How To Show Leadership On Your Resume – Even When You Have Never Been In Charge

It doesn’t matter what position they are trying to fill — hiring managers are looking for candidates with leadership skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to hire people who excel at being “in charge” and who have no problem bossing others around. Sure, they want to hire people that they can trust to usher projects to completion, but leadership is about more than being the boss.

Employers want to hire people with leadership skills because good leaders tend to be good team players. They help influence those around them in a positive way, and inspire others to achieve great things. Good leaders are respectful, confident, and strong communicators. In short, leaders are the people that you want to work with, because you know that you won’t be dealing with a “diva” or picking up the slack for someone who takes three-hour lunch breaks instead of finishing their reports.

The problem, though, is that leadership skills aren’t always immediately apparent. Sometimes, you have to work with someone for a while to notice that he or she is, in fact, a good leader. That’s why hiring managers tend to rely on resumes to determine which candidates are potentially good leaders. They certainly glean some information via the interview process and checking references, but often, a hiring manager’s only information about your leadership skills is what you share on your resume. They look for titles, accomplishments that demonstrate leadership, evidence of increasing responsibility — anything that obviously shows leadership.

So what do you do if you don’t have any titles or job descriptions that specifically show leadership? While you should never embellish your experience in any way, you can highlight specific traits and experience on your resume that will tell employers that yes, you are a capable leader.

Types of Experience That Show Leadership

Surveys indicate that employers are looking to hire candidates that demonstrate specific skills related to leadership. In other words, it’s not so much whether you have held a traditional leadership position (like manager or supervisor) but how well you can put certain skills into action. More specifically, employers want employees who can:

  • Effectively manage change
  • Make good decisions
  • Solve problems
  • Communicate effectively
  • Inspire and develop others
  • Think analytically and strategically
  • Be creative and innovative

Note that none of those traits actually uses the word “leader” or implies any sort of management of others — in short, employers aren’t necessarily looking for a Lucy Van Pelt to tell the Charlie Browns of the world what to do.

Given that employers are looking for those specific qualities, you are well served to highlight your experiences and accomplishments related to those qualities. For example, if you helped a former employee solve a major problem, note it among your accomplishments, focusing on your role and the positive outcome. If you were part of a team that developed a creative new product or service, describe your role.

The idea here isn’t to focus on titles (or your lack thereof) but the experiences and accomplishments that have positioned you to be a leader going forward. Of course, if you have leadership experience, be sure to mention that, but if you don’t, incorporate the keywords that indicate leadership to employers. When you land the interview, you can elaborate on your experience and how it makes you a good leader.

Getting More Leadership Experience

Of course, the best way to become a great leader is to practice your skills. Because leadership roles at work aren’t always easy to come by, you can build those skills — and your experience base — by seeking opportunities outside of the office.

Enrolling in a program to study organizational leadership is one way to build your knowledge base and practical applications of leadership skills. Most graduate programs provide skills that are transferrable across industries, and provide hands-on experience in addition to theoretical knowledge. Volunteering with a local civic or professional organization can also provide leadership training and experience; in fact, some national organizations like Junior League and Lions clubs offer leadership development training for members.

Don’t overlook opportunities in your current job, either. Studying leadership on your own and applying some of the principles to your existing job can make a significant difference in your performance — and the opportunities presented to you. Speak up and volunteer for projects, or take a bigger role in motivating your team. In time, your reputation as a leader will grow and you will reap the rewards — and have more experience to list on your resume.

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