Clubs & Societies: Don’t Think ‘Employability’, Think ‘Achievements’

What do clubs and societies mean to you?

After Stanley Lee’s guest post, I started thinking about the reasons for joining up to societies and how different people use what’s available to them.

The key word that came to my mind was:

ACHIEVEMENTS

What you achieve could be the most important element linking the extra-curricular activities you undertake and your future potential to an employer.

However, your main purpose for joining anything shouldn’t be in order to impress an employer.  If it fits your career interests and potential future, by all means jump in.  But there’s little point in signing up to wow.  Nobody will be wowed.

For Carl Andrew, not all clubs express a symbol of achievement in the first place:

“Serving as president of the Fifa Appreciation Society, the Free Hugs Society (does pretty much what it says on the tin) or the Comic Books Society is not going to look very impressive on your CV. Employers are far more likely to look for students who have instead been president of their university’s politics, history or debating society.”

I disagree.  Serving as a president may appear more prestigious in a debating society over a Free Hugs society.  But a Free Hugs president isn’t in a worse position in highlighting what they achieved in the position.

photo by Jesslee Cuizon

photo by Jesslee Cuizon

For instance, a Free Hugs president could start an initiative for members to give away hugs at big Fresher events, or set up a ‘friending’ scheme to help International students and those suffering from homesickness.  These ideas could have brought forward an increase in student retention and student satisfaction at their university.

Unlikely examples? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, these are the types of achievement to shout about.  By highlighting the strengths of your presidency and what you accomplished, employers won’t care about the name of your society.

Andrew also mentions how students use societies to boost employability:

“This can also be harmful for the societies when students join them, or seek positions within them, purely to boost their employability. Last year, I turned away a student from the Just Vote campaign I was organising (to encourage voting in the general election) when he mentioned that his CV was the only reason he was planning to come on board.”

Andrew makes a great point and I understand why he was unwilling to take the student on board.  While that may sound unfair to the student, I doubt a half-hearted attempt at looking better on paper would help in the long run.  A minimal boost is possible, but an eye-opening interest on paper would only come about if that student could explain their achievements in a society or campaign.

When I was at uni, there was no English society.  Some of us (students and academics) wanted to do something about that.  So we set the society up.  That’s an achievement.

We arranged book sales so students who’d finished with their books could sell them on cheaply to new students.  Everyone wins. That’s an achievement.

Students upped the game the following year by beginning an arts magazine with poetry and short stories.  That’s an achievement.

Being a member of a society is not enough if you can’t focus on the successes.  Say that you were a member of your English Society and an employer may shrug their shoulders.  Tell them you were a founder, that you helped students save money, that you organised events, that the society thrived…these are achievements.

I’m not suggesting any of us were heroes.  Achievements aren’t a sign that you’re amazing or you did everything yourself.  Achievements are signs of how much you care, of how you brought something to life, and of what you did to improve a situation.

When you next consider joining a club, society, campaign or cause, don’t think of it simply in terms for employability or personal gain.  Instead, consider what you can give back while you move things forward.  The more you achieve to benefit the society and its causes, the more you’re likely to benefit yourself.

3 comments

  1. Thanks Martin for the follow-up post on my guest post. As I have mentioned previously, it’s the achievements that validates your affiliation with an organization, and who you know in your personal networks that leads to employability. It is possible to join a club to improve your employability, but often at a very STEEP cost from other areas of your life (believe me, it’s not worth it speaking from personal experience, as there are tons of much easier means to improve your employability if that is your goal).
    Join a club b/c you are interested in what the club does or want to initiate a movement to improve your life (and also your fellow students’ lives). However, be warned, you have to instill ruthless self-discipline to avoid the commitments from taking over your life. If the negative effects happen, they can ruin your academics, social life, and even your employability although you haven’t thought about it initially (in fact, that actually happened with some of my commitments leading me to absorb the career change penalty as I will express in a different guess post elsewhere. A personal example was founding a new Toastmasters club. No one else in a different organization knew how to properly found a new Toastmasters club, and it grew out of control with the turnover on top of various people taking advantage of my situation).

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