Whether you are graduating from college, switching companies, or pivoting into a different industry, every potential employer and consumer is looking for a good story that clearly delineates how you or your product might be an asset to them.
Often, especially when applying for opportunities using a resume, there can be some uncertainty around what details to include and what can be left off.
Furthermore, what is the difference between “stuffing” your resume and adding actual value to it?
In our monthly “Mentor Moment” we spoke with Andrea Medina, Global Program Manager of Employee Resources Groups at LinkedIn, where our members and guests received gainful insights into how identity and all experiences can be used to create solid resumes and professional opportunities for evolving leaders.
As both a student and professional, Medina has done extensive work to elevate the voices and visibility of historically excluded communities. Although her career has led her into the tech industry with the world’s largest professional network on the internet, she tells her story in such a way to convincingly show that her experience began as early as high school. From high school to her undergraduate studies, to volunteer work and a gap year before graduate school at Stanford University, Medina gained the tools that she needed to transition from devoting herself to nonprofit work to landing big-ticket career opportunities fairly early in her career.
In this “Ask-Me-Anything” style session, Medina shares how she has been able to use her experiences as a queer Latinx professional, fourth-generation college student, and improv comedy hobbyist to color her resume and tell her story in larger corporate spaces.
When you’re looking for ways to strengthen your resume, it might seem like you need more experience just to get your foot in the door. Here are five things that you might already have going for you that can prove that you are authentically qualified for any role that speaks to your “why”.
1. Your "What"
Every good story starts with a question and the journey to getting that question answered.
We often ask ourselves leading, subjective questions like: “What is the plan? How will I support myself? What do I really want to do?” Those same questions are asked by others too.
However, Medina’s story shows us that inherent curiosities, perhaps shaped by environment and experience, are what can serve as the roadmap to greater success.
Instead of asking herself the questions above, Medina began asking herself, “how can I explore? How can I learn the most on my own accord?”
Reframing the narrative about her career and skills started when Medina was in high school, after attending a leadership development program hosted by the National Hispanic Institute. The facilitators focused on debate skills, confidence-building, and public speaking. According to Medina, even at a young age, “this was a huge enlightening, turning point.”
Years later, Medina is still using and building with the tools gained at the National Hispanic Institute; however, her connection to the organization changed from one where she was receiving support, to one where she found a passion and evolved to provide support. While the workshops, training, and mentorships equipped and empowered her to navigate spaces she was yet to see, it did not immediately translate to the success that she sees now.
Instead, it led to another more developed question about how people are inspired to begin with. She asked, “How do we learn how to communicate? How do we learn how to speak publicly and inspire a group or community?”
Sitting with the vagueness of this question and honoring its proximity to what mattered to her as an individual, started with the journey of how she would lead both locally and globally to reach, inspire and elevate the voices of people from a large platform. Her passion for understanding how people become inspired through communication led Medina to major in Human Communication and engage in many new experiences.
So, what questions can you ask yourself which can help create the scope for your next step?
2. Your “Why”
Have you ever been invited to an interview that asked the question, “Why do you want to work for us?”
To answer this question, you might go back to what matters to you most and how those values align to the values and goals of the company. Those values, however, are your “why”.
Your “why” can be relevant as it relates to academic opportunities, volunteering or philanthropic work, relationship building, mentoring, networking and more.
For Medina, as it related to pursuing graduate school, her why was focused on the desire to go. “I think it’s really important to have an idea for why you’re wanting to go. Why are you even seeking out this opportunity? A lot of the time it's, “I need to go to grad school because I need a Master's”, but why?”
Determining your “why" can be tricky because it often requires time to reflect on your experiences to conceptualize how you want to use your time and develop personally. Medina encourages an evaluation of how a specific graduate program [or any opportunity for that matter] will help you push yourself to get to the next level.
While the next level may seem unclear, giving yourself time to determine what direction you want to go in will be essential in deciding if a graduate program, career, or any other opportunity is right for you.
From the transformation that she experienced as a high school student in the National Hispanic Institute, Medina strengthened her convictions in knowing what was important to her. She had an abstract, but a definite intention toward understanding and creating spaces of transformation, learning, leadership development, and growth particularly for underrepresented groups.
It can be discouraging to have only a conceptual idea for what you want to do in your future and career. Medina shared candidly with the audience, “What was tricky was how I was going to use that time and that [past] experience to truly get what I needed to get out of [graduate school].”
Before you submit that application for the next job, program, or school, you should first know your “why” or have some indication. Your “why” is the baseline of your story and it is a thread that strings together every experience that you’ve ever had in each of your endeavors.
3. Your “Network”
In a recent Luminous Speaker Series on networking, we learned some of the best approaches to networking for every stage in your career.
Medina’s insights echoed some of the same ideas, which ultimately emphasized that leveraging your network is important. There is the network that you build over time and then there is the network that you inherit as you branch out and join spaces that support your “what” and your “why”.
