When a student has to acquire leadership skills


Q: My son is a freshman at a liberal arts college in New England.  He is looking at internships, which list “demonstrated leadership skills” as a requirement.  My question is how does a freshman college student acquire leadership skills when many of them can barely secure summer jobs during this pandemic?  It seems like a stretch and I am not sure that any of his peers could “check this box” either.  Do you have any concrete examples that may serve as a way to fulfill this requirement? 

A: It is not an easy time to secure summer jobs, internships or post-graduate jobs.  The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted a wide range of industries, many of which hire students.  Hospitality, including restaurants, hotels and travel, have been decimated by this pandemic.

Students can gain leadership skills in a number of ways.  Here is a quick list:

While at work: Summer jobs and part-time roles through high school and college can be one way.  If your son works in retail, he may be asked to train and supervise a new hire for the first few weeks.

At your house of worship: There also be opportunities with faith-based groups, leading virtual religious services or organizing an event, like a food and paper goods donation drive.

Student government: If your son is interested, he could explore running for a leadership role in student government.

While on the field:  There also may be opportunities to lead in sports.  Maybe your son could start a club tennis program or add a virtual fitness program to his college’s offerings.

While a member of a college club:  Most student clubs are required to have officers, which are leadership roles.

As part of Greek life: Sororities and fraternities can sometimes offer leadership opportunities.  Whether chairing an event or being elected to a leadership role, these organizations can provide an array of leadership opportunities to undergraduate students.

Approach a professor: Your son could begin to build a relationship with a favorite professor, perhaps in his major.  Your son could ask his professor if there may be leadership opportunities aligned with your son’s career interests.  Examples include organizing a virtual study session or launching a mentoring program.

Post-pandemic, more traditional leadership roles may be more readily available.  Serving as a resident advisor or an orientation leader are options that could strengthen your son’s leadership experience.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.