If you aspire to be a manager, director, or CEO, your chances of success are better with some significant leadership experience under your belt. We're about to face what some workforce experts call a "silver tsunami." By 2020, 25 percent of the American workforce will consist of people 55 or older, according to Forbes. That means, in the next decade, a wave of baby boomers will be retiring and many major organizations will be looking to replace key leaders. But even with more leadership positions available, you're still going to need to demonstrate that you're qualified.
Gaining leadership experience can be tough, especially for recent college graduates. And if you're working outside your chosen field, interning, or occupying an assistant's role, it can seem downright impossible. Even if you're working in your field, it can feel as if you're drowning in what leadership expert James Rosenbush calls a "corporate culture that doesn't reward anyone stepping out of line," keeping you trapped within a very narrow job description.
Fortunately, there are other ways to develop leadership experience that have absolutely nothing to do with your job title. The following activities will all boost your resume when the time comes to interview for that manager role.
1. Get Involved with Local Nonprofits
Are you passionate about, for example, animal rescue or preserving natural resources? Local nonprofits, societies, and boards in your area may be actively looking for volunteers. Even if you're not able to step into a board position immediately, getting involved can provide you opportunities to head up projects and plan events. Community leadership roles are a great way to boost your resume and are perfect ways to prepare for future civic involvement, including political offices.
2. Mentor At-Risk Youth
Mentoring at-risk high school students can be a rewarding and challenging experience that will force you to learn and grow. While mentoring isn't explicitly related to management, the two have a lot more in common than you think. The world's most effective managers are highly empathetic and make great listeners and coaches; all of those qualities can be developed while working with students. Mentoring opportunities can vary significantly by area and region, but local nonprofits can be a great place to check with first.
3. Take a Professional Development Class
Are you fascinated by management science? Are you aware you could improve your public speaking skills? Taking college courses can help develop critical management skills. Not only will the coursework prove your interest in assuming more responsibility, it's also a way to indicate that you're passionate about self-directed improvement. Inquire with your human resources department about tuition reimbursement opportunities at your workplace. Many large and mid-sized organizations will pay for at least some of your credit hours.
4. Be the Founder of Something
Sometimes, the best way to gain leadership experience is simply to jump in with both feet. Start a business, a nonprofit, or a consulting business (provided your agreement with your employer doesn't prohibit any side businesses). Even taking a few freelance jobs can help you learn to negotiate with clients, handle budgets, and study markets. Your first business or charitable venture might not be a runaway success, and that's okay. The important thing is demonstrating that you're not afraid of a challenge, as well as the lessons you'll learn along the way.
5. Commit to a Big Personal Project
Being a manager isn't always easy. In fact, it's often very difficult. Every leader has encountered at least one situation where he or she was forced to make difficult decisions. Even though it might not be anything you can put on a resume, committing to a personal project can help you gain some of the gravitas and determination necessary to lead an organization. Whether you decide to commit to a daily yoga class, learn a new language, or attend graduate school, committing to a major undertaking can change your life professionally and personally.