What does it mean to be competitive for an undergraduate student in 2018? And what's the prize for the winner of the competition? Presumably, the winner graduates and is awarded the most job prospects, the highest salaries, and the greatest lifetime earning potential. But is this actually the case? It depends on the nature of the competition. In high school the nature of the competition was to get the best grades possible with the prize being admission to your top choice University. But is the nature of the competition the same in University if the prize is completely different? Are we still trying to score goals when we're actually competing in the 100m sprint?
Competition at university, especially a top-ranked university, is fiercer than ever. If you can no longer be the best in your class or even the top 10%, can you still be successful in life?
We're here to tell you, 'Of course you can!'
Achieving top grades is only ONE measure of MANY when it comes to standing apart from the crowd. And in some cases, it may not even be the ideal metric. How can you be competitive if not academically?
When it comes to thinking about how to be professionally competitive - consider shifting your perspective slightly to focus less on how you can be "the best" and concentrate instead on how you can be UNIQUE. Unique AND exceptional.
You see this even with companies and brands. For example, Starbucks does not serve the best coffee in the world but are still extremely competitive in their market. Why is that? First, they were able to cultivate a unique AND exceptional experience compared to walking into any other café, especially in the 80's when they first launched. Another unique selling point is variety. There are a reported 87,000 different drink combinations that one can indulge in at Starbucks! This is not easy to replicate for your neighbourhood coffee shop.
What does that mean for you professionally? It means that real-world work experience is as good a guarantee of personal and professional success as grades are. But if good grades are defined as a 4.0 GPA, what constitutes good experience?
The beauty of good experience is that it can be whatever you define it to be. The key is to be intentional and deliberate about your choice of work. Why? Because you want to be able to tell a good story. You want to be able to say, "I was interested in pursuing a career in technology so I decided to volunteer for Start Up Open House where I knew I would be able to see a variety of start up offices and meet some of the people that work there. . Sure enough, I had a great conversation with the Product Lead at Company Y and was offered an interview for a summer internship!...". Be able to talk about the result(s) of each decision and the impact of each experience..
Be unique. Be one of a rare breed and you'll be in demand. If you are walking around campus and you don't feel like you're doing something special, search harder. And search outside the box - i.e. outside the gates of your university campus. In fact, the further the better. That's what will catch someone's attention.
Of all the résumés that we see every month, here are a few real-world examples that have stood out and impressed us:
- A summer position working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Africa to get experience in international development.
- A gap year spent in Europe researching and writing a comparative analysis of the education systems in Canada versus Scandinavia for the Ministry of Education
- Enrolment and service in the Canadian Armed Forces
- Success in creating and distributing original content on Youtube, amassing a loyal following and achieving over a million views per video.
Each of these were communicated in a way that captivated the reader like only a good story can. They enticed me to want to follow up and speak with all of these students and no doubt future employers will feel the same about these individuals.
So what makes you unique? What's your story? If you don't know yet, don't worry. It's not always immediately clear what your special sauce is. Sometimes you need an outsider's perspective. Wanna talk it through? Connect for a informational interview with me on PREVIEW Careers!