5 answers

What can I do to gain more leadership experience in college?

Updated New York, New York

From the start of college, I have joined many clubs and organizations to get involved. However, lately I've been stressing out because every time I desire to join a committee or become a board member, I never quite succeed. Will not obtaining leadership positions hinder my potential to employers. #career-path #leadership #career-development #employment #organization #student-clubs #organizational-leadership

5 answers

David’s Answer

Updated Boston, Massachusetts

Hi Esther! First of all, it's amazing that you're focused on leadership. However, there are all types of leaders, and just because you're not on a club or organization's committee or board doesn't mean that you're not a leader.

Employers aren't going to look at your resume and think "oh jeez, Esther wasn't a leader of any club." They are going to be able to see if you demonstrated leadership potential in everything that you did.

The best way to demonstrate leadership potential is by taking small actions and setting an example for others. In your clubs, are you focused just on becoming a leader because you want to be recognized as a leader? If that's your motivation, people will see that it's recognition that you want and not that you have leadership potential.

A better way to show leadership potential is by setting a great example for others and empowering the club and its members to be successful. If you approach the clubs with the mindset of setting an example, you can start small and then work your way up to being on a committee or becoming a board member. Think of how you can help people in the club. Can you volunteer to take notes at meetings? Can you offer to assist the leader of the club with a project?

If you do that for a while and you still don't feel like you're making progress, take a committee member or a board member out to coffee! Ask them what you could be doing better. Making yourself open to feedback (and asking other's opinions) is one of the quickest ways to be successful!

Finally, while it's an advanced article, this is one of the best ways to think about being a leader: https://hbr.org/2015/09/to-become-a-leader-think-beyond-your-role

Trisha’s Answer

Updated Columbia, South Carolina
Hi Esther, David and Wayne had some great feedback. I have some experience with interviewing and selecting college students for internships in state government. When looking at a stack of resumes, you tend to notice trends. For example, being a board member of an organization in college certainly stands out as an accomplishment but noticing leadership skills throughout internships and work experience are key too. Don't get stressed out or focus too heavily on a title, like board member or president, focus on the quality of the leadership activities you exhibit. You can volunteer as a tutor for a high school, play sports or go on outings with students with disabilities at your school (my college had a program for students with disabilities and they welcomed students to play sports and support the program), organize a benefit event to raise money for a cause you support, start your own club or organization! All show your leadership skills. I started a military support group in college to help students with spouses and families in the military. We organized "care package" drives to collect goods and filled out Christmas cards for the troops. It's the little things that you can do to be impactful as a leader. Think outside the box and get creative, leadership isn't just a title. :)

Michael’s Answer

Updated Edison, New Jersey

I will restate that leading certainly does not only occur from the top. I manage telecommunication sales teams for Verizon and not only lead them but have helped develop them into leaders themselves. Before I had this opportunity I was one of the people begging lead, but I was also acting as much like a leader myself as I could with my abilities. Take note of what your strengths are in your clubs or organizations and be that go-to person for your peers. Guide them, teach them, and try to make them as good as you at whatever you are good at and you will be a leader to them. You don't need a title, a leader is such because of their actions.

Also, if you do want more responsibility and a higher degree of validity in being a leader but gaining access to those titles is proving difficult then I suggest something I and many of my peers have done. Start your own club. Doesn't need to be school or locally sponsored. Find people with a similar interest and take initiative. Pick something you want to achieve or change in an area you love and find people who are willing to help you go after that goal. Make a mission statement and action plan and take the first action.

Susan’s Answer


There are so many opportunities in College to take on leadership roles. College activities, clubs, social and business events are always looking for volunteers. Find a mentor like a senior class member who is in a leadership role. Shadow them so you can learn from their experience and understand the culture of leadership at that school. Be sure to look at things with a fresh set of eyes and share what you see as opportunities to do things differently. Take "No" as an opportunity to learn and to challenge the status quo.

Wayne’s Answer

Updated Cincinnati, Ohio

Hello Esther. David has some good advice in his response to your question. I would like to add that leading is not always done from the front. David mentions that there are many types of leaders. This is true, but it is also true that a leader knows how to use many different leadership styles and techniques to fit different needs. Being the head of a committee or board demonstrates ambition, but not necessarily leadership since the world is full of ambitious people with no leadership ability and too often those folks scramble for the roles that can gain them the most recognition so like David says, this can be a two edged sword when employers look at a resume (i.e. is this person really a leader or just a glory hound?). If you really want to be a leader, do as David suggests and seek out opportunities to demonstrate your leadership abilities. These will be the tasks that actually get things done instead of those just focused at oversight. Document your actual achievements, who you had to work with to get them done and what benefit they had for the org. I have been in many management roles during my career and unfortunately have run into several situations where the company closed or downsized, leaving me starting over. Each time I started over, I told myself that even though I am not a manager, there is nothing saying I can't act like one anyway. By doing this, I have advanced back into management quickly and in several different fields, thus gaining a lot diverse experience. Management and leadership are primarily a mind-set in that you are always thinking of ways to improve, help, nurture and move forward. Someone once told me that "running a business is like riding a bicycle. You are either moving forward or falling down." To be a leader means that you are avoiding the traps of stagnation and seeking ways to lift everyone around you up and keep moving forward. In college, there are many examples of leadership. You have the executive leadership, student representatives, ambassadors, event planners, political groups, social groups, etc, etc, etc. Take a look at those individuals and see which ones you admire. I have found that many times, those leaders are willing to accept students that are willing to spend time following them around for a day to "see what they do". Get to know the ones you admire (like David said, take them out for a cup of coffee" or something) and find out what drives them (gets them excited about what they do). Look for ways to help others (tutoring, helping with high school students, charity work, etc.). There are so many opportunities out there that get overlooked because of the incorrect belief that leadership can only be done from the top. Good luck as you define your search. Being a leader is an action role, not a title. By asking the questions you are on the right track. Again, Good luck!!