Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2016

Societies and sports clubs are a valuable part of university life for many students, so find out how joining a committee can allow you to immerse yourself even further

Participating in any extra-curricular activity while at university has substantial benefits; yet graduate employers are often looking for something more. Assuming a more active role within the students' union, or its numerous societies and sports clubs, is therefore an incredibly attractive proposition.

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 and education officer - that can be held for one or two years.

Regardless of your position, becoming more involved has many positive effects. Here's what you should consider before taking the plungeā€¦

The advantages

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 at the University of Roehampton, for example, 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,' adds Siobhan Kelly, president of the University of Roehampton's Students' Union.

Taking a more active role will also allow you to interact with students from a range of different background and this, says Siobhan, 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,' she adds. 'You see so many perspectives on issues big and small; it really improves your world view.'

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.

'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.'

The disadvantages

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. 'Be sensible about the commitment you want to make and know where to draw the line,' advises Siobhan.

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

Follow these three steps for an election-winning campaign, but remember that the more demanding roles will require greater preparation.

  • Ask yourself if you're the best person for the job - 'If you think you are, then go for it,' recommends Claire. 'Don't think about the other people running. You know that you can change the world, just keep believing that you're the person to do it.'
  • Organise your manifesto - You should know in advance what your campaign will focus on, which involves combining your personal beliefs with those of your peers. Siobhan advises that you also discover your 'brand', capitalising on your unique selling points. 'Keep the message simple and recruit a good support team,' she adds. 'Remember to listen to all voices, not just the loudest.'
  • Practice public speaking - You'll be doing plenty of this before and during your tenure, so it's important to hone your communication abilities. 'You have to really believe in yourself and what you stand for if you want people to vote for you,' warns Siobhan. 'But more people will believe in you than you think.'