Stop describing yourself as innovative. At least delete it off those resumes and cover letters. Seriously. While this may be a column about how fantastic an innovative life can be, it’s time to have the talk about buzz words.
“Innovative” is a buzz word. “Creative” is a buzz word. Their meanings are imprecise and up for interpretation. Like anything, it’s easy to say you’re innovative. It’s an entirely different thing to actually be innovative. So what’s a college kid looking for a job to do? You want to emphasize your creativity — after all, employers are in love with hiring creatives — but you don’t want to sound lame and totally uncreative by making empty claims.
Here are some ways to show that you are creative and innovative without actually having to throw out those unattractive buzz words.
1. Join and showcase your participation in organizations that don’t necessarily directly tie to your major. There are dozens of organizations across campus that would love to have you, so choose one and get involved. Meeting and working with people from different sectors of campus will help you stay open-minded and encourage you to think of old ideas and preconceptions in new ways. On a resume or cover letter, this sort of involvement shows that you value a commitment to lifelong learning, which I can imagine is music to any hiring manager’s ears. Bonus points if you take on a leadership position within the organization. Any leader is going to have to improvise and get creative at some point; you’ll have plenty of anecdotes for those tough interview questions.
2. Attend conferences, seminars and networking events. Through organizations I’m involved in, I’ve gotten the chance to attend several amazing conferences. Not only do conferences give you an excuse to get off campus, they also surround you with new, bright people who are pioneers in your field. Some of my best and most exciting ideas have come from sitting in conference sessions and being inspired by the intelligent and creative people around me. In addition to the people, conferences help foster creativity by jam-packing a ton of information into a few days; the prolonged exposure can help you bridge gaps in your knowledge and understand something you may have been previously struggling with. Employers know these things about conferences; that’s probably part of the reason they foot the bill for so many of their employees. Bonus points if you actually execute some of the ideas you brought home from the conference. That makes for an excellent point to bring up in an interview.
3. Be ready to showcase an eclectic reading list. It can be difficult to make time to read for pleasure in college, which means that by doing so, you can stand out as a job or internship applicant. Try to read different genres. For me, I’ve made it a goal to keep up reading in at least two books: one related to my field of study and one either for fun or educational purposes. You might not be able to display your reading list on a resume, but a common interview question is “What’s the latest book you read?” An eclectic reading list will highlight your personality, imagination and intelligence. Bonus points if you keep a blog and talk about what you’ve read. Showing an employer you understand and have struggled and thrived through the writing process will win you tons of points.
If you examine how you spend your time, you may be surprised to see how many innovative and creative characteristics you already possess. Don’t allow them to get swallowed up in a resume, cover letter or interview by ambiguous buzz words.