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The importance of leadership and the job search

We’ve all seen the page-long job description asking for every qualification imaginable that leaves us to wonder exactly which skills and attributes (out of the 10+ listed) are really going to land us the job.

According to NACE's Job Outlook 2015 survey, when employers were asked which attributes they look for on a candidate's resume, the biggest group of respondents (77.8 percent) chose both "leadership" and "the ability to work in a team structure."

The survey results show that leadership skills can make or break a hiring decision. Figure 2 suggests that when employers are forced to choose between two equally qualified candidates, they will choose the candidate with experience in a leadership position over the other.


With that being said, it’s time to assess when and where you’ve been a leader! Think about projects/labs, volunteer work, and student organizations in which you exercised some type of leadership. Did you delegate responsibilities, help set direction and goals for the group or motivate other members to complete objectives? These are types of leadership oriented tasks that can easily be transferred into an intern/co-op or full time role.

Build and Enhance

The ability to lead is not a strength for everyone. If leadership is a skill that does not come easy to you, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone!  Extracurricular activities, class work, as well as part-time jobs and internships provide excellent opportunities to take charge of a project or activity and therefore develop your leadership skills. Don’t forget to ask your peers for feedback, so you can continue to enhance your skills in this area. You can also build your leadership skills thru attending college sponsored programs such as the annual Leadership Development Summit. In addition, take advantage of any type of industry-specific events such as employer panels where you can hear from experts in your field on how being a leader can take you far in your career.


Leadership positions are often underplayed when communicating experience to an employer during the job search. Instead of overlooking your leadership skills, learn how to connect them to what employers are seeking! Leadership can mean anything from heading up a four-person class project to being president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. For employers, such experience suggests that job candidates know how to work with people of varying backgrounds and can complete assigned tasks.

Some students have trouble demonstrating these skills through their job search documents and when speaking face-to-face with employers. Even a job as a counselor in a summer camp can involve leadership and teamwork. The key is to make sure you spell out those responsibilities specifically and quantify results whenever possible. Providing evidence will support your statements. For example, you could say you supervised day-to-day activities and coordinated group activities for 150 young adults over a week long camp.

Bottom line- this survey makes it clear that employers value universal skills such as leadership. Engineering Career Services is here to help you with all facets of your job search. Set up an appointment with an advisor to discuss how to sell your leadership experience to employers! 

"Leadership is an action, not a position." 
-Donald McGannon

About the author

Kaitlin Schafer

Kaitlin Schafer is a Career Counselor at Engineering Career Services.