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Management experience before you even graduate

Group of students; woman in foreground.


Her résumé reads like a seasoned business professional: She's overseen a quarter-million-dollar budget and managed a diverse work force; liaised with high-level executives and academics. Daniela Montgomery can list skills much sought-after in today's corporate world: leadership, teamwork, strategic planning and risk management.

Yet she hasn't even graduated from her undergraduate commerce degree at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School Business.

Ms. Montgomery, 20, is in her last year at the school and she's acquired many of her impressive résumé credentials from extracurricular involvement in the Haskayne Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS), this year as its president.

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"I have learned skills that most university students do not have an opportunity to learn until much later in their careers," she says. Ms. Montgomery cites leadership and teamwork skills, and the opportunity to "manage a large and diverse team of 100."

It's heightened her sense of what makes her tick, too, she says, having realized, "I enjoy having a high level of responsibility."

These are just the kinds of qualities employers are looking for says Louisa Lungu, Talent Attraction Manager for KPMG's Calgary office - and Daniela Montgomery's employer once she graduates this spring.

"Our company places a high value on community leadership and CUS students are leaders. It's about more than going to school and getting good grades. We are a client service organization and we're looking to hire graduates who are well-rounded, perform well in client situations and in building relationships."

On Canadian university campuses, business school clubs and societies are among the most active and highly visible student groups. They organize fundraisers for charities, compete in national and international business competitions, and manage people and budgets that rival those of a small business.

UBC's Sauder School of Business commerce student group is Canada's largest, boasting a budget that exceeds $1-million and having a complex web of committees and councils. The CUS sponsors a dozen specialized clubs and overall, says executive member Paulina Aksenova, more than 700 students are involved. This represents an impressive one-quarter of UBC undergrad business students.

At the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, the Commerce Students' Association membership includes all 2,300 undergraduate commerce students, and oversees a budget of approximately $85,000, says executive member Sally Woo.

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She says she doesn't always realize how her work with the association connects to her future career, but when she thinks about it, "It's easy to note the similarity of duties between your extracurricular roles and the job that you are applying for."

Ms. Woo, a third-year commerce student, says that at a campus networking event, she heard an alumna talking about her marketing job. "I realized that I did those exact same things for the association. The only difference is that she got paid to do it. It's at times like these that you realize everything you've been doing is almost the same as job experience."

As an accounting student, Ms. Woo says she wanted to broaden herself into more people-oriented activities, becoming "more well-rounded." She knows that employers place a high value on communication skills and it's something her student association involvement has given her.

After three years of business school, Ms. Woo says, she hasn't given one group presentation in her accounting courses. That has made her marketing and communication activities with the student association invaluable, she says.

"If I were in an interview situation, my answers to all the behavioural questions would definitely come from my involvement with RCSA."

Christine Jackson's résumé draws heavily on her experiences with Carleton University Sprott Business Students' Society. In her executive summary she can list "extensive leadership and team work experience." Specifically, she highlights skills she gained planning major special events and co-ordinating volunteers and organizing schedules.

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Ms. Jackson says she's attended numerous business conferences, competitions and events and this has brought her into contact with industry professionals.

"On a professional level, the big take-away from all of my experiences has been the importance of networking. In terms of personal gains, I've learned a lot about leadership.

"I've always considered myself a natural born leader but the challenges I've faced in many of the SBSS positions has allowed me to really build my skill set."

Above all else, she adds "I've met so many incredible people who will be a part of my life forever."

That's something KPMG recruiter Ms. Lungu echoes from her own involvement with the commerce student society while an undergraduate at the University of Calgary.

"For me personally, yes it got me a job, but the greatest benefit was that it exposed me to students from all across Canada. By the time I graduated, I had a group of friends across the country and beyond, all who have become highly successful people in business."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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