3 Tips to Build Your Resume with Your InterVarsity Experience
All day long, I read resumes.
As a Human Resources Recruiter, that’s my job — or a key part of it, at least. For the past eight years, I’ve worked in HR for two Fortune 500 companies, helping connect talented people with open positions across our company. You can imagine just how many resumes and interviews I, and the team I lead, go through each day. I’ve seen a lot of what works and a lot of what doesn’t.
As a former InterVarsity student and campus minister, I also know the struggle of making your skills and experiences as an InterVarsity student really pop on resumes and in job interviews. I’m here to help you! Here are three things to do to help your student leadership experience shine when you’re job hunting.
Highlight Leadership & Communication
InterVarsity students make excellent leaders. There are so many chances to step into leadership opportunities in an InterVarsity chapter: leading a small group, planning worship, starting a new Bible study, coordinating a justice or outreach event, or even helping to plant a new chapter, just to name a few! If you’ve said yes to doing even one of those things, you have leadership experience that employers want to know about.
So what should you emphasize on a resume or in an interview? Talk about the practical aspects of those leadership experiences. Highlight where you had to take initiative, do long-term planning and preparation, or facilitate logistics. Emphasize how coordinating large group or leading a chapter gave you experience managing a small team and the skills that go with it: delegating, setting expectations, holding others accountable, leading across cultures, and managing group dynamics.
InterVarsity leadership also develops communications skills, so highlight those as well. Early on, employers are not just hiring you for what you can do, but also how you do it. “Soft skills” (the character traits and interpersonal abilities you bring to your work) like good communication can set you apart from other potential candidates. As an example, let’s say you mentored a student one-on-one. You could tell your employer how this equipped you to:
Connect skillfully with many different people.
Simply communicate complex ideas.
Contextualize your speech on the fly to meet people where they are.
Speak in public.
Express yourself with confidence while also listening well and making space for others.
Use the Right Words
Strong verbs are the foundation of a good resume and interview. You want to show your future employer what you have done and can do for them! When describing your student leadership experience, use bright verbs that suggest motion, action, and growth, such as: crafted, created, led, marketed, increased, managed, mobilized, built, coordinated.
Also, when possible, emphasize the specific, concrete results of your leadership. Things like: How many people attended your event? How much did your chapter grow? How much money did the Justice Program raise?
Employers often have their own ways they like to talk about their mission, values, work, etc. (So does InterVarsity!) Be a good “contextualizer.” Research the company you want to work for and try to translate your InterVarsity experience into their language. Pull phrases from the position description, company website, etc., and match them with your leadership work. Show it in your resume and cover letter to create a stronger match between you and the interviewer.
Employers love to see failure and learning. It shows initiative, flexibility, and confidence.
Now, a word of caution: You need to present this correctly, or it could backfire. Don’t talk about past leadership or project failures in a way that makes you look incompetent. Do, however, talk about them in terms of risk and learning. What was the big goal you were trying to reach for, and why was it important? When it didn’t go as planned, how did you react emotionally? How did you pivot and communicate that shift to your team? How did you change your strategy for the next time?
InterVarsity is strong on debriefing, which is a key skill for learning and self-awareness. Show your employer that you have this habit. You’d be surprised how many people — especially new job seekers — don’t have the skills and habits to actually learn from their mistakes. But as an InterVarsity student, you do! That gives you a real advantage in a job interview, and it’s something you’ll want an employer to notice about you.
When You Land It
It’s such a good feeling when you run the gauntlet of interviews and land a job that you really want. That’s why I love helping people do it! But it’s also true that even that good feeling can’t last forever. Even the perfect job is still also, well, a job.
As followers of Jesus, we have the gift of knowing that our job isn’t just a way to make money, feel important, or gain influence. It’s also a way to love God and the world, using the skills and passions he’s given us to advance his kingdom in whatever job or career we pursue. Our time with InterVarsity hasn’t just equipped us to be great employees; it’s also given us a healthy, Christ-centered perspective on work that will last for our entire lives.
“Do you want to go to Hawai`i?” Assuming that my boss was asking about a supervisory visit to Hawai`i, I eagerly said yes. Then she explained that she was asking me to help replant InterVarsity’s ministry because there were only two students left.