Job Titles Don’t Make Great Leaders; Impact Does.

By: Ryan Kelly

“Assistant Regional Manager.”

“No, it’s ‘Assistant to the Regional Manager.’”

Fans of The Office will be familiar with Michael and Dwight’s frequent, petty banter over job titles. The humor is spot-on. For better or worse, people love fancy titles, clinging to them with utmost pride or admiration.

I mean, just imagine being called the “The Director of Life Enrichment” or “The Director of Operational Excellence” (both real jobs). Sounds amazing, right?

To the average person, yes. To a discerning admissions committee, not so much. The people reading your application will have seen the gamut of job titles and descriptions. They will be comparing you to the hundreds or even thousands of apps they’ve read in the past. To them, your job title will probably seem like some application madlib, with a random assortment of fancy, official-sounding words:

 

Lead
Head
Senior
Student
Primary
Assistant
Client
Patient
Clinical
Internal
Chief
Principal
Community
Associate
Volunteer
Undergraduate
Intercollegiate
Campus
Solutions
Program
Research
Integration
Optimization
Operations
Communications
Quality
Assurance
Data
Creative
Outreach
Recruitment
Department
Development
Fundraising
Youth
Service
President
Vice-president
Captain
Chair
Treasurer
Secretary
Coordinator
Investigator
Instructor
Advisor
Mentor
Director
Intern
Counselor
Representative
Manager
Engineer
Liaison

When it comes to your medical school application, your job title doesn’t matter very much. What’s important is the impact you had on your community and the skills you gained to be an effective leader moving forward. Regardless of title, the admissions committees will be able to suss out whether you’ve thrived in the role or merely filled it. How? Through your description in the Work and Activities section.   

Let’s consider a few examples to illustrate the difference between a generic and a convincing leadership activity description. Which one do you think is best?

 

Description A

Internal Research Liaison

Eureka Lab

Description (maximum 700 characters)

  • Responsible for communicating important information between researchers, administrators, and distributors
  • Developed strong communication skills with a wide variety of professionals
  • Ensured that company protocol was being adhered to within the lab
  • Supplemented and maintained database
  • Corresponded with company supervisors for quarterly assessments
  • Learned crucial leadership skills like adaptability, attention to detail, and poise under pressure

 

Description B

Chief Operations Manager

Plant A Seed Foundation

Description (maximum 700 characters)

  • Managed operations and oversaw diverse staff of students and volunteers
  • Attended meetings with university administrators to coordinate student involvement in the nonprofit
  • Researched prices and ordered saplings from local nurseries
  • Visited underprivileged schools and planted trees to beautify their playgrounds and surrounding areas
  • Facilitated “story time” at each school, where volunteers would read books of the children’s choosing
  • Planted seeds of knowledge and hope in the local disadvantaged youth
     

Description C

Team Captain, Club Founder

Engineering World Health Hackathon

Description (maximum 700 characters)

  • In 2014, I organized a small team at my college, created an official club, expanded our membership threefold, and held training sessions on a weekly basis.
  • A year later, I raised funds for us to attend the Hackathon and compete. I led our team in developing a sustainable model for a rapid-response medication delivery system aimed at decreasing child mortality in developing countries. Selected as a finalist team.
  • During senior year, I was responsible for outlining and pitching a software-based tool that addressed youth and adolescent depression. Awarded second place out of 30+ teams.
  • Trained two members to be co-captains when I graduate, and outlined team procedures for the future.  

 

Description A

generic

If you chose A, it’s likely because you saw the combination of the scientific word ‘research’ and the fancy, professional word ‘liaison.’ It does sound impressive on the surface. Description A is packed with application buzzwords: responsible, crucial, important, strong communication, protocol, assessments, supervisors, adaptability, etc. But what do these words really mean?

That’s the problem with description A. It’s devoid of concretes that support the assertions being made. In short, it’s all telling and no showing. In fairness, 700 characters is not a ton of space for showing, but you must make some effort to paint a picture, or your description will sound like everyone else’s.

Besides its lack of showing, description A is also missing some important strategies for conveying leadership (and writing about activities in general). We’ll cover those in descriptions B and C.  

 

Description B

average

There’s a lot to like about description B. It has a feel-good, heartwarming quality to it (albeit a tad corny towards the end). People are clearly being helped, and the community is forming connections. There’s also some indication about the steps the student had to go through in order to organize and actualize the program. I mean, he is the Chief Operations Manager, after all.

So what’s missing? What makes this average and not great?

 

Description C

convincing

This leadership description has all the qualities we’re looking for.

  1. The initiative to create something novel and convince others to “follow me”
  2. Trackable progress - any details that show quantifiable or concrete growth (in this case, “expanded our membership threefold”).
  3. Accolades - any proof that you were good at your job and that other people valued your performance (in this case, “selected as a finalist team”).
  4. Specific details - in description C, we find out exactly what the projects and competitions covered - think about how much description B would improve with 1-2 more bullets about the school children, staff, or story time.
  5. Ongoing legacy - description C shows a long-term, continuous effort, whereas B could potentially be limited to a week or a few days. C emphasizes the precedent that the student established, whereas B could be merely interpreted as the next in line.   

 

Besides the Work and Activities section, you’ll be able to cover your leadership experiences in the secondary essays and again when you come in for the interview. Whenever writing about leadership, keep our tips in mind. But if you read this before applying, we hope you take away an even larger piece of advice. Don’t view leadership as a pre-med box to be checked off, and don’t settle for impressive-sounding titles. Instead, seek out enterprises that challenge but also excite you, ones that build real skills and force you outside your comfort zone. THOSE will be the leadership activities worth writing about.