Your diploma only lists one (or two, for you overachievers) area of expertise, but your degree program probably gave you more adaptable skills than you realize. Just having these skills won’t get you very far on your job search, though; you need to demonstrate them to potential employers. Take inventory of some of the abilities you picked up during your university career—and learn how to show them off.
If you majored in English, this one is in your wheelhouse, though students from all programs develop great communication skills in school. Just tacking on “excellent communication skills” at the end of your resume, however, isn’t too convincing, so include examples of instances where you implemented your abilities. Maybe you planned meetings for your student organization. In your resume or cover letter, use verbs that emphasize broad, widely applicable skills, and include any concrete, positive results you produced: Coordinated with committee leaders and corresponded with faculty members in order to plan weekly meetings with 100% member attendance. Did you receive some kind of recognition for your work? Even better—Faculty adviser A. Smith said she had “never seen such efficiency in an undergraduate.”
The ability to prioritize and organize work within time constraints is an indispensable skill in any profession. University turns deadlines into a lifestyle, both through required classes and extracurricular activities. If you contributed to any on-campus publications, include that in your resume, and list your school newspaper editor as a reference. If you didn’t write for the paper, emphasize another way you displayed your organizational skills. Many students participate in volunteer work: Served as the vice-president of my service organization to plan and lead after-school tutoring sessions for middle school students; raised students’ standardized test scores by an average of 15%. Remember—broad skills and concrete results.
Be confident in your resourcefulness. Employers don’t want insecure, indecisive workers who require micromanagement and hand-holding. Classes in math, science, and philosophy imbue students with exceptional problem-solving skills. Show off these abilities in your resume or cover letter. Give an example of a situation in which you excelled in a leadership role: As an RA in a freshman dormitory, I regularly mediated disputes between residents and kept the peace on my floor. While I always maintained a friendly and welcoming attitude toward residents, I never bent the rules; none of my residents incurred disciplinary action from the university, nor did any of them request to change room assignments.
Most jobs require some degree of collaboration. Many professors incorporate group projects into their curriculum, as businesses have told universities that shared work is important. Additionally, activities like instrumental or vocal music, theatre arts, and athletics (among others) place special emphasis on collaboration. List team efforts in your resume, focusing on joint successes: Rehearsed and performed complicated pieces of music in a 50-person orchestra that won a national contest. Or—Practiced and coordinated daily with coaches and student athletes to build camaraderie and create strategic plays, resulting in an undefeated season.
Employers are looking for grads who can communicate, organize, problem-solve, and work in teams. Give examples of times that you showed mastery of these skills, and always include the positive results that followed. Play to your strengths—you may not have an extensive work history, but you have more experience than you think.
I learned a long time ago that a degree… *any* degree… is a valuable addition. If I had known that years earlier I might have worked towards a degree instead of buying into the sales pitch of the Tech School recruiter. Sure, it got me working sooner, but it’s also held me back in the long run.