8 Leadership Experiences You Didn't Know You Already Have

Leadership experience

For a lot of people who’ve just graduated from college and are hitting the job market, filling out a resume with relevant experience can seem daunting—particularly for those who don’t have a resume full of related job experience to rely on. But they might have more than they think, according to hiring managers.

“Employers understand that graduates may have limited practical work experience,” says John Mauck, HR director for WLR Automotive Group. He feels it’s even more of a turnoff when a graduate points out their lack of work experience. “Underselling yourself is as big of a negative as overselling.” 

Instead, make a point to highlight the experiences you do have. If you’re thinking you don’t have anything to include, then think again. Read on for some examples of leadership experience you might have that employers love to see.

Leadership experience that could help land you the job

When you think of leadership experience examples, you may be overlooking some important things you could be highlighting in a resume or job interview. Just because you have minimal professional experience, doesn’t mean you have nothing you could draw from.

We asked business pros to share some examples of leadership roles that could catch the eye of potential employers.

1.    Sports

“Your competitive edge, the understanding of what it takes to be a team member and leadership skills are all transferable intangibles that can set you up for success,” says Ryan Moffat, sales development recruiter for Betts Recruiting. She adds that athletes tend to have a goal-based mentality at work instead of a 9–5 mentality—a leadership trait that’s highly sought after.

How to sell it: While you might decide not to include this information in your resume (unless you were team captain or earned an award), you can easily touch on your athletic experience in an interview.

Moffat recalls one candidate who played professional volleyball abroad after graduating. “He nailed his sales interview by explaining that what he learned on the court could translate well to a sales organization,” she explains.

2.    Cross-cultural experience

Travelling abroad or even working on a project with a different cultural group in your community can teach you communication skills you wouldn’t learn elsewhere. “Voluntarily putting yourself in uncharted waters makes you face new and uncomfortable situations,” Moffat says.

How to sell it: If your cross-cultural experience involved work, study or a volunteering, include it on your resume. If not, find a way to naturally weave these leadership experiences into your interview conversation to highlight skills you learned or barriers you overcame. Cross-cultural experience indicates that a candidate won’t shy away from new experiences and the adversity that may come with them, according to Moffat. Capitalize on that.

3.    Social groups

Book clubs, theatre, dinner groups—the opportunities for social activities are endless. These extracurricular activities can shed light on important attributes that appeal to hiring managers, according to Damini Tandan, director of Corner Office Advisors.  She says she specifically looks for applicants who cite involvement in social activities, expecting they will have well-rounded, confident personalities.

How to sell it: If your interviewer asks about hobbies, focus on things you love to do that involve activity and social interaction. Let the more solitary hobbies (like watching Netflix) take a backseat to activities that highlight desirable work traits.

4.    Internships

This one should be a no-brainer. Internships are one of the most accessible ways to gain work experience in your field and impress employers. Landing one shows you have enough initiative to seek out practical work and learning opportunities. Tandan says internships are the best indicator of a motivated individual.

How to sell it: If an internship appears on your resume, it’s a good bet your interviewer will want to talk about it, Tandan says. “Whatever you answer on these, be prepared to have a detailed conversation,” she says, adding that the interviewer will be just as interested in the way you talk about yourself as in what you actually highlight.

5.    Volunteering

“[Volunteering] indicates to employers that you have an ambitious, ‘go-getter’ attitude about your work,” according to Todd Dean, co-founder of Wirkn. Volunteering in any capacity demonstrates a willingness to commit to something you are passionate about. Everyone would like to do something that matters to them, but it’s the people who actually commit their time who are truly motivated.

How to sell it: Include volunteer experience on your resume and be prepared to talk about it. “Highlight experiences by relating them to the work done by the company you are interviewing for,” Dean suggests. If you connect your experiences to your potential role in the company, it shows employers you understand the work they do.

6.    Student government and organizations

“Active involvement in student government suggests you care about making situations better, which is important in any business,” says Yuri Khlystov, CEO at LaowaiCareer. He adds that just mentioning you were part of a student organization or government isn’t enough on its own. “I want to know what you did to make your college better,” he says. “The more specific, the better.”

How to sell it: “Stories are powerful,” Khlystov says. Paint a picture for your potential employer of a specific moment or project you took on. “Try to be brief, but make sure you get some key facts across,” he recommends. “I want to know how your leadership has impacted those around you.”

7.    Passion projects

“I'm always really impressed when I hear about ad hoc projects that are connected to bettering communities,” says Jaclyn Ciamillo, co-founder of Surprisingly Good. She references mentoring younger students or community projects as experiences that showcase commitment to passion. “Working on projects that focus on bettering communities shows me they will likely focus on the greater good of the team,” she adds.

How to sell it: Ciamillo suggests explaining how those experiences and activities connect to who you are as a person. “Be authentic as well,” she adds. “If you aren't passionate about something you are talking about, the hiring manager will see through it.”

8.    Any time you worked in a team

It almost doesn't matter what the activity was,” says Ben Brooks, CEO of PILOT. “It matters what your part to play was. What role did you take on? How did you make it better?” Brooks says anything from helping out with a family member’s event to participation in a campus volunteer day can demonstrate leadership skills if you make the connection.

How to sell it: “Don't leave it to the interviewer to connect the dots on what the experiences mean,” Brooks says. “Explain the transferable skills.” He also recommends sharing the “why” behind what you did. “Use the interview in a vivid and memorable way to bring to life the things that make you who you are,” he adds.

Leverage your leadership experience

“It’s not about making yourself something you are not,” Mauck says. Instead, demonstrating leadership is about recognizing the value of your experiences and being prepared to explain the transferable skills.

“Every interview is different,” Moffat adds, “but if you show that you’re coachable, have a great personality and are confident in your career path, you’re demonstrating that you’re the right candidate for the job.”

Now that you’re aware of some examples of leadership roles that could impress hiring managers, it’s time to capitalize on them. Instead of dwelling on your lack of professional experience, focus on highlighting the leadership experience you do have. Just beware of the little mistakes that could hurt your chances—check out our article, “26 Common Resume Mistakes That Will Lose You the Job.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in January 2017. It has since been updated. Expert insight remains from original article.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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