One of the biggest barriers to employment that recent college graduates face is that they often lack enough experience to demonstrate that they will make strong employees. While a college degree and good grades are enough to demonstrate your knowledge, they may not be enough to land a job (or even an interview) in a competitive employment sector.
Extracurricular activities, which include any experiences you had outside of the classroom, can offer you a valuable opportunity to showcase relevant work experience and transferable skills, giving you a distinct advantage over students who have nothing to show for their four years in college except for a degree.
This article will give you the tips you need to choose the best types of extracurriculars and how to make the most of them on your resume after graduation.
Choose the Right Extracurriculars
If you are early enough in your college career, you are in the position to be very strategic about which extracurriculars will give you the most bang for the buck once you have your degree in hand. Here are a few tips to help you choose wisely:
Look for Relevance to Your Field
One of the most important factors to make the most of experiences outside of the classroom is to choose those that are most directly related to your career. Since these types of activities will give you exposure to the kinds of work you are likely to be doing after college, they represent the best substitute for an actual job in the field.
For example, if you are pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine, becoming an active member of a collegiate 4-H program (if you plan to work with livestock) or volunteering at your local animal shelter (if you plan to practice as a small animal vet) are excellent choices.
Chances are, by choosing extracurriculars tightly related to your field, you will be able to list specific responsibilities on your resume that may be relevant to your first job after college. And, you will show potential employers that you already have a sense for some of the issues you are likely to encounter on the job. Finally, choosing a close fit allows you to demonstrate a real passion for the work that has already been tested in the field.
Seek Leadership Opportunities
Whenever possible, without compromising your studies, it is important to seek out leadership opportunities within the clubs or organizations you participate in.
This may mean becoming the president, secretary, or treasurer of your chapter, or simply taking on a leadership role for a few specific projects. Either way, it is a valuable chance to show future employers that you can work well with others, know the basics of team building, and are able to shoulder responsibility and behave professionally.
Another advantage to taking on leadership roles is that you may have opportunities to develop working relationships with faculty and other senior staff at your university. These relationships can be extremely valuable when it comes to getting strong professional references or letters of recommendation to land a job or internship after college.
Examples of Great Extracurriculars for College Students
While there are countless opportunities to get involved outside of your regular coursework, here are a few of the most common types of extracurriculars to choose from:
Part Time Job: Although not technically considered an extracurricular, part time jobs are a necessity for many college students. And, they can be a valuable substitute for extracurriculars as they demonstrate on the job experience, work ethic, and responsibility to hiring managers considering your job application.
Clubs and Organizations: Most college campuses have many student clubs and organizations to get involved with. These groups are more than an opportunity to make friends and build your social network (although, those are nice perks too!). They are a chance to pick up important professional skills, take on leadership roles, and demonstrate a passion for certain types of work.
Sports: Being able to showcase your skills at team building, being a great team member, and thriving in a competitive environment are all aspects of participating in collegiate sports that can benefit your career. In addition, sports offer the opportunity to showcase achievements that demonstrate your dedication and perseverance.
Volunteer Work: Volunteering offers the benefit of showing a commitment to your community through service. Although it can be helpful to look for opportunities to volunteer in ways that are related to your career, sometimes you can find chances to take on important leadership and/or organizing roles that lend themselves well to transferable skills relevant to most work after college.
Student Activism: Depending on the type of work you plan to pursue in your career, college activism may be an outstanding opportunity to showcase special skills, aptitudes, and values that may help you land a job after college. For example, being involved in collegiate activism can be helpful for a career in politics, the non-profit sector, journalism, and many other career paths.
Adding Extracurriculars to Your Resume
If you are in the job hunt phase of your college career, then you are ready to start making the most of extracurriculars in your job, internship, or grad school application materials. Now it is time to focus on which experiences to include and how best to leverage them to your advantage.
Choose the Best Experiences to Include
If you managed to pack several extracurriculars into your college years, then be sure to choose wisely when deciding which to emphasize on your resume. For example, those activities that offer you a chance to showcase responsibilities relevant to the job you are applying for are more valuable than those that don’t.
Rather than “filling space” with as many extracurriculars as you can, look for a chance to build a sense of “fit” for each job you apply to. In addition, be thinking about filling vital experience gaps on your resume. If one particular extracurricular allows you to showcase skills that don’t appear elsewhere, make sure that experience gets top billing.
Where to Include Extracurriculars on Your Resume
Depending on the resume format you choose to best highlight your skills and qualifications, you have some options on where to include your college experiences outside of the classroom.
The most traditional way to include them is to add a section entitled Extracurricular Activities. This resume section is most appropriate for extracurriculars such as participation in sports, clubs, or student organizations.
However, if your extracurriculars were paid part time jobs or internships, then they will fit better as part of a Work History section which helps to contextualize them as professional experiences. On the other hand, if you are planning to enter a service field and have volunteer experience that may help you demonstrate a passion for the work, including them in a Volunteer Experiences section is another option.
The point is to include your most relevant extracurriculars on your resume in a way that best enhances your efforts to highlight your fit for the job you are applying for and to make sure that the experience you have beyond the classroom is easily visible to the hiring manager.
In addition to listing the name of the organization, your title, and the dates that you participated, it is important to list some of the actual responsibilities that you held. This helps the person reading your resume to see that you gained essential work experiences that directly translate to your value as an employee.
For example, you may have helped to organize events for a student club where you coordinated with vendors, developed advertising materials, or handled contract negotiations with private venues such as hotels and conference centers. Or, you may have held a leadership position that included recruiting, managing, or extensive communication with members of your organization. Be specific and use action verbs when describing your responsibilities.
Include Transferable Skills
Placing some emphasis on transferable skills such as written or verbal communication, team building, research or analytical skills, problem solving, or critical thinking is another way to highlight how your extracurriculars have contributed to making you a strong candidate.
This is particularly true if your extracurriculars are not directly related to the types of work you are applying for as it can help “connect the dots” for potential employers. In addition, if you don’t have any other way to demonstrate these key skills, such as a part time job, then your extracurriculars can fill a vital gap on your resume.
When possible, include any outstanding achievements that demonstrate your ability to go above and beyond. If you can, quantify your achievements since numbers have a way of adding credibility and a sense that you are result oriented.
For example, if you were involved with fundraising for a cause supported by your Greek organization, you may be able to include something along the lines of: “Director of Fundraising for the 2017 Fun Run for Red Cross, the top grossing charity event in the history of the chapter, raising over $78,000.”
Conclusion: Make Extracurriculars Count
By choosing the right experiences and showcasing them in ways that emphasize your fit, transferable skills, or passion for the work, you can make the most of your extracurriculars during your job search after college.
Whether you are a recent graduate, or are just beginning your college career, the key is to be strategic about leveraging extracurriculars to show employers that you have more than a degree to show for your college years. You are ready to hit the ground running in your new career!