Getting involved in clubs, societies and the students union can give your CV a much needed boost in the competitive graduate job market. Find out how standing in student elections can help your prospects
Participating in any extra-curricular activity while at university has substantial career benefits; yet graduate employers are often looking for something more. Assuming a more active role within the students’ union, or it’s numerous societies and sports clubs, is therefore an incredibly smart idea.
There are many elected roles available; and some require much greater involvement than others. While societies and sports clubs host voluntary elected positions to run alongside your studies, the students’ union itself offers numerous paid, full-time sabbatical roles – such as president, vice-president, education officer and welfare officer – that can be held for one or two years.
Regardless of your position, working for the students union has many positive effects. Here are a few things you should consider before running for election…
First and foremost, elected students have the ability to drive change. By leading campaigns or organising events, you can steer the direction of your society, sports club or wider university, and advance the causes that you and your peers believe in. This can provide great satisfaction, and understanding the views of others allows you to hone the important life skill of empathy. ‘The power is all yours,’ claims Claire Blakeway, president of Cardiff University’s Students’ Union. ‘If you don’t like how something is working, you can change it.’
Involvement extends to wider university matters for those in more senior roles. Sabbatical officers can sit on major committees with the vice-chancellor and the senior team – providing an invaluable insight and the perfect springboard for a career in higher education. You really get to understand what the university does and you can see how it works from the inside.
Taking a more active role will also allow you to interact with students from a range of different background and this can result in the formation of strong, long-lasting friendships. You’ll meet people from just about every course at the university, and from many different countries. ‘As an officer, you will be working with a diverse range of people, including academies, university senior management, university staff, union staff, the wider community and importantly, the eclectic make-up of students. This experience, enables you to develop interpersonal skills with a host of audiences,’ explains Jonathan Stephen, education officer at the University of Huddersfield’s Students’ Union.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of becoming more involved in your students' union is boosting your employability. Common tasks such as managing budgets and running effective meetings allow the development of many qualities that are highly desired by employers, such as drive, leadership, influencing, multitasking, organising, communication and negotiating. Having to make decisions that may be unpopular with some of your peers also enhances your resilience.
'It is a totally unique and expansive work experience, where you will be campaigning with students one minute, sat at senior level committees negotiating what teaching and learning looks like, as well as understanding the importance of representation, openness and accountability,' says Jonathan.
'We would look at positions of responsibility as a way for candidates to demonstrate their transferable skills,' asserts Rob Fryer, head of student recruitment at Deloitte. 'All of the skills used to be elected and successful as a students' union representative have strong parallels to performing well in a graduate role.'
There are, however, some drawbacks; most notably the fairly obvious fact that increased involvement results in increased time pressures. For the more demanding roles particularly, you must be willing to sacrifice much of your time, which may impact upon your studies or social life.
Claire offers another disadvantage: that in the modern digital age, officers can feel quite exposed. 'I have dealt with different types of media attention - some very positive but also some negative, which can be daunting at first,' she adds. 'However, it is good that students are being approached to give their opinions on important issues and I have learned a lot about how this can be used to enact positive change.'
How to win a student election
'Running in the students’ union’s elections is one of the most amazing experiences you will have. Not only are you campaigning to have your voice heard, but the support you receive from friends is overwhelming. People admire the courage it takes to stand out and run in the elections,' adds Jonathan.
The best way to win a student election is to follow the advice of previous successful candidates. But remember that the more demanding roles will require greater preparation.
- Believe that you're the best person for the job - Have confidence in yourself and truly believe in what you stand for if you want people to vote for you. If you don't believe you can win, nobody else will.
- Organise your manifesto - Know in advance what your campaign will focus on. This involves combining your personal beliefs with those of your peers. Figure out your 'brand' and capitalise on your unique selling points. Keep the message simple and recruit a good support team.
- Practice public speaking - You'll be doing plenty of this before and during your tenure, so it's important to hone your communication abilities. Take up every opportunity to practice speaking in front of an audience - be this through course assignments, work presentations or hobbies.
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