This is a guest post by Christopher Nguyen for Student Stories.
It’s a great feeling to be able to reflect back on my four years of college and say that I’ve made giant leaps in my professional and personal development.
It’s the product of staying active on campus, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family, and being in environments with good vibes all around. But if somebody were to ask me, “What’s one thing you would recommend every new freshmen to do at college?” without hesitation, I would answer, “Join a student organization.”
Realistically speaking, it’s true when employers say the job market just becomes more competitive after each year. But this isn’t to say that the “American Dream” no longer exists! During the transitional phase of “college life” to “real life” (as we like to say), students overlook other options, besides internships and job experience, of professionally developing themselves throughout their four years. Staying active on student chapters of professional and social organizations could mean the difference between discouragingly cold-applying for jobs in April during your last semester as a senior and accepting your dream career in October, way before the rest of your peers. And the earlier the better!
1. Make some of the best friendships you’ll ever have throughout college.
Joining an organization on campus allows you to meet other students who have similar interests and goals. Not only are you able to make friends within your immediate chapter, but in some cases, you’re also able to make friends from other chapters across the nation and potentially across the world. And as you all grow together, competition is rarely a concern; rather, you build up an incredible support system whenever you need advice or just good company. Ever since I joined Boston University’s chapter of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH), I’ve been grateful to be able to befriend students from other northeast chapters, even friends from University of Denver. And the best part is feeling proud of all your peers’ accomplishments!
2. Make lifelong professional relationships.
Throughout my time as an active member and leader of NSMH, I’ve been able to not just network with countless managers and directors in the hospitality industry, but also re-network with them time and time again. In the past three years, I’ve been to over 6 conferences and have attended multiple info sessions on campus and networking events in Boston.
What’s the common denominator?
All of these programs have had more or less the same recruiting managers attend. To this day, I’m able to speak to some recruiters on a first-name basis and jump the gun during conversations to talk about how one thought about a certain TV episode. I’ve been able to even have casual conversations via Twitter with recruiters…professionally of course! This speaks volumes! A recruiter is more likely to hire someone they know a little better than someone they just met. I’m sure you can connect the dots!
3. Expand on your leadership experience.
All of the most valuable skills I have under my belt have come from my leadership experience on a student organization. My fellow executive board members and I like to describe it as almost like running a business. At the end of the day, you’re running an organization (your business), trying to attract more active members (your customers), while trying to keep your executive board motivated to provide quality events (your employees and work ethic). And like a business, you have all your key players: the president and vice president act as your top decision makers, your treasurer is your financial partner, your secretary facilitates internal communication and then you have the rest of your supporting roles (i.e. event coordinator, public relations chair). And the earlier you become a leader, the more comfortable you will feel with the professional world as a senior.
4. Expand on all those skills, big or small.
I remember someone asked me what it is I learned being in so many different organizations. It was nearly impossible to answer because I could’ve gone on and on for centuries. Many students underestimate how many skills you slowly start to pick up when it comes to being on student organizations, especially on leadership.
To name a few: email etiquette for managers, email etiquette for your peers, communication skills, time management, thinking on your feet, thinking quickly, thinking efficiently, team work, positive reinforcement, negative confrontations, constructive criticism, crisis management, reputation management, conducting interviews, networking etiquette, professional dress etiquette, ironing your shirts and pants, timing your commute to important engagements in order to appear promptly, a sense of urgency, and most importantly, figuring out how to be yourself in a professional manner. And it’s safe to say that all these skills come to play everyday. The more you hone on these skills, the more natural it will become.
5. Leave your campus, your city, your state.
Most professional organizations have conferences that occur at least once a year and they’re typically in primary and/or secondary cities that can withstand a large group. My experience on NSMH has allowed me to travel at least 9 times outside my campus and outside my state. Though these small travels are no match for a study abroad experience, they still offer a different experience for you to keep in your memories. In the past three years, I’ve been to places such as Washington D.C., New York City, Atlantic City, and Orlando for conferences. And though they’re professional endeavors, conferences always give you downtime to explore the city in which they occur. I will always remember my favorite conference: the NSMH Nationals Conference in Orlando, Florida. It was a chance to escape Boston’s winter and bathe in sunshine, revisit the most magical place on earth, while gaining access to valuable conference material, and doing it all with over 50+ chapters, 2000+ managers and students. And as a plus side, who doesn’t love taking small trips with their friends?
6. Create and tell amazing stories.
I remember multiple recruiters explaining their appreciation for stories. When it comes to interviews, we’re moving towards a more “behavioral-based” world. And a lot of the responses to these types of questions are typically well-thought out and well-spoken stories. Many of these stories are found when you’re an active member of an organization. You could talk about your working dynamics on an executive board to answer a question regarding teamwork. You could talk about “that one time” your event almost didn’t happen because of paperwork issues to answer a question regarding crisis management. You could talk about an infinite number of situations when it comes to what you’ve learned throughout your college years. The amount of stories I’ve collected as a leader for three professional chapters have proven to be extremely valuable. But not only that, they’re also memories I will be able to cherish forever.
I’m truly passionate about students being active in organizations because it has proven to be such an incredible part of my life throughout college and I want others to be able to experience the same. It brings me such great pleasure to be able to say I will be working for my absolute favorite company, in the city I’ve been always dreaming about moving to, in a department I’ve been most passionate about, in the position I’ve been aiming so hard to earn. And this isn’t just limited to post-graduate opportunities; it also includes internships and jobs via direct placement. And it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for my leadership experiences on student organizations.
As a Dean’s Host speaking to prospective students, I love when someone asks me about the “college experience”. Because the last thing I always tell students is to experience.
Never ever shortcut your experiences in college!
The more people you meet, the more professors you speak to, the more friends you make, the more programs you attend, the more dances you dance, the more restaurants you dine at, the more tears you cry and the more laughs you gather: the more experiences you experience! They all truly shape you to become the epitome of a well-rounded adult.
About the Author:
I’m Christopher Nguyen and a senior at Boston University School of Hospitality Administration with a focus on sales, marketing, and digital media. I am an active leader on three professional organizational chapters: the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, and the School of Hospitality Administration Student Government. Currently, I am interning for Jetsetter, a TripAdvisor company, on the sales team. After graduation, I will be working for Hyatt Hotels Corporation as a Sales Corporate Management Trainee in San Francisco. For some added personality: on weekends, you could see me strolling down the street, head bobbing to some good jams on Spotify, sipping on a Dunkins iced coffee, all in my love for tribal patterns, just soaking up the atmosphere! You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.