Prepare Your Application

Applying to experiential learning opportunities can be overwhelming and there are important points to consider in order to be a competitive candidate.

Because your application documents are a key part of the process, they should be created with close attention to detail. As a sophomore, you can attend workshops, such as the Plan Ahead Get Ahead series, Application Clinic workshop or Sophomore Challenge, that are designed specifically to help you get started. You can always visit the Center for Career and Professional Development for assistance in all steps of the process, from searching for the best experiences to creating competitive materials and interviewing.

Understand the Position Statement

Remember that each opportunity you apply to is rooted in specific wants/needs of the candidates, and organizations all have a foundation of specific set of values, ideals, and missions. When applying, you'll want to understand what these are for a couple reasons:

  • You'll want to highlight your experiences and strengths, demonstrating how these will be effectively transferrable to this new role. The hiring committee may see your skills, but it would strengthen your chances at receiving an interview if you help them to see the direct connections between your skills and the new role and their organization.
  • While aiming to demonstrate why you're a great fit, it's important to recognize if their ideals align with yours. Will you be happy in this position/program, or as a representative of this organization? Try to recognize, for yourself, what you stand for and if this work will align with your values and make you happy.

To submit a competitive application:

  • Consider the wants/needs of the opportunity you're applying to. Identify the values and mission of the organizations you are applying to. This info is often on the opportunity posting, but if not, you'll want to conduct additional research about the organization.
  • Read the position posting very carefully. You'll see exactly what they're looking for in a candidate and what tasks the role will be responsible for. A full understanding of the requirements will help you tailor your application materials effectively.
  • Analyze how your experiences and strengths align with the role, and explain this connection. Even if you feel you haven't had many valuable experiences, or that experiences aren't directly applicable, you most likely do have the transferable skills needed to be successful! Just take some time to analyze and reflect on what skills you've developed in your previous experiences and demonstrate how those skills and experiences link to the role you're applying for.  

Your Resume

Your resume is a one-page document that highlights your educational and professional experiences including relevant coursework, leadership, research, service, and hard skills. From this document, your prospective employers or admissions committees will gain insight into the level of your expertise and skill set. Because it is the first snapshot of your capabilities, you'll want to make sure your resume is well-organized and that your experience statements accurately and effectively demonstrate what you've achieved.

To ensure you have a stand-out resume:

  • Understand the posting. Make sure you know exactly what the organization is looking for. With this in mind, you'll be able to highlight certain info on your resume to speak to that criteria.
  • Use a model resume. You can view examples of some strong resumes to get an idea of how to structure and format your own. Don't be tempted to use a template. Templates are challenging to update and the formatting doesn't look the same when others open the attachment. View the Handbook for Professional Writing from the Center for Career and Professional Development  for sample resumes.
  • Use a consistent format. You'll want to make sure the font-type, font-size, spacing, and all headers are the same. Employers may notice if there are varying formats and assume you lack attention to detail or aren't organized.
  • Show your soft skills. At the end of your resume, you'll probably have a section for the hard skills you've gained, such as the languages you speak and software skills you've mastered. But how can you really demonstrate your soft skills, that you're an excellent leader? That you take initiative? You do this through your experience statements under each opportunity you've had. Refer to the Handbook for Professional Writing from the Center to find samples of effective experience statements.
  • Visit the Career Center. The Career Specialists at the Center for Career and Professional Development will look over your resume or will help you to create one, and will give you pointers on how to spice it up to properly demonstrate your experiences and strengths. They are an excellent, free resource on campus! 

Your Application Essay / Cover Letter

Most opportunities are going to request that you submit either an essay or a cover letter as part of your application materials. Your application essay or cover letter should convey to the hiring committee your enthusiasm and qualifications for the role beyond what's communicated in the resume.

To craft a successful application essay / cover letter:

  • Adhere to the requirements of the essay/letter.
    – Application Essay: Read the essay prompt carefully, to make sure you are fully addressing what is being asked of you. Just like with a research paper, it's best to draft and outline to ensure you don't forget anything important.
    – Cover Letter: Follow the standard cover letter writing conventions. Some of these are very similar to business letter norms, but each paragraph - generally - has specific expected information. To view these requirements, refer to the Handbook for Professional Writing and search for cover letter writing.
  • Always have someone else proofread it before submitting. There are many people at John Jay who can do this. Career Specialists or SASP Sophomore team members are just two examples of professionals on campus who can do this with you. You can set up a time to meet with one by visiting the Center for Career and Professional Development or the Sophomore Team with SASP.

Letters of Recommendation

When you apply to different experience-building opportunities, employment, and/or graduate programs, you'll likely be asked to provide at least one letter of recommendation, if not multiple. There are lots of people who can speak about different qualities that hiring or admissions committees will be looking for, so it's up to you to figure out whom you should ask.

To ask for strong letters of recommendation:

  • To get started, think of what you want the letter to focus on. That will help you narrow down the list of people to ask. For example, if you're applying to an academic program, you should ask a previous faculty member. But if you want to focus on your work experience, perhaps a previous supervisor would be best.
  • Consider the relationships you've been establishing with your professors and employers. In order to receive a strong letter, you'll want to request letters from those who know you best and can speak to your strengths. They should be able to provide a positive recounting of their experiences with you, such as your punctuality, work ethic, conduct during class, etc.
  • Try to request a letter in person. Approaching a potential recommender in person provides an extra touch, and this meeting will give the recommender the opportunity to be reacquainted with you, especially if it's been many semesters since they haven't seen you. Asking in person also allows you to have a conversation and determine if in fact they will be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation.
  • Avoid listing a reference before asking the recommender if they're willing to write a letter on your behalf. Many systems are set up to automatically send them an email. You want to avoid them receiving an email from the organization you are applying to before hearing from you.
  • Provide your recommender with all necessary information when they agree to write a letter for you. Send them an organized document with: a link to the opportunity or description, your resume, your cover letter and/or application essay, your transcripts (if necessary for your application), and some of the coursework you did in their class (if it's a professor). This will help them to write a strong letter for you.
  • Send a formal thank you letter. Remember that part of networking and building these professional relationships requires maintenance. Part of this is showing gratitude for someone's help. If you forget this portion, it may appear that you are not appreciative and some of your network may be wary of assisting you in the future. Once you hear back about the opportunity, it is always a nice touch to let your recommender know, especially if you are accepted or get the opportunity they recommended you for. 

Your Digital Professional Presence

In the digital age we live in, it's important to consider your image as it is presented through the internet. In addition to considering the professionalism of your digital footprint, there are also ways to create purposeful professional representations of yourself.

To ensure you have a stand-out digital professional presence:

  • Limit the amount of public access to your non-professional image. Consider that future employers / admissions teams may search for you on social media sites to get an idea of your unfiltered character and what activities you're involved with.
  • Consider creating a digital portfolio. This is an excellent way to highlight your accomplishments clearly and thoroughly, perhaps painting a more wholistic image of yourself than you'll be able to accomplish in your standard application materials. On this portfolio, you will feature your professional experience, academic accomplishments, extra-curricular experiences, and personal growth. You can create this via John Jay's Digication software, or others such as WordPress and Weebly. Once you have a portfolio that's ready to share, be sure to include the link in your resume, cover letter, and even your email signature.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile. There are many benefits of having a LinkedIn presence. LinkedIn is a digital network of employers and professionals, with the purpose of connecting to those who are interested in similar professional paths. Your profile is, in essence, a digital resume. And the stream of posts is generally of a professional nature. It's a great way to not only connect with others, but also to stay up-to-date with current events in your fields of interest.