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Building a Resume That Stands Out: The 21st Century Skills Students Need to Succeed

Hiring Managers & Entrepreneurs share what skills they look for on a Resume
Eric Do Couto
May 6, 2021

What 21st-Century Skills Will Students Need to Display on their Resumes?

In Season One of our Competencies without a Classroom podcast, we interviewed 18 entrepreneurs, hiring managers and business owners - we asked them, “With two resumes in front of you, which 21st-century skill helps separate your successful candidate from the other?”

With this data around 21st-century skills -- directly from business owners and hiring managers, we set out to identify any unique trends that young professionals and students could use to get a leg up when submitting their resumes for their dream jobs.

The answers to this question around 21st-century skills started to reveal some consistent trends and very interesting results.

1. Adaptability & Coachability

One trend throughout all the answers we received was the ability for young people to showcase the 21st-century skill of adaptability and coachability - meaning that the applicant was able to prove, via the interview process or via their past experiences, that they are open to constructive feedback and willing to apply that feedback to better themselves.

If two applicants displayed similar experience and education, it was the applicant who could prove their ability to adapt and receive coaching who would stand out for many of our decision-makers.

“What kind of person are you, what are your values? How do you operate? How do you work with others? How do you collaborate?”

“So interest and then what I call adaptability”

2. Curiosity, Passion and Willingness to Grow

Another trend that was almost echoed across the board from each of the business owners and decision-makers was the ability for young people to display their curiosity in the roles and careers that they’re aspiring towards; and the ability to showcase their passion and eagerness to grow in their personal and professional development.

“...demonstrate that you've done your research about the company based some of your questions on what you've learned.”

“...And what I mean by passion is this: some people want a job, right? They want a job in a field working roughly in these parameters. And then there are certain people that want this job to work for you, and here is why.”

“I think curiosity is a really big one. Are you naturally curious, do you, do you wonder about things around you? Do you want to make things better?”

3. Character and Problem Solving

Can you display the ability to effectively communicate your thoughts and your thinking when assessing a problem at hand? Even if you don’t have the answer or the experience to lean on to provide a solution - can you put in the effort to research possible solutions, provide recommendations and showcase a solid series of reasonable conclusions towards a problem?

That’s problem-solving - and that’s a crucial 21st-century skill that many of our interviewees determined were the skill that they are looking for in an applicant or young person looking to get a job today.

“The other one that, that I always look for is an ability to problem-solve creatively.”

“So that's a big part of when you explain your portfolio, when you're a designer, you don't just present your idea. The goal is for you to walk through your decision-making process.”

4. Practicing Creation and Curation of a Personal Portfolio

The resume is an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper that lists the accomplishments and supposed competencies of an applicant. However, a common theme from our hiring managers and business owners is that they look for applicants who can provide proof of their work and professional competency.

The portfolio, particularly for students and young professionals looking to break into an industry, is an increasingly important 21st-century skill when it comes to finding a job or role in a career of your choice.

The ability to provide writing samples, proof of your extra-curricular activities and examples of ways you displayed the competencies on your resume is critical to employers and helps applicants to stand out from others during the hiring process.

“Resumes don't tend to tell you that much, but you can learn a lot from writing samples.”

“Are they [the applicant] able to explain their thinking? So that's a big part of when you explain your portfolio.”

“Are they [the applicant] doing things? Is there a demonstrated history of actually going out there and doing stuff? Are you writing, are you like, what are the extra things that are demonstrating that you're willing to go above and beyond?”

“But I almost always want to understand where has this been displayed in the past, in the middle of a real-world project. So I call that a portfolio. What's your portfolio looking like? Because your portfolio to me speaks volumes.”

21st-century skills to Showcase on your Resume

When crafting your portfolio or writing out your resume, make sure to reflect these 21st-century skills in your application.

Do you have a portfolio of previous work to showcase your skills?

Have you displayed your willingness to learn and adaptability in your portfolio or resume?

Is your passion evident in your portfolio? Or is your passion around the role communicated during the interview or hiring process?

Have you displayed an ability to be coachable? To receive and act on constructive criticism?


Want to bring student portfolios into your classroom? Get started with SpacesEDU today for free!

Eric Do Couto

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