How student societies can help you land your perfect job

David Langer investigates

Your university is likely to have a society for banking/finance, law, management/consulting and entrepreneurship - most of the routes students take to get into the business world. Between employer presentations, careers fairs, graduate recruitment websites and the plethora of other sources which can help you make one of the biggest decisions of your life - namely your first job, it's often difficult to know who to believe, what words to trust and once you have decided, how to actually get the job. This article will explain how student societies can play a fundamental role in helping you work out and land your perfect graduate job.

Window shopping

The first step towards landing your perfect graduate job is working out which industry you want to go into. Understanding the type of work involved, the role a particular industry plays in the business world and finding out how much jobs in the industry pay are all things that you should now be able to do from the comfort of your laptop, using websites such as www.vault.com, www.nicube.com or www.thestudentroom.co.uk. However, you can't properly get to know the type of people who work in an industry without meeting them in person.

By joining student societies and attending their events, you can speak to other society members and get to know the types of people looking to enter the industry. You can also speak to employers at many society events and get to know the people who already work in the industry. Do you like them? Do they like you? Do you want to be like them in the future? Do you want to stay at the event until the end? If you're answering "no" to many of these questions for a particular society then the industry it represents probably isn't the one for you.

For example, I attribute much of my career choice to Oxford Entrepreneurs (OE) society. At the start of my 2nd year, I'd just done an Investment Banking internship at Lehman Brothers, was planning my applications to several banks for the following summer and I had also joined OE to take part in its "Start-A-Company" scheme. At my first OE event, there was a buzz, a sense of innovation. I could feel the passion which was exuded by several of the people in the room and it resonated with me. I liked the people I met, the speakers who I saw at subsequent events and I was always one of the last people to leave the drinks afterwards.

I had also attended some events at Oxford's Investment & Finance and Management societies. However, the buzz was of a different flavour and it was one that didn't resonate so strongly with me. This, along with the other elements of the various industries, meant that when I received some banking job offers at the end of my summer internship on a JPMorgan Trading desk, the choice was clear: I had to reject all of them. Entrepreneurship, and in particular GroupSpaces, was the only route I wanted to take. If it wasn't for the experiences I'd had at the various societies, this might have been a very different story.

Networking

Let's assume you've now worked out what industry you want to go into, or that you've at least decided you want to get an internship in a particular industry. You could think of this as reaching first base.

Now, whether you like it or not, networking matters. When I started university, I used to think that "networking" was a dirty word, something only for smarmy hacks. I thought that graduate recruitment was a purely meritocratic process, based predominantly on one's intellectual ability to do the work for a particular job. Boy was I wrong. Relationships matter. A lot. Filling in an online application form, having never spoken to anyone from the company, is much like buying a lottery ticket. By the laws of probability some people have to win but there are so many factors in play that you can never be confident of getting anything in return for your entry. If you have an absolutely superstar CV, you'll probably get through whatever you do, but for the vast majority of students applying for internships and graduate jobs each year, this isn't the case.

To help you overcome the initial hurdle of accepting why networking is important in applying for internships or graduate jobs, here are some specific benefits:

1. You can meet the graduate recruitment team who process application forms. How much more likely do you think they are to put yours through to the interview stage if they've already met you? (and they liked you!)

2. You can meet members of the team/division to which you're applying. How much more likely do you think the graduate recruitment team are to put you through to the interview stage if they've received an email from a superior of theirs recommending you?

3. You can meet other students applying for the same position as you. You could compare speaking to your friends / fellow society members about their interview experiences to doing past papers for an exam before you take it. The same questions come up again and again; and if you've already answered the question prior to the big day, it's a whole lot easier to nail it when it counts.

If you make the sensible assumption that many of the other people applying for a particular position are all doing these things, it becomes very difficult to justify not doing them yourself.

The art of networking is a broad enough topic to take up a whole new article, so I'm just going to mention two key components that I find invaluable:

  • Do your homework and define your objectives in advance of events: know about the company in question, related topics and know which people you're looking to meet on the night.
  • Be confident and prepare a self-introduction: one thing I've learnt about over the past few years is the fundamental importance of confidence. It's fine to ask questions, but ensure the overall impression people get of you is one of sharpness and confidence. Without this, it's very difficult for people to have faith in you or your ability to carry out a particular job. A crucial element of this is leaving a confident first impression. So rather than umming and arring for a few seconds when someone asks you about yourself, have a ready-made 8-10 second introduction describing who you are and why you're at the event.

Being on committees

Just belonging to societies gives you extra ammunition for filling in application forms and answering interview questions since you build up a library of experiences which should demonstrate "competencies" which employers require. However, to get the most benefit from your involvement with a university society, you'll need to get yourself onto the committee. This is where you can really get your foot in the door. If you've joined a society and like the look of the industry it represents, get on the committee and you open up the possibility of building a working relationship with the person who has the power to give you a job. This can be priceless. For example, Alexis Alexander was President of the Oxford Law Society for one term in 2006 and this led to her receiving 7 training contract offers from the 7 top US and Magic Circle law firms to which she applied. Alexis explains:

"During my term as President, I developed working relationships with dozens of graduate recruiters from legal firms. I arranged 2 balls, over 20 recruitment events and obtained tens of thousands of pounds in sponsorship so there was a lot to discuss with the various sponsors. Subsequently when I applied to the firms the sponsors work for, I already knew many of my interviewers and this put me a significant step ahead of most other applicants."

Anjool Malde, now an Associate at Deutsche Bank, is another person to have benefited from being heavily involved with student societies, as well as editing the student newspaper and setting up a couple of small businesses:

"Holding various committee positions on university societies not only helps to suggest teamwork and leadership ability, but efficient time management ability in being able to juggle these with a university degree and part-time job. These experiences were essential to land coveted internship positions, which in turn led to graduate job offers."

Moreover, in the 2008 Association of Graduate Recruiters annual Graduate Recruitment Survey, "Taking on a leadership position in a student society" was voted the second best way to improve a student's skills for the workplace. Second only to "Completing an internship or industrial placement". And this is no surprise. When you think about the leadership, organisational, teamwork and communication skills required to successfully carry out a role on a society committee, they are exactly the same skills required to successfully carry out many jobs and employers know that students who have been on society committees will have developed them.

Hopefully you're now persuaded of the valuable role student societies can play in helping you land your perfect graduate job. You can find out about all the career-related and other societies at your university at www.groupspaces.com

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