There are certain extracurricular activities, hobbies and interests that will demonstrate the leadership potential and business skills required to make you stand out. We outline a selection of them below to provide inspiration if you are wondering how best you can use your free time at uni.
1. Join an entrepreneurship group
Many universities run entrepreneurship programmes or enterprise partnerships with employers. These may include a series of practical workshops in which you devise and implement a business idea, solve a business problem or work through a case study; they may also involve talks and networking groups with business professionals.
Your careers service or your university’s enterprise hub should have more details about such programmes
The skills and knowledge you could gain from this activity include:
- Proven interest in business, business ideas and how a business works
- Experience of working on a business project and making business decisions
- Project management skills
- Problem-solving and creative thinking skills
- Teamworking skills
- Communication skills
- An entrepreneurial and innovative mindset.
Read how Josh Mesout, a business computing graduate who is now a senior innovation technologist at AstraZeneca, undertook an entrepreneurship project at university.
2. Play an active role in a student society
It doesn’t matter what the student society is: it could be focused on finance/economics, rugby, drama, film or even Quidditch. If you are involved in the running of the society, especially if you are elected or appointed to the committee, it will enhance your CV; if you can point to specific examples of when you made something happen (eg increasing membership or putting on an event), so much the better. And, if you have successfully set up a brand new student society, employers will definitely sit up and take notice.
But you don’t have to be on a student society committee to prove that you have got what it takes to succeed in a commercial or leadership role. You just need to have been actively involved by attending regularly, participating in events/activities and so on.
Depending on what your role in the society is, you could develop the following skills:
- Leadership, decision-making, planning and delegation
- Project (or event) management
- Communication and influencing skills
- Time management and organisation (juggling different priorities)
- Problem-solving and creative thinking
- Teamworking skills
- Willingness to take on responsibility
- Experience of/exposure to good governance (the good running of an organisation).
Read how history graduate Alfie Hinchliffe, now an ecommerce, performance and analytics manager at L’Oréal, developed business-critical skills through his involvement in a debating club.
3. Accept a student mentoring, ambassador or outreach role
Taking up a role in which you act as the voice of others and liaise between students and the university will give you insights into an essential ingredient of business success: the ability to understand and manage differing perspectives and priorities. So, if you do get the chance to volunteer as a course, faculty, college or hall rep, don’t be shy!
Many universities also have opportunities either for students in higher years to take on a mentoring role to new students, acting as a kind of buddy (your department may run a scheme for first years or a halls of residence might put new students in touch with a mentor), and may offer opportunities to perform the same role for students in local community schools.
The skills you could gain for your CV include:
- Increased confidence
- Communication and active listening skills
- Influencing skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Negotiation (if acting as a student rep)
- Relationship-building skills
- Stakeholder management (ensuring that all interested parties are informed of developments – this is important for student reps)
- Strategic thinking
- Emotional intelligence
- Time management.
‘I think, looking back, it helped [make me a more impressive candidate] that I had been a student mentor in my final year,’ Abbie Maidment, a business information systems graduate and deputy service delivery manager at CGI, told us. ‘I looked after 12 first-year students and I’d answer any questions they had about university life, housing and so on.’
4. Teach or tutor
Whether you take up TEFL/TESL teaching, offer private tuition in your subject or volunteer on an overseas education project, the experience of teaching (and doing the preparatory work required) transfers well into a business environment. For example, classroom management will be good experience for managing a team and chairing meetings!
The business and management skills you gain from teaching and tuition include:
- Increased understanding of people’s behaviour and how they learn
- Emotional intelligence
- The ability to change your communication styles as appropriate
- Coaching and mentoring
- The ability to complete, and an understanding of the importance of, record keeping
- Planning and organisation
- Creative thinking (when deciding how to engage the class or teach a concept)
- Experience of undertaking risk assessments
- Being trusted and responsible.
Read how Lauren Cowey, a management and marketing graduate who is now a junior events and partnership manager for Samsung, gained valuable experience teaching overseas.
5. Volunteer or fundraise for a good cause
Regularly volunteering your time for a good cause or to help others is great for your own personal development. This is especially the case if it gets you outside the campus/student ‘bubble’ and gets you used to dealing with lots of different people.
At university, one of the best places to start looking for volunteering opportunities is your RAG society, but you can also approach charitable organisations that interest you to see how you can help out. There are organisations that arrange voluntary work overseas, although there is often a fee for this.
You could also organise a bake sale, run a marathon, do a sponsored silence to raise money for charity as an individual or as part of a group of friends; fundraising is always a good addition to a business CV.
Depending on the nature of your voluntary work, you may gain the following skills and qualities among others:
- Empathy and emotional intelligence
- Communication skills, including the ability to adapt your communication styles to different audiences/situations
- Customer service/client management skills
- Being responsible and reliable
- Time management
- Teamwork (if working as part of a team), leadership (if leading it) or ability to work independently (if fundraising solo)
- Evidence that you are goal-oriented and target-driven (if fundraising).
- Entrepreneurial, creative and innovative thinking.
Read how David Bazaga, who joined GSK’s future leaders programme, developed vital interpersonal skills through voluntary work.
These are examples, not instructions
Bear in mind that the ideas above are merely suggestions, not a prescription. Recruiters are more interested what your skills are, rather than how you gained them, and so do not get hung up on an idea of having to get the ‘right’ experience; in fact, it is often better to actively pursue one or two interests than to spread yourself too thinly.
Whatever your extracurricular activities, just make sure you stress the skills and experience you have gained. Our advice on conveying your leadership potential on your CV will help you to do this, while our feature on what to put in the further interests section of a CV will also give you clues on how to make the most of your extracurricular activities.