How to Show Leadership in a Job Application

John Krautzel
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You'll come across quite a few job application tips when you're looking to take the next step in your management career. For a manager, however, there really is only one takeaway from those job application tips: demonstrate leadership skills. Your next employer probably isn't considering you for a job in middle or senior management because you're good at obeying orders but is looking for a proven leader who can be counted on to take the initiative with a team. So the challenge now is to get that message across to a potential new employer. How do you convince the hiring manager that you have the desired leadership skills?

The first, and in many ways most obvious, way to convince a new employer that you're a natural leader is just to come right out and say so on your resume. It's an approach so obvious that most job application tips don't even mention it. Just say, right in the body of your resume, that you have what it takes to lead a team. People don't get to be management material without the ability to just put themselves out there with a bold declaration, and the direct approach will open doors you might not even have known were there.

Of course, anyone can claim to be a leader, but making sure that your job application tips the scales in your favor is going to require proof. Using concise—almost legalistic—language, list your achievements at your last job. Describe the state of affairs when you took over the team, what changes you imposed, and—most critically—the positive results. Try to link this pattern of taking charge to the consistently high returns your last company enjoyed. If your last company wasn't profitable, find another measure of your success, such as rising morale or declining absenteeism. Whatever concrete, verifiable success you enjoyed in your last leadership position, make sure your prospective employer knows about it. This lends much more credibility to your claim to leadership experience.

Every resume can be thought of as a short story, and every cover letter is the foreword to that story. The prime directive of a storywriter is "show, don't tell." The hiring manager who screens your application needs to be shown that you understand leadership. You don't have a lot of room to maneuver within the confines of the standard cover letter, resume, application combo, so don't be afraid to break format the way a true leader would. People—followers—who adhere to standard job application tips usually don't follow up on their applications; you take charge by calling to thank the hiring manager for considering you. Others accept a rejection and never try again at that company; you send flowers and a nice thank-you note, and then you apply again. Real leaders set the rules for interacting with them, and by breaking protocol in these small ways, you can demonstrate that you think like a leader yourself.

Leadership is a flexible concept. There are as many ways of demonstrating it as there are people in the world. Above all else, and most especially apart from any job application tips you've read, a true leader forges ahead and sets the tone. Do likewise in your application, and you'll convince your prospective employer that you have what it takes to lead.



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