Warning: at this point in writing, I feel obliged to warn you that, if you do not want to read another pessimistic tirade regarding graduate employment, closed this tab now.
Now, I am not trying to say that you should do nothing at your University. Quite the opposite: a degree on its own is, I would argue, almost pointless. The university experience is liberally strewn with a myriad of opportunities for you to widen your knowledge, cultivate your experience and enhance the skills that will help you in further life. You would be a fool not to take advantage.
Whether it is writing for the university paper, playing a sport, or simply joining the Tea or Battle-Re-enactment Society, you should grab the opportunity to do what you want, whilst engaging with like-minded people and broadening your skillset. University is designed for you to do so.
However (yes, the turn comes), it is unlikely that this is enough to get you that ever-elusive job. These things may look good on a CV but, alas, like the degree you are working hard to attain, it is not enough.
The likelihood is that a potential employer isn’t going to look in detail at all of the achievements you have worked hard to achieve. Half way down a huge pile sits your application, and this distant judge will, most likely, simply glance at your CV. They may just read your first sentence, or the sub-headings that stand out. It is this, and how you sell your assets, that will make you stand out. There are, simply, very few jobs. Even part-time or voluntary jobs are hard to come by nowadays. You could have all of the experience in the world and it may not matter. Being the President of a University Society does not matter if you can’t find that job you want.
What I most object to, however, is the term itself. The person attempting to make you sign up for something is most likely wanting you to do the task to help themselves. The task itself may not necessarily help you. How do they know that the position advertised will help you attain the job you aspire to? I very much doubt, for example, that playing a sport for the University team (although good in itself and useful for many careers) will aid you in an application to a law firm. Working on relevant skills – in this case, skills such as commercial awareness, knowledge of current affairs and a sound writing style – is much more important.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The future will eventually – as Orange foretold – be bright again. There will, once again, be more jobs out there for the graduate, even if these will be adapted and warped to fit in with a more modern, brutal and elitist society. And then we can continue again, blissfully unaware and unprepared for the next bout of economic hardship in the bust years. Extra-curricular activities are of paramount importance to the undergraduate – for both social, personal and academic advancement – but I dread the next time someone tells me that something will look good on my CV.