It’s that time of the year again – nominations are being sought for student leadership roles at various SUs across the country.
There will be sabbatical officers who are unsure whether to re-run or move on at the end of their time in office.
Having navigated this uncertain period, we hope to offer a few pointers to those on both sides of the fence.
There will be lots of solicited and unsolicited advice flying around – “what if you run and lose?”, “Isn’t it time to move on?”.
If you decide not to run, what do you do next?
Whatever you decide, it is worth noting that lots of influential people in higher education and other fields began their careers as sabbatical officers. If you make the most of it, you will be able to look back on this time fondly.
Half and half
Something that is not said to officers is that a term of office is, in reality, only six months. You spend your first 3 months getting up to speed with your SU processes and the next three lead up to December.
If you are lucky to not re-run, you can ride out the remaining 6 months focusing on your priorities. If you have to re-run, the next 3 months between January and March are spent planning your campaign and re-election etc.
If you are not standing for re-election, here are a few things you need to consider:
Go? Be confident in the experience you have
By now, you probably understand how things work at the SU, your college or university. This knowledge can help you navigate the murky waters of being a sabbatical officer for the rest of the year.
You know who to influence and what levers to pull to get things done. You came into your role, had to get up to speed, and deal with senior leaders in the university, and your students’ union while representing students.
The skills you have gained from cross-working on various projects, and as part of workstreams, are a testament to your ability to navigate ambiguity and manage relationships. Make the most of this experience during future job applications.
Go? No re-election worries
You can channel all your energies towards students’ priorities without having to worry about re-election. The freedom from not thinking of re-election is empowering. While officers are campaigning for re-election, spend some time reflecting on your own achievements and consider how you might do things differently going forward.
Go? Maximise connections and make new ones
You’ve probably attended conferences, events, and met higher education professionals. If you have not been to conferences and events, it is not too late to attend a few before the end of your tenure.
Where possible, look within your circle and let people know you are actively looking for employment. You can even do an open-to-work post on LinkedIn 3 – 6 months before you leave office, so you have ample time to consider your options. Reach out to your higher education connections on LinkedIn or Twitter and put out feelers. Making connections should not be limited to higher education as some of you might want to go into other fields.
Consider the following if you are standing for re-election:
Stay: Start your campaign early
Remember, unlike regular students you still have working hours. It is important that you start planning your campaign early so that you can structure your days and set yourself up for success at the election.
Stay: Don’t feel entitled to the position.
Most incumbent officers fall into the trap of thinking they are entitled to automatically get re-elected into the role because they are currently in the position. We have seen many incumbent officers with this mindset lose their roles to another student.
You need to treat a re-election like it’s your first. Do all the things you did in your first election even better because you have the experience of having done it before. Use your experience to your advantage and perfect your campaign. Do not fall into the trap of thinking students will vote for you because they know you.
Stay: Show what have you achieved so far.
What we mean by this is to show students what you have been able to achieve in your first couple of months in office. Bear in mind you might not have achieved anything or fulfilled any of your manifesto points, yet.
However, students want to see progress and that you are working towards something so make sure you evidence that in your campaign.
Also, some pledges on your manifesto may no longer be relevant by the time you get into office, higher education as you know is always in a state of flux!
Stay: Lead by example
As a sabbatical officer your job is to ensure that students are positively engaging in SU activities such as elections. I know elections come with a lot of pressure and many people are focused on winning, but the best leaders lead by example.
Encourage students to participate in the elections because the more students that vote in the elections, the more chances you have of winning if you campaign well.
Good luck with whatever decision you make.