Gaining career skills with clubs and societies

From athletics to anime, volleyball to videogames, our clubs and societies offer great opportunities to meet new people and try out new things. They also offer students a chance to gain useful career skills and experiences. Phoebe McCulloch explains why.

Quick takeaways

  • Clubs and societies can function like a business or organisation
  • They offer all kinds of roles in communications, marketing, finance, planning and leadership
  • Getting involved gives you plenty of opportunities to learn skills for your career
  • Clubs and societies are fun, sociable and an opportunity to try new things out

How did you get involved in the Economics Society?

I signed up for Steer in my first year where I met my mentor, Jack Kleinjan, who founded the Economics Society. He encouraged me to get involved with the committee as a secretary and since then I've taken a keen interest and helped it grow from strength to strength. In my 3rd year and 4th year I became President which I really enjoyed doing.

What was your vision at the society?

I wanted the society to act as a bridge between the Stirling Management School and its students. So I was keen to provide interesting talks that go beyond the curriculum, and for it to act as a group where people can discuss current and topical issues. I wanted to create a space where people can gain exposure to all the branches of economics.

The endless amount of creative ways to increase engagement is something I thrive off to and enjoy. I have found it highly rewarding to take on a club and shape the club in my own vision which was primarily to do with collaborations, innovation and the desire for it to become as well-established as other university economic societies such as Glasgow or Edinburgh.

How is a society like a business or organisation?

Societies are of course fun and friendly - or should be, and they all have different characters and aims. But you can also look at them in the same way as a business. You work with your team, you have your vision and the society is ultimately your product that you want to create and advertise to people. The team has to all pull together to achieve your aims, work where there is potential for growth, and embrace innovation and change.

How do society roles equate to jobs?

The President is a little like Sir Alan Sugar. You essentially act as the face of the society. As president, I’d say you become jack of all trades as you need to understand the roles of all the committee members - the treasurer, secretary as well as publicity officer roles. The main skill here is delegating and harmonising your committee.

Does this sound familiar to the job roles that you see on targetconnect such as manager or director? Many jobs descriptions have buzz words like organisational expertise or engaging with stakeholders. Communication and organisational skills especially are part of the package within the role of being a president.  

Secretaries and publicity officers need good communication skills. They need creativity to present your society’s events in an engaging manner as well as marketing skills to use tools like social media or emails. This all links to jobs in communications, marketing or engagement.

A treasurer is obviously in charge  of finance so will have all kinds of experience in dealing with money, outlining budgets, presenting reports and basically making sure the society doesn’t go bust.

What skills do you gain from getting involved?

Getting involved gives you plenty of opportunities to expand your skill set, and learn skills for your career. You learn all kind of things about communication, planning, organisation and networking.

Critical thinking is vital as this encompasses being creative, flexible and curious. It’s important to think big and always to question the norm – for instance how can things be done different and more efficiently. What would add a little spice to an outdated way of running things? New ideas and continual innovation is paramount.

I also improved my negotiating skills when approaching lecturers and convincing them why they should give up their time to come and talk to us in the evenings.

Soft skills are often looked upon as not as important as hard skills – if anything soft skills are harder and more important to finesse! Being a good listener is just as important as being a good communicator, you may have the best ideas but you need to know how to articulate them well.

Then there’s recovering from a bad meeting or other lows, resolving issues, using emotional intelligence, balancing workloads, working with a team – all of these are soft skills you’ll need in your career.

But the biggest lesson is learning on the job – you learn how to react to different situations. Say you’ve planned for an event but all of a sudden the lecturer can’t commit to host your talk you have to react on your feet. Reaction to situations and cognitive intelligence is very much tested upon in assessment centres now (especially the part of the assessment where it’s testing you how you react to information and act in real time).

How did gaining skills help your career?

I learnt so much at the Society and about my industry. It also allowed me to tap into a network of potential career connections and contacts. It enhanced my employability and the experiences gained from this really did help me ultimately in securing a graduate job.

What do societies bring to University life?

I think societies are the lifeblood of the university for students.  Some are just for fun and to be sociable, others have a more serious purpose. They act as a hub where like-minded individuals can share ideas and get things going.

Every society has their own personality. I would really encourage students to get involved as they can become your family and part of your social life.