Between juggling a full course load, social life and work-study job, it can be easy to forgo extracurricular activities. However, involvement in student activities can be a valuable asset when the time comes to apply for jobs.
The skills and experience you develop through student activities can be what puts you ahead of your competition in the interview process. Extracurriculars build the qualities - teamwork, commitment, responsibility, leadership - that employers value. Whether your preferred activity is the college newspaper, student government, a theater production or athletic team, your involvement indicates to employers that you possess the communication and team building skills they value.
Develop real-world skills
Extracurricular activities can provide you with a higher level of responsibility and opportunities to supervise than those available at summer jobs. They can hone time management and organization abilities that will cross over into the professional world.
"Being involved in an organization where the students are setting goals and objectives and motivating other students is more beneficial... than spending a summer looking at a spreadsheet or crunching numbers," says Dana Ellis, firm director of recruiting for a financial services firm.
Recruiters look for students who have shown that they're effective communicators, can work as part of a team, and have good networking and relationship-building skills.
Student activities are also great for helping you figure out possible career paths. Most organizations offer a wide range of roles and responsibilities that accommodate a variety of interests and talents. You can experiment with different roles that will help you identify your own strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
Enhance your resume
Use student activities to add to your portfolio of work samples. This is especially important for visual and liberal arts majors, but it can be useful for all students come interview season.
Keep a souvenir or copies of materials from events and activities you helped organize. Press kits, theater production programs, even a budget spreadsheet you created can give potential employers a better sense of your skills and accomplishments.
Also, maintain a record of your tasks and projects within the student organization. What was the purpose of your role? How did that contribute to the organization or project?
Selling your experience to employers
When interviewing for jobs, it's very important to communicate to the recruiter how your extracurricular experiences translate into real-world skills.
Be ready to provide examples of your work and skill set.
"We devote a fair amount of attention to applicants' extracurriculars," Ellis says. "We like them to give us specific examples of their experiences and accomplishments because that gives us an idea of their potential and what they might do in our organization."
Do your homework
Research the company, know the job description, and look at the responsibilities of the position you're applying for. Think about your extracurricular experience and how you've demonstrated those skills in the past. Tie them in with the responsibilities of the job position.
While being involved in a large number of activities might show good time management skills, most employers would rather see a person who has achieved senior or leadership positions in only a few organizations.
Keep in mind that extracurriculars are still just one part of your resume. Employers look at the whole picture, including grades, internships, volunteer work, references and life experience. Therefore, a good balance is important.
• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email Info@ArizonaCollegePlanners.com.