(If you haven’t seen Part I of this series you can find it here: Part I)
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Whether you’re applying to a standard corporate position or a medical school the most important step you can take is to put yourself in the shoes (well, chair) of the person reading your resume. Let’s ignore corporate America for a moment and focus on post-baccs, special masters programs, and medical schools. In a perfect world the members of an admissions committee would think about precisely one principal, and I’ll be generous and say that they keep that principal in mind at least 50% of the time. In short, each person reading your resume should be considering, “How do I put together a well-rounded class of students who will balance each others’ strengths and weaknesses and create an ideal learning environment?”
Well, if that principal guides their thinking half the time, what are they thinking about the rest of the time? For better or for worse, the next most important criteria the admissions committee will consider is student outcomes. Ultimately, they want to graduate a class of students who will go on to positions of great responsibility in research, academia, and practice. In their eyes, ten to twenty years after graduation 100% of their students will be either advancing the school’s reputation by winning the Nobel prize, advocating for the school to their students, and/or donating significant portions of their salary back to the school. (Other considerations, again for better or for worse: “Does this student look like me? Will they add diversity to the class – not just demographically, but in thought and opinion? Do they want to go into medicine for the right reasons? What will this person contribute overall to the field of medicine? What makes this person unique; why should I select them over someone whose resume is very similar?”)
For now, let’s ignore the miscellaneous questions, most of which are either subjective or will depend on how the admissions committee balances the incoming class. What we’ve established through this thought experiment is that in order to stand out from the crowd you want to demonstrate:
(1) a track record of success, and
(2) a future of high potential.
One issue for prospective veteran students is that these principals are in opposition. A track record of success comes from experience, which most members of the military have in spades. However, a future of high potential includes those extra four to twenty years of actual practice that other, younger, applicants will be able to undertake after you’ve left the field. An extra four to twenty years that will be, by definition, when you are most senior, when you’re at the height of your responsibilities, and also when you’re at the height of your earning potential. So you need to make sure that your track record of success is more than enough to offset your extra years of experience.
Now let’s take a moment and consider, from the perspective of an admissions committee member, “What do I want from a student who is also a veteran?” A few items stand out from this point of view. We’ve already addressed one of the primary issues at stake, which is that veterans bring to the table a proven track record of progressive accomplishment in the real world. The better you communicate how well you accomplished difficult tasks during your time in the military, the more comfortable an admissions committee member will feel passing along your resume to their peers for further consideration. We’ve also talked about one other benefit that veterans bring – namely, diversity of thought and experience in classroom and group settings. Your resume can and should communicate that you can and will bring such diverse experiences to the group. The unknowns are largely about whether you will be a cultural fit with the rest of your classmates. Here it behooves you to talk about the diverse group of people you worked with in the military, how they changed your views of the world, and how you in turn used your leadership abilities to lead them. For other thoughts on how you can improve your standing in the eyes of the admissions committee, please see the next installment in the series, “What You Bring to the Table.”