“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
– Alvin Toffler

Branding Yourself Using Internships and Extracurricular Activities

Here’s how this part of your life story begins: you’ve finished school, and you’re eager for your big break. You go on a job board and search for entry-level jobs. Of course, you find pages of results. And then you see it: 1 – 2 years of experience. Maybe you feel a bit discouraged because you don’t see how you qualify for a position that seems to be asking for someone who has already started their career. Still, when you read the description of the role, you know you can do the job and do it well – the trick is proving that to both the hiring manager and to yourself.

The good news is that a lot of hiring managers don’t necessarily mean in-the-office-and-receiving-pay kind of experience when they list that in an ad. In fact, most of them consider experience beyond your degree and paid work when trying to fill an entry-level position. What that means for you is that you can use experiences such as internships, international study, and extracurricular activities when discussing your qualifications.

Managers know that we all have worth beyond our job titles – as a new job seeker, you just have to figure out the best way to communicate your worth. So, it’s important to use non-professional experience wisely when asked about your qualifications in interviews.

Lead with your accomplishments

Leadership and other personal skills are a big part of what hiring managers look for when interviewing candidates. They want to know whether you can perform the functions of the job, yes, but also whether you will learn quickly and take direction well. Displaying that you have a history of mastering new skills shows that you’re ready to take on the tasks of learning yet more new skills once you’ve been hired. You can illustrate such capabilities through your nontraditional experience.

Make sure you have some tangible examples beforehand. You want solid evidence of what you accomplished and ways in which you can contribute to your future jobs. Consider the following when crafting a narrative of your experience:

  • Did you learn any technical skills? How did you put them to use?
  • Did you ever have to prioritize responsibilities?
  • Did you contribute to a major project? Did you measure how your contributions affected the results?
  • Did you perform more logical functions? Creative? Both?
  • If you collaborated with other people, how did you fit in to the flow of work? Were you proactive and communicative? Did you have the chance to advise or direct other workers?

Asking yourself these questions will help you articulate to hiring managers just how you will be an asset to their team in terms of getting the job done.

Share the value

In addition to the skills gained from internship or extracurricular experience, discuss how these experiences represent you as a person. Doing so illuminates some of your character qualities that will show hiring managers you are also a cultural fit for their team. You want to emphasize what you personally took from your experiences and how you grew during that time. The following are some things to think about when framing the value:

  • Did you work, volunteer, or participate for an extended period of time or over multiple semesters? This demonstrates that you are willing to commit to a company or a position.
  • Were you really dedicated to a particular cause during this experience? Talk about it! Show how invested you are in things that are important to you.
  • Talk about whatever else you learned that shaped you as a future professional – think about your people skills. That could mean anything from working within teams or occasionally taking charge.

With a little critical thinking beforehand, you can give the hiring managers a good picture of your professional face and how you will contribute to the dynamic of the company.

So, even if you feel intimidated by the 1 – 2 years of experience required by an entry level position, know that many entry-level positions are indeed going to entry-level candidates like you. Hiring managers use experience as a starting point to get to know the “professional you”, and they are perfectly aware that your non-job experience can forecast your future job performance and professional development. Once you look back on your experiences and assess what you got from them, you’ll be ready to create a strong narrative that makes the professional you stand out from the crowd.