Thinking about being an Officer?

Training, experience, reward and recognition for full time and part-time officers and representatives.

Training, experience, reward and recognition for full time and part-time officers and representatives.

Thinking about being an Officer?

Officer Hats

Officers have a number of roles and responsibilities in their position - these can be split in to four 'hats', which cover different activities and require different skills and behaviours.

  • Minister

    Most students’ union officers have a clearly defined group of activities or students that they have responsibility for. This may be sports clubs and societies, welfare representatives in halls and the advice centre, course representatives and education casework or a specific demographic such as BME students or women.

    Activities could be helping organise a societies ball, running a welfare awareness week or training student media. These are sometimes referred to as an officer’s constituency. The role of the officer as a developer and supporter comes in here as it is through these volunteers and projects that the officer can have an effect.

    Officers will also need to interact effectively with their students, have good project planning skills and an understanding of which staff and resources are on hand to support these areas.

    Officers will need:

    • Project planning skills in terms of the individual projects but also how they will fit into the year’s plans of campaigning and key events
    • Ability to evaluate the success of current projects and data and think about where improvements are needed or actions that have been successful
    • In depth resource management in terms of budgets but also the ability of volunteers and staff to fulfil the work that is being asked of them
    • Good personal skills with those you are working with
    • An understanding of how your project impacts on the workload of others in relation to other projects – for example how holding an awareness week just before elections will affect the work of membership services
    • Time management and organisational skills to make sure projects are delivered appropriately

    All student leadership roles contain a portfolio or minister role, with the exception of Student Trustee.

  • Trustee

    The fact that officers are elected for a year at a time brings a fresh approach to many key areas of union work. Some of the biggest changes that can be made however are those that take longer; the development of volunteering and advice centres, protecting against financial risk so that future students can be represented and creating legal security in the face of governmental changes.

    Officers have a role in safeguarding the union as an organisation so it can survive for future generations of students to have support, activism and representation.

    Trustees need to step back from their individual lives as students and officers and think broadly and deeply about the student body and the direction their organisation is travelling in. They will need to leave personal passions and interests aside as they concentrate on the organisation as a whole. The trustee board is usually responsible for supporting, developing and directing the chief executive and through them the union staff so this will require a very particular skill set. It is the Trustee Board as a collective that makes decisions and therefore officers need to keep that in mind.

    Officers will need:

    • Good understanding of the financial and legal implications that the union operates within
    • The ability to consider these implications apart from any campaigning, representative or portfolio role you may have, as well as any personal interests
    • Strategic planning skills
    • Integrity and openness in decision making
    • Clear understanding of the political and representative remits of different parts of the union
    • Good communication skills with the other trustees
    • Knowledge of the skills that other trustees bring to the board
    • Desire to meet collective consensus on the decisions that the board makes

    The four Officer Trustees plus Student Trustees wear this hat.

    • Guild President
    • VP Activities
    • VP Education
    • VP Welfare & Diversity
    • Student Trustee
  • Representative

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    The core role of a student officer is to be a representative of the student body.

    Examples of this will be giving a student point of view at institution meetings, talking on behalf of students living in a town or city at a local council meeting or writing an open letter about an issue that affects students. The purpose of representation is to bring about change and improvement not to monitor the status quo.

    When students elect someone as an officer they expect them to take their views on board and give a fair representation of student feeling. One of the reasons that we have elected representatives, however, is that it is often easiest for one person, with appropriate consultation, to make an informed decision about an issue on behalf of many.

    Officer should learn to combine their leadership role with
    due diligence to listening to all students’ opinions. The student population is becoming more diverse and officers will need to reflect on this as they represent them.

    Officers will need:

    • Good communication skills with students
    • Opportunities to go out and talk to students and listen to their concerns
    • Proper structures that allow for student opinion to be known on key issues, e.g. student councils and referenda. Proper policy setting mechanisms should be in place
    • Strong and informed democratic structures where students can see how their opinions are being fed into their elected representatives and how those officers make decisions
    • A good understanding of the students at their institution – especially those who are marginalised or forgotten, including part time students, students with children and international students, though there are many more groups to consider
    • Time and support to research information on the issues they are being asked about and analytical skills to use it
    • An understanding about how to use their representative role to bring about change. Sometimes major changes can occur with a conversation with a institution official or local councillor
    • The ability to understand the implications of decisions in meetings

    All elected Officers and Reps wear the Representative hat with the sole exception of Student Trustees.

  • Activist

    Life as a student can be exciting, fulfilling and offer amazing opportunities. But it is never perfect. Student officers have a vital campaigning role in their unions to bring about change but an equally important one in empowering students as individuals to do the same.

    They could be organising a demonstration for longer library hours, petitioning for better social learning space or lobbying a local MP to vote on a fairer funding system.

    Anyone with a desire to make a change can be an activist. Student officers should make sure that the opportunities exist for all students to be involved in campaigning and that they can access them easily.

    Leadership and organisation skills are important, as well as a strategic approach to getting the demands that students want. To make a real impact, officers should also make sure their campaigns are focused and there is coverage from local and student media.

    Officers will need:

    • Strong communication and organisation skills with students
    • Structures that allow them to train and organise large numbers of students – most commonly communication action networks
    • Mechanisms for students to choose the campaigns the union is working on, usually a student council
    • The ability to enthuse students about an issue and inform them of the problems
    • A knowledge of where the union has come from on key issues, where it wants to be in several years’ time and how its campaigning work will advance this goal
    • Understanding of the boundaries of campaigning as a charity
    • To develop a relationship with the Institution that allows them to campaign forcefully on issues and maintain communication on partnership projects
    • Links with local and student media to promote their action and get maximum impact

    All roles in the Guild have an element of activism, except the Student Trustee role.


The Experience

Being an Officer is a hugely rewarding experience, and there are so many benefits to stepping up to be a leader:

  • Represent students on issues you care about
  • The opportunity to make genuine positive change on campus
  • You’ll represent Exeter students on the national stage a join wider discussions about higher education
  • Gain skills and experience to help you in your future career
  • The chance to organise and run campaigns to benefit the students you represent
  • The power to be make decisions on the strategy of the organisation
  • Full-Time Officer roles are paid an annual salary, as well as other employment benefits such as holiday

But don’t just take it from us, hear directly from a former Full-Time Officer:

Of all my experiences, being a students’ union officer did the most to make me who I am today. I did so much in just one year and learnt so many new skills. I was a leader, a representative, a campaigner; dealing with staff and creating new projects such as a landlord accreditation scheme that is still in place today. I’ve been a human rights barrister and chair of an immigration support charity, but I was particularly lucky to be an officer - it is such a great opportunity.

  • Sinead O’Rourke
  • Officer at: University of Nottingham
  • Now: Treasury Solicitor

Download Candidate Guide.


University of Exeter Students' Guild is a Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered Charity Number: 1136468 Company Number: 07217324; registered in England and Wales Registered office: Devonshire House, Stocker Road, Exeter, EX4 4PZ