Every year my team and I host a series of leadership development events with our cohort of 100 or so student leaders; senior students who take on the critical role of organizing and facilitating our academic, social and health and well-being activities within the residential precinct.* These sessions include everything from team building activities, to guest speakers, to scenario training, but one of the most popular sessions is our final workshop for the year, entitled ‘Marketing the Student Leadership Role.’
It’s a short and sweet presentation providing those in attendance with critical information about how they can make the most of the skills and experiences gained from their time in leadership. Whilst in my mind, the information and advice we provide as part of this event is in many ways, common sense, I continue to be surprised as to how many of our students leaders neglect to think about the ways they could present their leadership experiences in a broader context.
Bearing this in mind, it’s probably safe to assume that there are a number of other students in similar positions who have little understanding of the ways in which they can market themselves to future employers using leadership roles as prime examples. Whether you’re managing a team of one hundred or one, here are three key points that you might wish to share the next time the opportunity arises:
Having a resume is a given, but including information about student leadership is easily forgotten. Top priority is highlighting to those in student leadership roles that what they do is important and meaningful (both for their own development and for the benefit of the organisation), a great example of on-the-job skill development and workplace experience and relevant to their future career.
The Basics and Beyond
When it comes to putting pen to paper, be clear about what their leadership role needs to look like to make sense to those working beyond the university environment. Students should:
a) Outline positions held, the scope of each role and any associated duties. Avoid jargon that only those in student affairs understand.
b) Outline training provided or qualifications earned.
c) Nominate achievements – what did they introduce/manage/facilitate that was special or unique? What awards or commendations did they receive?
d) Provide clear examples or evidence (what event did they organise? How much was the budget? What was the feedback?), highlighting skills like teamwork, initiative, communication, use of technology and general leadership.
e) Encourage students to bring their resume to life via LinkedIn, connecting with academic and professional staff, and sharing news stories or writing their own opinion pieces or posts.
Creating a Personal Brand
Having established the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ for your student leaders, it’s now about encouraging them to:
a) Start planning early. Regardless of where they are along the journey towards graduation, it’s never too early to start thinking about what they want to achieve during their time at university. Provide information about volunteering, peer mentoring programs, study abroad/exchange, training, or additional leadership opportunities.
b) Research, research, research! Students should look at the skills, experiences and qualifications required or expected in their chosen industry and work towards mastering these.
c) Seek out a Mentor. Its good advice that applies to all, but for students and those looking to break into the workforce, even more so. Students should look to find a staff member, family friend or someone in a relevant industry, connect with them and make the time to regularly meet with them to seek their advice and support.
d) Seize the moment. I can think of no other place where support, events, activities and food is offered more freely than at university. Students should make the most of it all by signing up for extra-curricular sports or activities, attending careers fairs, workshops, or mentoring programs.
e) Finally, regularly reflect on their current situation and where they want to go in future. Even if the end destination is unknown, taking on a leadership role is a great first step in creating their own personal brand.
By highlighting how your leaders can ‘market’ their leadership role and experiences in these key ways, you can inspire them to continue their good work, use their experiences to land their next leadership or graduate position, and ultimately, move on to even bigger and better things!
* Please note student leaders at my institution (Australian-based) are considered volunteers, and do not perform after-hours duties.
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