What is actually worth doing? Every student has endless internships, service projects, clubs, jobs, and competitions demanding their limited time outside their course load. There are limitless ways to use your time and energy in order to bolster your resume, get real world experience, and secure a great job after graduation. That leaves us with the question: where is the best place for students to invest their precious time?
College students are spread thin. According to research done by Student Assembly, a regular college student is expected to spend about 45 hours on homework and assigned readings each week, and that doesn’t even include the hours they spend in actual class and labs! If you add a part time job on top of this schedule, the time left for other activities is scarce and precious. As the job market becomes more competitive, students feel the pressure to use that time to perfect their skills to impress their potential employers. But what’s the best way to do this?
The key to strengthening professional skills in a manageable way might simply be involvement in student leadership. This can range from becoming club president, taking a manager-type role at work, or taking responsibility to organize and lead a service group. I interviewed a few current and former student leaders to learn how their experience in student leadership has been essential in their ability to find a job and develop their skills as a PR professional.
“As a leader, you get to know other leaders who often end up going on to do really cool things” says Jessica Curtis, who worked as an account executive at her college’s digital marketing lab during her undergraduate studies. Her experience in a leadership position helped her form strong bonds with peers, teachers, and directors she admired. Macey Holmgren, a project manager at BYU’s PR Intelligence Lab, echoed the thoughts of Curtis by saying “I have been able to present to real professionals and get my work in front of them because of my role at work, which I never thought I would be able to in college.” Leadership offers the chance to form these bonds with not only your highly-motivated peers, but also with working professionals and advisers with key connections. Whether it is a strong letter of recommendation or a connection to a company you are interested in, having these bonds will continue to impact you during the job hunt post-graduation.
“When I went into my first interview, I was shocked about how many questions they had regarding my leadership experience,” explains Curtis. “I realized they didn’t care as much about the skills I learned because they are willing to teach me, they wanted to know who I am as a leader and what I could do with the company long-term.” Curtis explained that instead of asking about her proficiency in Google Ads or Synthesio, many interviewers jumped right into her past leadership opportunities listed on her resume; they wanted to know what she had learned from each experience. Her answers piqued enough interest to land Curtis a full-time job with Google in San Francisco. Her experience shows that while hiring managers like an applicant to have a wide range of hard skills, they love to see well-developed soft skills like leadership. These skills are harder to teach, so they are more desirable and sought-after. Having a strong basis of leadership makes you stand out in a field of well qualified peers.
When asked what her favorite part of student leadership was, Holmgren responded “getting to do big kid things on a college level.” Holmgren has been able to get involved with these “big kid things” through her job as project manager, where she directs her peers and meets with clients on behalf of the lab. When you are a student leader, more responsibilities like presenting, delegating, decision-making, and more are placed on your shoulders. This gives you a chance to develop your skills and round out your abilities while having built-in advisers and professionals that are always nearby and willing to offer guidance. “I am glad that I get the chance to meet with real world professionals and practice my skills without pressure because they know that I am a student” further explained Holmgren. The ability to take on new and intimidating tasks while still receiving guidance is a huge perk of involving yourself with student leadership.
There will always be numerous ways for students to fill their already busy schedules, but some of them come with more benefits than others. All it takes is simply finding an opportunity where you can teach, guide, assign and be responsible for anything. By stepping into a leadership position — whether it is in your church, service organization, or your local Chapter of PRSSA — you will open doors that will allow you to make meaningful network connections, show potential employers that you can bring soft skills to the table, and develop a wide array of skills that will help you in your career as a PR professional. Stepping up to leadership will require energy, effort, and a substantial amount of time. Still, when you reap the benefits, you will never have to ask yourself if it was worth doing.
Jordan David is a junior at Brigham Young University, where he is a public relations major and business minor. He currently works on the communications team at the Wheatley Institutions to promote research about the institution’s family, religion, and constitution. Jordan also does advertising and leasing for RedStone Residential and has worked on projects for Lippe-Taylor and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at the on-campus PR Intelligence Lab.