When it comes to hiring, FIRST looks for the same things as a lot of other employers. Once you get past the specific skills and experience required for a particular role, we start looking for those holistic skills that we know FIRST alums have in spades; the ability to work effectively and inclusively in diverse teams, excellent communication skills – both written and verbal, critical thinking, problem solving, innovation and more.
Another important part of our screening process also takes into account a candidate’s fit with our Core Values and their ability to demonstrate examples of how they have embodied those Core Values through past academic or professional achievements. When you consider that FIRST participants acquire the whole package of technical skills, Gracious Professionalism, holistic skills, and real world problem-solving, it’s no wonder that FIRST, like many other employers, love to hire FIRST alums.
At the same time, while FIRST experience may help get your foot in the hiring manager’s proverbial door, there are other important things that can help you stand out as a candidate. A well written, tailored resume and cover letter go a long way to setting you apart in a sea of qualified candidates. It’s very common to get cover letters addressed to another organization, full of errors and typos, or so obviously cookie cutter it almost makes you wonder why someone would bother to include it.
More importantly, a cover letter shouldn’t just repeat what is listed in your resume, but should be used as an opportunity to tell us why you would be a good fit for the job in ways that can’t be captured in a resume. Your cover letter is where you can talk about how you learned about persistence and innovation through a particular challenge you faced as a FIRST participant. Or explain how you were the go-to person in your last job or internship because of a skill or strength you have.
You already have what it takes to be successful through your experience in FIRST programs, so the hiring process is really about telling your story in a clear and compelling way that focuses on what you have accomplished and what you bring to the table. This can be done through well written, tailored applicant materials, being prepared to answer behavioral interview questions (“tell me about a time when…”) and practicing and preparing for your interviews so that you can confidently and articulately answer whatever questions you may be asked (and be prepared to ask your own when the time comes!). Being well-prepared for these components of the hiring process, coupled with FIRST experience, will set you up for success as a candidate whether you are applying to FIRST or any other high performing organization.