to the top and is determined to change the young professional game by helping Millennial women everywhere do the same.