As a students' union officer you'll have the chance to represent your peers and bring about the changes you'd like to see. Discover how standing in student elections can also boost your career
Participating in an extra-curricular activity while at university has substantial career benefits; yet graduate employers often look for something more. Assuming a more active role within the students' union, or it's numerous societies and sports clubs, is a good idea.
There are many elected roles available, with some requiring greater involvement than others. While societies and sports clubs host voluntary elected positions to run alongside your studies, the students' union 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.
'I decided to run for election because I was passionate about the impact that student activities (such as sports clubs and societies) can have on a student's experience and I wanted to promote this as much as possible, says Daniella Quill, president of the Union of Students at the University of Derby.
Here are a few things you should consider before running for student 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.
Involvement extends to wider university matters for those in more senior roles. Sabbatical officers sit on major committees with the vice-chancellor and the senior team - providing an invaluable insight into the higher education sector. You really get to understand what the university does and see how it works from the inside.
'Representing the academic interests of students is at the heart of all students' unions,' explains Daniella. 'Being a student representative is so rewarding, especially when you see the change and the impact that you're having on students during their time at university.'
Taking a more active role also allows you to interact with students from a range of different backgrounds and this can result in strong, long-lasting friendships. You'll meet people from every course, and from different cultures. You'll work with a diverse range of people, including academics, university senior management, university staff, union staff, the wider community and importantly, the eclectic make-up of students.
'As an officer you gain access to staff who are at the peak of their careers, which allows you to build networks and relationships, which could benefit you in the future,' says Myles Smith-Thompson, equal opportunities and welfare officer at the University of Nottingham's Students' Union. 'You'll engage with professionals from all walks of life, and across multiple sectors.'
Perhaps the biggest advantage of becoming involved in your students' union is boosting your employability. The experience you'll gain will look great on your CV and you'll be able to use relevant examples from your time in office to back up skills in your cover letter and at interview. Tasks such as managing budgets and running effective meetings develop 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 your peers also enhances resilience.
Daniella agrees that being elected provides great scope for personal development. 'From the moment you put your hat in the ring you're gaining invaluable experience that will be crucial when applying for jobs. Officers conduct high-level meetings, interview candidates for jobs with six figure wages and are exposed to conversations and decisions that most people aren't involved in unless they're a director of a company.'
'Becoming an SU officer provides you with a unique opportunity to lead a huge organisation early in your career,' adds Myles.
'Far from putting your graduate career on hold, becoming an officer can actually accelerate it. Your CV becomes chunkier and you gather impressive references,' says Daniella.
There are, however, some drawbacks; most notably the 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. Discover how to balance work and study.
Daniella highlights the demands of the job. 'Everyone wants a bit of you. You'll spend one day chatting to students and eating free pizza at a freshers fair and the next you'll be in a senior meeting approving a multi-million pound project. The next day you'll be hosting an awards evening to celebrate student success. You'll never get flexibility like it in any other role, but be prepared for the workload.'
Myles says that the responsibility can sometimes weigh heavy. 'Being an officer can be very draining at times, considering that you are accountable to the entire student body and at times you'll have to make decisions that will long out-last you. The role comes with a lot of expectations and you can't please everyone.'
How to win a student election
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.
- Be visible - If you want to win an election you need to be recognisable to student voters. You won't win by just printing your face on a few posters. Get out and about on campus - chat to students face-to-face.
- Don't over promise - Be realistic and honest throughout your campaign and don't make promises you can't keep. If you need a bit of guidance on what's plausible speak to current union officers.