“If there are any ways that you can find spaces that give you the time to reflect and build self-confidence, communication skills, that’s crucial,” Medina states.
At various points in Medina’s journey, we see a pattern of what she calls “crucibles,” situations of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.
There are more than a few crucibles that can occur in one’s professional journey, but a strong and present network can get you a step closer to where you want to be.
“After undergrad, I took one year off in between graduate school. I found an opportunity at a local theatre playing with the idea of some creative outlets and I’m just sitting there [with questions like], ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’ That led me to happen upon - through networks in the National Hispanic Institute - a [Leadership Studies] program in San Diego that was specifically focused on helping you unpack the history of leadership concepts and theories.”
After moving to San Diego, Medina found herself in a position where her network was miles away. Though the support was still there, this presented as an opportunity for her to put more confidence into the work that she had done as a young professional. To that point, she shared, “Sometimes it is [a matter of] beefing up your resume and really crafting your experiences and selling yourself convincingly to tell your story [on paper] and in your interviews and hopefully get those opportunities.”
Learning how to leverage the network and when to lean into your story are skills and necessities that work cooperatively. While the network might get your foot into the door, the way that you craft your story and experiences are what bring you to rooms that those in your network have no access to. Open the door for yourself and for others.
4. Your "Inventory"
It’s not what you know, but who you know.
However, Medina shared with Luminary Members and guests the importance of being able to pinpoint and confidently share what you also know. While “who you know” may create opportunities, it’s acknowledging “what you know” that can give you the confidence to tell your story and weave that story into your resume, interview, and authentic dialogue.
Reflecting on completing her Stanford Leadership Studies graduate program, Medina shared how her acknowledgment for what she knows led her to the right opportunities without the immediate help of a network to tell her where to go. “I’ve been dedicating weekends and volunteer time to the National Hispanic Institute, basically running programs. And that translates,” Medina shared, “And a lot of the time we discredit our nonprofit work or our side gigs or freelance work and the work to craft all of that [valid] experience into [a story of] ‘I do have the skillset. I have been doing this.” This allowed Medina to take control and decide on not only her next steps but the kinds of jobs that she wanted to apply for.
Yet, how do we clearly articulate our complete story into a resume? “Stuffing” a resume can be considered the act of using words and phrases to illustrate a certain type or amount of experience that you might not have. In other words, embellishing. What you want to do instead is to add value to your resume by taking inventory of work that you have done and experiences that you have even if perhaps the job title, salary, or formality of the role does not immediately seem credible to you.
According to Medina, the details of those experiences, no matter how minor they seem, are credible and further shared how using them to tell her story changed her life.
Medina was able to share with us the success she had as she relied on the various experiences that she had between high school and graduate school. “It led me coincidentally to an opportunity at Stanford University running entrepreneurship programs. I found a channel and I found a direction that I could go. It was empowering to know that I could start somewhere in building that career, [Furthermore] having that experience really opened my eyes to that global perspective. As soon as I saw “Global Program Manager”, it was like, “That’s it! I want to have a more global skill set and understand what it takes to run programs across the world.”
And that, she did.
While it is sometimes challenging to stand out in an industry where many people seem to have the same skills or experience, your story, your experience is yours and how you craft that story is critical. As you gain direction with where you want to go professionally and what careers you want to aim for, a proactive strategy can be to take your own “inventory” and figure out how you want to communicate what distinguished knowledge you have for any opportunity that you want.
5. Your "Personal Experiences"
“Sitting at Stanford for a bit, that was when I started to get this inkling [that] I loved learning, I had done five programs at this point, and what I’m missing is waking up and working specifically with underrepresented groups every day,” was Medina’s wake-up call for her career.
“I started crafting a DEI story. Again, sitting back and rewinding and saying, ‘I have true community experience - diversity experience and working with underrepresented Latino communities across the nation. How do I craft that as a story and how do I build upon that?” mentioned Medina. Identity markers such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, and religion can seem like touchy subjects to bring into professional spaces that lack a culture of inclusion. However, when these parts of your identity are evaluated and are part of your own story, they will often reveal what makes your contribution to professional spaces unique.
It was this revisitation to Medina’s “what” and “why” that led her to her current position at LinkedIn. At the end of the day, the fundamental questions that led her to her early developmental and career opportunities were the ones that made her into the leader that she is today, including her recreational and professional use of improvisational comedy.
When asked about her hobby with improv, Medina shared yet another example of how she is able to turn every experience into a professional asset.
“It started very much as a side hobby thing I was very curious about and turned into something that creates humble, humorous, transformative environments that we’re learning in.”
With this mindset, Medina has been able to craft and lead team events using improv to teach valuable professional skills and share bonding moments with her colleagues while doing so.
Regardless of where you are on your journey, approaching a career authentically, from choosing an industry to crafting the resume, you ultimately need to tell your own story to employers and colleagues who are integral to the process. But like everything, our story evolves.