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Students and Grads: Get Entry-Level Skills, Get Savvy - Part I

Students and Grads: Get Entry-Level Skills, Get Savvy - Part I

October 08, 2009

The prophet Napoleon Dynamite once expounded upon the importance of having skills: “You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills…” He’s concerned about his chances of getting a date, but the same basically holds true for finding jobs (though I’d go easy on advertising the bow-hunting abilities).

I wrote last week about the importance of having hard skill sets to make your resume stand out. Yes, green passion is a vital part of your resume – being involved in environmental groups on campus, taking environmental studies classes, and nagging all your friends to recycle will give you the credibility you need to communicate with green organizations.

However, if you can back this up with demonstrated ability to do the tasks required of a job, you stand a much better chance of being hired. Companies right now don’t have as much time, energy and resources to put towards training you, so they’re going to look to hire people who they know can dive right in.

You’ve heard these before, but let me reiterate these two tactics for building your extra-curricular resume:

  • Get an internship or a part-time job while you’re in school. It doesn’t have to be in the green sector, but you should be sure to come away from it with a set of tasks that you can complete. For example, if you have a media internship, you’ll be able to write press releases, cold-call reporters, even speak in public. With an administrative position, you might learn to manage an office, organize schedules, or plan events. Even being confident in working a fax/copy machine can tip you over the fence in the hiring process: we’ve seen amazing people be turned away from basic administrative positions for not having nitty-gritty, seemingly mundane skills like this.

  • In the student groups you’re involved in, find your way into a leadership role. If you can’t, build a new branch or start a new initiative or group. Demonstrating broader reach, leading collaboration with other groups/administration, and having concrete accomplishments will give you strong material to pull from in an interview. For example, “I helped a student group encourage recycling on campus” is a lot less compelling than “I worked with school administration and student government to get recycling bins put into every student dorm room.”

  • If you’ve already graduated, build on what you did in college — get involved with community organizations and non-profits. Given the state of the economy, non-profits need a lot of help right now and could really value your volunteer time. Depending on what you’re interested in (policy? water issues? international development?), find a non-profit in your area and see how you can help out. Not only will you build your resume (= skills!), but you’ll meet people in the field and potentially get connected to job opportunities — basically, it’s a productive and meaningful way to network in the space you’re hoping to enter.

    By doing any combination of the above, you’ll show flexibility, a range of skills, and the ability to tackle challenges from a paper-jam to campus-wide composting. While it might take some effort, you can make your resume almost as sweet as Napoleon’s dance moves.