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Building Professional Skills Through Leadership Roles on Campus
Whether you're just starting college or you're halfway through senior year, you have the opportunity to gain professional experience simply by getting involved on campus. With a variety of clubs and activities at most colleges, you can join groups that genuinely interest you and provide you with opportunities to take on leadership roles to hone skills relevant to your career. There is no rule saying you have to separate college activities from professional activities; in fact, many of the skills you learn in student organizations are directly applicable to the professional workplace.
Finding the Opportunities
For example, let's say you are involved in Ski Club on campus; you could step up and become Marketing and Recruitment Manager. This could be a great position if you intend to pursue a career in marketing or sales. You would have the chance to learn what it's like to design posters, work with print vendors, and use guerrilla marketing techniques with the coveted 18-25 demographic. Plus, you could track the results of your marketing efforts, and potentially have a great case study to share in job interviews. In this example, you're already in a recreational club; all you need to do is step up and take on a leadership role.
...In Greek Organizations
If you're involved in the the Greek system at your school, why not run for a position within your fraternity or sorority? During my last semester of college, I was the Communications Chair for my fraternity. I was in charge of all communication with our national organization, the University, campus media outlets, and other audiences. Beyond the fact that I developed several writing pieces for my portfolio, I was actually able to cite an example from my experience as Communications Chair during my job interview. Because it was so recent and relevant, my interviewers were impressed. All too often, students think they are limited to using examples from the classroom or internships during a job interview. But, often the most compelling examples are those that arise in other settings.
...In Student Government
Many campuses have strong student governments. Aside from the key roles of President and Vice President, think about all of the other opportunities to practice your professional skills in student government. If you're pursuing a career in finance or accounting, maybe you could be the Comptroller of your student government, managing a (presumably) large budget and allocating monetary resources across campus. When it comes time to look for a job after college, this experience would give you a leg-up over other candidates who may never have had experience managing an actual sum of money.
Be a Leader!
These are just several examples of things you can do to improve your skills and develop experiences. There are many other opportunities, depending on your career interests. For instance, if you're interested in the IT field, look into becoming the Webmaster for a club's website. You might think about being the Social Chair of your fraternity/sorority if you want to pursue a career in event planning. And, of course, you can always write for the school newspaper if you're interested in journalism or join the campus radio station to get some experience in broadcasting.
The key is to get out there and do something. I waited until the second half of my college experience to really immerse myself in activities, and I really wish that I had started earlier. With such a competitive job market today, it is imperative that you have quality experience under your belt before seeking your first full-time job. If you get creative with how you gain this experience, you'll find yourself having fun and developing key professional skills at the same time.
My challenge to you is this:
If you're not involved in a student organization on campus, join one. If you're already in an organization, identify a leadership role that would fit with your career ambitions then step up and go for it. If there isn't an existing position, create one! Now is the time to build experiences that will help you grow your skill sets and become more marketable in the future.
Dan Klamm is the Outreach & Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and read his Career Blog for College Students.
The Student Branding Blog, part of the Personal Branding Network, is the #1 resource for career and personal branding advice for high school, college and graduate students.
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