Your achievements are stepping stones.

Earlier this month, I was listening to Phill Jupitus co-presenting a breakfast show on student radio.  I was listening out of curiosity.

photo by Andy McMillan

photo by Andy McMillan

Lucky I did tune in, because I also got to hear Jupitus in conversation with James Ricci, president of Bournemouth University Students’ Union.

Ricci mentioned that being involved in SU and university activities is helpful to a graduate CV in an age when a degree alone isn’t qualification enough to enter the job market convincingly.

He’s absolutely right.  So many people go to uni now that you have to do more than pass a degree course for employers to show an interest.

You don’t have to be president of a Students’ Union in order for your CV to shine, but you do need to show your achievements over the course of your degree.  Yes, you studied for a few years, but what else did you do?

Even accounting for the hours spent on independent study, there’s a lot of time left over.  Take away regular (but not TOO regular) leisure time and there should still be room to stand out.  Whatever your subject is.

By ‘stand out’, I don’t mean like a sore thumb.  Not unless that’s one of your endearing qualities…!

You should volunteer, participate in activities, have stories that identify you as a unique person, and so on.  Through this, you’ll notch up various successes worthy of mention.

Success isn’t limited to gold medallists, elected SU officers, student leaders, and so on.  Any achievement is a stepping stone that you should be proud of.  Possible achievements and activities worth mentioning include:

  • Clubs/Societies you’ve joined;
  • Clubs/Societies you’ve made a difference in;
  • Clubs/Societies you’ve helped set up yourself
  • Part-time employment;
  • Online achievements that you founded, such as non-personal blogs, websites, professional networks, etc.;
  • Sporting achievements;
  • Voluntary stints;
  • Uni events you assisted in (paid or not);
  • Senior Student and outreach roles;
  • Charity work;
  • Relevant trade associations & professional groups you’re an active member of;
  • Campaigns you played a part in (unless controversial);
  • Personal hobbies & activities that go beyond casual interest (unless controversial 😛 ).

Three achievements stand out in particular in my own student past:

  1. I was elected a Final Year Representative;
  2. I was a Senior Student for a year;
  3. I was a founding member of an English Society.

I mention these not because I did them for my CV.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thinking much about it at the time.  I did these things because I wanted to.

The student representative position was mentioned in passing to me.  It sounded interesting and I felt it would enable me to see (and act) ‘behind the scenes’, as well as speaking on behalf of fellow students.  The Senior Student position was a paid position and it helped me take up something more relevant, useful and exciting to me than a part-time job.  It also meant I could live on campus on my final year with Freshers.  I got to experience the first year again AND tuck in to my dissertation.  Win!  As for the English Society, my Academic Advisor suggested it to me and a few friends.  We liked the idea, so we started the ball rolling.  It wasn’t huge at first, but we managed minor successes, and the society grew in subsequent years.  If it wasn’t for an initial push, there would have been nothing.

So I can mention these achievements to highlight various responsibilities and actions, yet the intention wasn’t just to look better on paper.  You’re either in a position where you’ve already got some achievements worth mentioning, or you’ve got the time to experience more before you graduate.

What could you mention?  Think hard.  Something you may not consider an achievement may be more important than you think.  If you’re still left struggling, it’s not too late.  Start building a portfolio of achievements today.  As I said just a couple of posts ago, “You have the power to stretch out wherever you want“.


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