Pursuing your hobbies and interests at university through being involved in student societies can really improve your chances of getting an internship or graduate job. Time and time again recruiters and executives at top employers tell us how much they like to see extracurricular activities on a CV.
- ‘What I look for most in graduate candidates is if they’ve done something other than their degree course such as volunteering or being involved with their university sports club,’ Rod Flavell, a founder and the chief executive officer of FDM Group, told a previous edition of our sister publication the UK 300.
- ‘The extracurriculars on a CV can tell you a lot about a candidate,’ said Ian Yeulett, the global head of enterprise sales at Bloomberg L.P., in another interview for that publication.
- ‘I’d rather take through to interview a candidate who has a 2.2 but has been involved with student societies and had a part-time job than a candidate who has a first but has done nothing but study,’ Emma Simpson, early careers talent partner at ISG, told us.
And why? Because recruiters want evidence of your skills and your potential to succeed in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether that evidence comes from your social life or your work experience.
However, you need to be an active member of the society, at the very least regularly attending the meet ups, events and so on and at most being actively involved in running the society.
What extracurriculars will look good on my CV?
We provide some examples of the different types of organisations you could join below, but ultimately you should follow your interests and passions. A few years back, we spoke to James Edmunds, then a graduate at L’Oréal, and we think his advice still runs true: ‘The key thing is to ensure that you are passionate about the interests and extracurricular activities on your CV, so that you can talk about them in-depth and set yourself apart during interviews.’
Subject societies and profession-oriented societies
These typically offer a mixture of social events and opportunities for professional development and networking. For example, a student law society might run mooting and debating competitions, offer guidance on pro bono work and organise trips to law fairs and courts as well as holding an annual ball. If you are interested in a career in the City, your university’s finance society may offer trading games to help you develop your investment skills.
Being actively involved in such a society provides evidence of a genuine interest in your subject or the profession (as appropriate); it can also help you to be better-prepared for employers’ recruitment processes.
Playing matches as part of a sports team will provide you with plenty of examples of your teamwork skills, along with your ability to regularly commit to something. If you are involved with organising matches and training sessions, it will help you to develop your leadership, communication and administrative abilities.
Entrepreneurship societies and programmes
Entrepreneurial societies typically provide access to mentoring and facilities to help would-be entrepreneurs kick-start their business ventures, as well as the chance to compete for funding. They may also offer the opportunity to tackle a business challenge, solve a problem or work through a business case study.
Even if you are not interested in setting up your own business, being involved with this type of society can provide you with commercial awareness and an understanding of business principles, along with a problem-solving mindset.
Student TV, radio and newspapers
If you’re interested in a career in the media or publishing, getting involved at university will make a big difference to your prospects and could help you secure a place on a postgraduate training course. Even if you don’t want to work in the media when you graduate, it’s a good way to practise your communication skills, teamwork and other interpersonal skills.
Volunteering, charitable and fundraising groups
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer at university – you can approach local or national charities, or take part in university outreach programmes in the community (many universities, for example, run mentoring programmes in local schools). But probably the easiest way is to get involved in a student society such as RAG.
By finding fresh ways to support good causes, you’ll develop your problem-solving ability, emotional intelligence and creativity. Fundraising for a good cause can also provide evidence that you can meet targets.
Campaigning or political societies
Committed to a cause? Eager to press for change? As well as providing a chance to make a difference to something you care about, being part of a political society will help you to better find or use your voice and gain an understanding of effective communication, negotiation, persuading and influencing skills. And these are important skills for the working world, even if you don’t want to go into a career connected to politics and campaigning.
What additional skills will I gain from student societies and clubs?
Above we touched on some of the skills that different types of societies and activities can give you. Just being active in a society will hone your time management skills; it will show recruiters that you can fit in regular commitments alongside your studies. Being in social situations with others from a range of backgrounds (especially if your society interacts with the wider community off-campus) will also improve your social and interpersonal skills. This in turn will help you convince recruiters that you could build positive relationships with clients and colleagues in the workplace.
However, you will gain even more skills and achievements for your CV if you take your involvement a step further and help out with the smooth functioning of the society. This could include being elected to the committee, but it doesn’t have to.
For example, being a regular helper at events, manning the stall and encouraging others to sign up at freshers’ fairs or taking on a non-committee position of responsibility (such as being emergency on-call support for other students working at Nightline) can be just as valuable.
The precise skills and achievements you gain will vary according to the role you take on, but you could potentially gain or develop the following:
- leadership skills
- experience of project management
- relationship-building and teamwork
- emotional intelligence
- the appropriate communication skills for different settings and audiences
- problem-solving and creative thinking.
It’s also true that if you are interested in a career in marketing, PR, events management or accountancy, taking up a corresponding position as publicity/marketing officer, events officer or treasurer can enhance your CV. It gives you opportunities to develop skills related to the role and demonstrates an interest in the profession. If, for example, you run the society’s social media accounts, you can try out different messaging for your intended audience and measure the level of engagement you receive; these tasks will mirror what you would do in the professional world as a social media executive.
How do I use my interests and hobbies in applications and interviews?
When writing up your extracurricular activities on your CV or on an online application form, emphasise the skills you’ve developed and the contributions you made (get more tips on writing about your personal interests on your CV here).
You can also talk about your extracurricular activities in answer to application form questions such as ‘Tell us something different or unique about you’.
At both application and interview stage, you can use your extracurricular activities in answer to competency-based interview questions such as ‘Describe a time when you worked in a team’ or, if things didn’t go well, ‘Tell us about a time when you disagreed with someone. How did you resolve it?’
You could also draw on them to answer the classic interview question ‘What is your most significant achievement?’. Graduate recruiters tend to hear a lot of similar answers based around students’ degree courses, so it will make you stand out if you use a different example in your answers.