Thursday 17 October 2019

Students juggling work and pleasure to land the top jobs

Employers are snapping up the volunteers who run college clubs and societies, says Kim Bielenberg

Festive fun: Patrick O'Sullivan and Neil Kenny with members of the Circus and Juggling
Festive fun: Patrick O'Sullivan and Neil Kenny with members of the Circus and Juggling
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Activities outside the lecture hall play a crucial role when employers are hiring staff from third level colleges.

Graduates are now discovering that their academic performance may be less important than their role in college clubs and societies.

The organiser of the university fashion show or the volunteer who spearheads a charity fundraising drive are front of the queue when it comes to getting a job.

David Broderick, who organises graduate placements for IBEC's Export Orientation Programme (EOP), said graduates could show evidence of organisational skills through their work in clubs.

Up to 1,000 people apply to IBEC to go on placements with a variety of companies, including multinationals. Around 200 are then shortlisted.

So how does he decide which graduates to hire?

Mr Broderick said: "What students have to remember is that everyone in their class is doing the same degree.

"What employers are looking for is something that makes them stand out from the crowd.

"We would be choosing people before they have even got their degree. Students have to be able to show potential employers that they did more in college than just turn up to classes."

"Being active in clubs and societies is a great way to show your interest in particular areas and can be a great talking point at interviews.''

Mr Broderick said this work offered evidence of important skills.

"When you are running a society, you have to get involved in all sorts of business activities -- marketing, budgeting, public presentations and event management."

At Dublin Institute of Technology and DCU, students can now get academic credits for extra-curricular activities.

There are more than 70 clubs and societies at DIT, spread over its campuses, and these groups are enjoying a boom in membership.

Anita Conway, head of societies at DIT, said: "Involvement in extra-curricular activities is becoming more important now for students.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to find part-time work. So their involvement in clubs and voluntary work makes a lot of difference when it comes to being able to show something to an employer."

Extra-curricular activities bring plenty of other benefits, of course.

Research at DIT shows that students who are involved in clubs and societies are less likely to drop out of their courses.

A recent survey of students found that over one-third (34 pc) believed that involvement in clubs had helped them to stay in college.

Paul Conroy, president of the DIT Societies Forum, said: "If you are doing something outside your college work it gives you a break from the slog. It is a great way of forming friendships when you arrive.

'You may not make friends in your course, but if you are in a society you can connect with people from other courses.

"This is a very good thing in DIT, because we are spread over so many campuses.''

The range of clubs in third-level colleges is staggering. Trinity College, for example, has a Random Acts of Kindness Society, a Pirate Party, and a thriving knitting group.

The University of Limerick has an Ultimate Frisbee Club and a society devoted to trampolines.

If a student arrives in college and there is no society that covers their hobby, it may be a good idea for them to set one up. That kind of initiative really impresses employers, according to Mr Broderick.

'"If you approach your students' union about setting up a new club or society, this will almost always guarantee an interview,'' said Mr Broderick.

"It shows qualities that are attractive to employers. Leadership and initiative are the top competencies that companies look for in new hires."

Mary Sweeney, head of careers at University of Limerick, said clubs and societies could be hugely important when looking for a job, but should not be joined just for the purpose of padding out a CV.

"We have a lot of employers who come to us and talk about what they are looking for. They are not just looking for people who get 2:1 degrees.

"What they are really interested [in] is enthusiasm,'' said Ms Sweeney. "If you get involved in extra-curricular activities you have the opportunity to show off all kinds of skills, including communications, teamwork, time management and problem solving."

The University of Limerick actively encourages its students to get involved in charitable ventures.

The UL President's Volunteer Award is designed to support students taking up volunteering opportunities.

"Charity work always adds an extra element to a CV," said Mr Broderick. "It automatically tells a prospective employer a lot about your personal characteristics.

Of course, not every college society is likely to look good on a CV. Some employers might baulk at the idea of hiring the head of the Anarchist Society.

Irish Independent

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