The Students’ Union is led by a team of five elected officers, known as Sabbatical Officers, who are employed full time by the Union for their year of office, to represent students and their interests. It’s possible to take a year out of your studies to be a sabbatical officer, but you can also run for office in your final year and take up the role after you graduate. Working with the full-time officers are our elected student volunteers, known as zone committee members, who take up officer roles alongside their studies.
The role of a sabbatical officer receives pay and benefits including training and development that is highly valuable to future employers and can benefit your career in the future. Our previous officer teams are working in a wide range of careers from engineering to recruitment, accountancy and social media.
As an officer, full time or as a volunteer, you will have experience of working with people, managing teams and projects, that you would not usually expect to gain before you finish at University, and will provide the springboard you need to launch the next steps of your career.
Employers are being presented all the time with the CVs of graduates which look very similar – and it is now expected that students will include volunteering and other extracurricular information. Becoming a Union officer means you will really stand out from the crowd, as you have been willing to step outside your comfort zone, and you have worked on skills including public speaking, management, project planning and delivery. You will have so much to say to a future employer about how taking part in the Union elections helped you develop your skills.
“Taking on a sabbatical role is hugely challenging, but will give you the chance to build excellent leadership, project management and communication skills. There are few other graduate jobs where you will have such responsibility from day one and it’s a great foundation for many roles, both within Higher Education and in the wider world.” Emma, Careers Adviser
We asked some of our previous officers to tell us about how being a Union officer has contributed to their future employability.
Jess Wreford (VP Support 2017-18)
It’s hard to emphasise how much being Vice-President Support in 2017/18 has formed who I am and my career path now.
Being a part of USSU not only allowed me to speak up about what I was passionate about and what I wanted to change – the original driving force to running in the election, but it also allowed me to be creative, help others, and become more open-minded as an individual.
One of the proudest moments in my role as VP Support was creating my campaign series “Let’s Talk” where I spoke about topics I believed students needed to hear about. With this, I largely used the power of video and in-person events to make these topics heard. Going through this process made me fall in love with presenting, scripting and having a say over how my videos were filmed, edited and put out for people to engage with and share!
If we fast forward to now and how that has formed my career path – I would be lying if it wasn’t being VP Support that truly allowed me to explore that passion of video, something I now use daily.
Nowadays, I show up online through video every day with my Instagram account, @jessicadoeslife, and I am now a freelance video content creator/editor, collaborator and consultant where I help others utilise the impact of video. It’s honestly a dream come true!
Running for VP Support was a complete leap, I had no idea what I was in for, the conversations I was going to have, the people I was going to meet and the impact that I was going to be able to make.
I started the role with a degree in Nutrition and a desire for supporting people and I finished that year with so much more. I can’t implore you enough to run for a position in the Students’ Union, you might just discover your passion and future career path through the process – I sure did!
Alex Mackenzie Smith (VP Activity 2016-17 & President 2017-18)
I work for Wiser, whose mission is to change the way people think about work. We combine our expertise in research, employer branding, recruitment, and people strategy to transform how brands attract and keep the best people. We help find those people who are diverse, motivated, and clear on the company’s purpose and the role they will play in achieving it.
I am the project lead for our two biggest clients, Frasers Group and Knight Frank – managing a number of teams internally to deliver creative and recruitment campaigns as well as people strategies. I also work across other client projects with Zoopla, L’Oréal, and a few public sector initiatives. When I’m not delivering client work, I help build and drive Wiser’s own internal culture projects. This involves all aspects of employee engagement, our own D&I strategy, and building our own graduate scheme. It’s safe to say, no day is ever the same!
Being a Union officer gave me so many skills that influence what I do now. As an officer, you learn how to work with senior stakeholders as well as learning the complexities of large organisations – all crucial for everything I do. Being VP and President also gave me the opportunity to manage and support people in delivering their best work – something I have to ensure happens so we go above and beyond for our clients.
I would encourage anyone and everyone to run in the elections – it’s an incredibly, fulfilling experience that is genuinely like no other role you’ll ever do!”
Maz Hussien (VP Societies 2013-14, President 2014-15)
To this day, my role as President of the Students’ Union is what I would describe as my best ever job. Being an elected full-time officer is a once-in-a-lifetime gig, and for me it was life changing. It’s difficult to ‘get’ exactly what it entails until you’re in it. At such a young age you find yourself in the position of lead representative of the student body; you support an entire organisation of full-time employees; you are responsible for and line manage a team; you hold several positions at senior university management committees; you are the Chair of the Board of Trustees; you’re the point of contact for the local council.
Running for a position is an amazing experience in itself – surrounded by a bunch of friends, new friends, and strangers that support you. Win, and you’ll obviously feel a wonderful high, but even through losing you learn and develop so much by throwing yourself into the deep end.
The first election I ran in, I lost. I ran again, for a Vice President role, where I fell in love with the opportunity to do something unique that such a small fraction of the population can say that they’ve done. The future employment benefits are obvious and speak for themselves.
My advice is that if you are even a teeny tiny bit thinking about it: do it. Your university years don’t come around again, and you don’t want to look back, or even during the election itself, thinking “I wish I gave that a go”.
Chris Whitehead (Volunteer Officer 2010)
Spending my final year as a part time officer in the Students’ Union (Communications Officer) was one of my favourite university experiences. I didn’t really have any communications experience, but loved writing and had a taste of marketing and promotion through my degree and volunteering. By the end of my year in office, I had met so many professionals who all encouraged me to take what I had learnt and consider a career in the field because they could see I had the right passion and skills. 10 years later and I am a decade into a career in marketing and communications, and now using my skills to support our whole student community through their university experience through communications. Without my time in the Students’ Union, I don’t think I ever would have considered going into this line of work…but now I wouldn’t change a thing!
Mustie Smith ACA (President 2015-16)
I’m now a Qualified Chartered Accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW). I currently work for BDO LLP which is the 5th largest accounting firm in the world. I work as an auditor in the Financial Services Sector in Insurance which involves having to be analytical and also communicating and working with clients
Outside of my 9-5 work, I learned how to invest in the largest financial market in the world and now I run a business where I am helping other people learn how to invest in this market also. I’ve successfully helped 75+ people so far become competent investors and diversify their income which is very fulfilling. I’m also a business and mindset coach which involves me helping other people with practical steps on how to grow their businesses through using effective sales techniques, and also coaching them on the mindset required for success. I’m working on becoming a financial advisor as well to help people become better at managing their finances.
Being a VP and then becoming President really helped me in being able to connect with people and understand how to help them with their needs. This helps me connect with clients at work today when conducting audits. It also helps me to run my business and teach other people how to have a mindset for success. The Surrey Decides process was the first time I was really pushed out of my comfort zone but from that I saw growth and achieved what I set out to do. If anything, one of the biggest lessons I learned that sticks with me today is that stepping out of your comfort zone allows you to grow and also achieve amazing things. The transferable skills from being a sabbatical officer such as leadership, teamwork, innovation etc. are second to none and I’m always grateful for my time as an officer at Surrey as it’s been the foundation to how I successfully do what I do today as an auditor and as a business leader.