To Reach Your Goal: Flash Forward, then Fill in the Blanks

This is for the students in your family.  But the principles apply for anyone with a dream.

The key is to flash forward — look at what it will take to win — then fill in the blanks with the experience and credentials that will make you an attractive candidate. How are you progressing on the path to your goal — whether it is a college admissions slot, an internship or your first job after graduation?

Here are ten surefire steps:

Visualize the key players. Who are the decisionmakers?  Who is your competition?  What are the credentials and characteristics of those who have gotten the nod previously?  How do you stack up?  What are you missing?  What would give you an edge?  You don’t need a crystal ball.  Everyone now has a bio/backgrounder on-line.   Join LinkedIn and start with key word searches.  Keep Googling to learn more.  Start now to scope what comprises the ideal profile for the slot you seek, as well as detailed information on the decisionmakers who can get you there.  Don’t wait until senior year — or graduation.

Inventory your successes.  What are some cool things you’ve accomplished?  Start keeping a list.  The achievements might be academic, athletic or part of organized school activity. Or maybe not. When you gravitate to something you enjoy, you will likely apply those same skills later in your adult life. Some student examples that impressed me: Formed a musical ensemble and began booking gigs. Started a blog. Performed with an acting troop at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Persuaded an elected official to invite one’s entire family to the Presidential inauguration. Organized a school fundraiser at a local business.

Document and showcase.  Don’t just tell them, show them!  When your work is showcased online, capture and save via screen shot.  Immediately!  (The webpage will not always be live.) Create word docs.  Case studies.  Powerpoint presentations. Yes, even selfies.  Whether you are targeting a college slot or career launch, these will become powerful supplementals to use in conjunction with the requisite application process.  Here’s a dirty little secret.  You can stir things up — causing the powers-that-be to cast doubt on other contenders who didn’t show this extra initiative.  Advantage: YOU!

Evaluate and allocate your activities. In the era of 24/7 busy-ness, this is critical.  You might be stretched to the max with a myriad of extracurriculars.  But what is meaningful and pertinent to your goal?   Let’s say you are targeting a slot at a service academy. This requires a strong track record of leadership and service par excellence.  If you are on a horizontal path of adding new activities and experiences, you may need to step back and re-focus.  Search your soul and sink your teeth into a meaningful pursuit — something that touches, helps and inspires others. Choose depth over breadth.

Get a Job.  There is an end game after high school and college.  A career!   And it typically involves working inside someone else’s organization, carrying out duties that someone else determines, keeping a schedule, etc.  So….best to start now. Find a summer position.  Begin to demonstrate that you can execute, get along with others and deliver results in a tough, competitive environment.  String together a couple of these gigs and you’ve got a foundation from which to springboard into the greatness you desire.  Here’a my favorite story of a summer camping job that led to one of the most coveted career opportunities in the world — content director for the amazing TED organization.

Repeat performance.  Doing a seemingly mundane part-time job for multiple years in a row is very attractive to a decisionmaker.   It shows persistence, consistency and reliability.  Similarly, you can take a 3-4 year stint in a student organization and treat it as a job on the resume — particularly if you have taken on leadership roles with increasing responsibility.  A demonstration of commitment always sells well against the competition!

Start building a resume.  Create a baseline of experience, accomplishments and credentials.  Evaluate and add to it every semester!  Continue to monitor your target — the decisionmakers, winners and competitors — via LinkedIn and Google searches. You will begin to see patterns.  What is the mix of academics, leadership and work experience that seems to be in favor? All you have to do is look for the model and replicate it.  No need to guess or fly blind in the modern Internet world.

What’s your story?  When you string together your experience and accomplishments, what are you able to convey?  You may need an interpreter to help package your offerings to appeal to “the other side of the desk,”  i.e., the admissions counselor or hiring decisionmaker.  If you had three different hospitality-related jobs, what is meaningful?  That you “delivered excellent customer service” as everyone typically states on the resume?  No.  Dig a little deeper.  You might be able to convey hands-on food preparation with front-of-the-house management and event planning in three different platforms:  single-unit/family owned, publicly-held entertainment concept, and regional chain.  Now that’s an attractive menu to offer.

Identify the connections.  Who might be able to help you with insights and possibly even introductions to the decisionmakers? Believe it or not, there are people within your reach who could help:  school alumni, faculty members, friends of the family and parents of your friends.  NOTE:  This is not an action item for your parents.  But if you leverage those relationships and personally float out the request for input/expertise in a professional and customized manner, you will be pleasantly surprised with the response and offers of assistance you will receive. Hint:  People love to give advice.

What’s your superpower?  There is a special concoction of talents, interests and passion that is uniquely you.   I LOVE the Gallup StrengthsQuest for students.  For $9.99, you can access a Web-based assessment that measures the presence of talent in 34 themes.  It delivers a report of your top five themes — with action items to help you further explore.  Building a life on something you do well will deliver more happiness and satisfaction than trying to correct something you’re not.  It’s the key to finding The Perfect Fit.

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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene