3 Ways to Stand Out – Build a Spectacular Resume to Get a National Security Job
1. BE DIFFERENT. If there is nothing else that you take away from this blog, remember this one thing: The key to your success is DIFFERENTIATION. Think about this: Thousands and thousands of resumes flood the in-boxes of HR staff (and their computer systems) in government agencies, private sector companies, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks and all the other cool places you’re applying to. How are you going to stand out? How are you going to look more interesting than other job seekers?
My resume included a history of overseas travel: I had studied abroad, done volunteer work in foreign countries, and exposed myself to different cultures. It was clear that I had gotten off the beaten path. I believe this is what got me into Georgetown University’s Arab Studies program even though my GRE test scores weren’t as high as most candidates’. I’m smart, but not necessarily Ivy League material. That’s why I’m convinced that it was my commitment to learning that pushed me over the edge and made me a good candidate for the master’s program. (I’m more of a “street-smart” kind of person than “book smart,” so I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to get into graduate school.)
Ultimately, it was the master’s program in a unique area of study that got my resume noticed by CIA recruiters. They told me it was the advanced degree in Arab Studies that grabbed their attention. Of course, I had to do the rest—get through the intensive interviews and national security vetting process, but my resume opened the door. (For more information on the CIA’s hiring process, see my article at the Feminine Collective, “Recruited–How I Got Into the CIA.”) http://www.femininecollective.com/recruited-by-the-cia/
Differentiation is critical to success. My focus on the Middle East—particularly during a time when that wasn’t a popular thing to do (pre-September 11 attacks), is what helped me get into graduate school and enabled me to get a job with the CIA. Be unique. Have the courage to go places and do things others haven’t considered. Think to yourself: What’s going to grab people’s attention?
2. GET SMART. There is no substitute for expertise. Find something that interests you that is also of interest to our country and study, study, study. Once you find something that really pulls you in—for me it was the mystery and allure of the Middle East–learn everything you can about it. After graduating from college, I didn’t have much money, so one of the things I did was take Arabic classes as the USDA. (At the time, they were the cheapest language classes in the DC area and they were fantastic!)
Undergraduate study abroad program in Cairo + Arabic classes + Master’s degree = Competitive Resume
3. DEMONSTRATE GRIT. Not only did I demonstrate a commitment to learning about the Middle East, but I also got up close and personal to the subjects of my interest. My knowledge wasn’t just from classrooms or books, but from experience in the region. Days after graduating from high school I joined a group of students that volunteered to work for a month in an orphanage in Upper Egypt. It was hot. It was dirty work. It was excruciatingly difficult to do manual labor outside in the searing Egyptian summer sun, but that experience changed me. And it showed potential employers that I was tough. (This was important as I looked quite young for my age and had a hard time getting jobs in DC because of my appearance. Even though I was 22-years-old, I pretty much looked like I was 15. So my resume shocked people. My activities and achievements reflected the personality of someone much stronger and more resilient than I appeared at first glance.)