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"Hands down the best thing I’ve ever done" - Issy's take on the elections

Nominations for our leadership elections are officially open, so we’ve reached out to previous SU Officers to help spread the word. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting one-to-one interviews to give you an insight into what it’s really like to campaign. Get your nomination in fast, the deadline’s fast approaching on the 21 February!

Issy Cooke experienced life as the VP Education 14/15 and then was elected president in 15/16! Here’s what she had to say… 

So Issy, what was your experience of campaigning like?

Although it was tiring and all over the place, I never really wanted to stop. It’s that adrenaline of talking to people. It takes some time to get comfortable chatting to people and getting your word out there but once you get through that first couple of days suddenly it becomes much easier and quite natural. Before you know it you’ve talked to hundreds of people. There’s something really nice about ending the day and thinking about all those people that you’ve interacted with. I wasn’t sure if I'd won or not but I couldn't help thinking about all the people who I’d had interesting conversations with! I thought “I’m gonna get in touch whether I win or not because we should be friends!” and there are lots of people from the campaign that I did go on to be friends with (and still am!).

Meeting new people can be quite hard and the campaign forces you to that. That’s a skill that that I have now. It’s helped me in my work life and in my social circles to feel more confident to walk up to people and just say “hi”. Whether you win or lose you will come away with that ability and confidence to meet someone and convince them to do something for you (like vote!).

There are plenty of photo opportunities too! – Here’s Issy looking like a pro speaker

Even if you weren't elected do you think you still got a lot out of campaigning?

Yes definitely. Especially being able to communicate with people and convince people to be on your side. It’s not just persuading somebody to talk to you for five minutes but it’s also persuading people to then go and actually vote for you. I would say that’s a skill now that I use in my work quite a lot. Influencing and persuading people to do things for you is going to helpful at any point, in any career. Doing it over and over again means that you refine those tools. It also helps you with knowing how to be competitive in a good way! I don’t think you run for these things unless there’s some element of competition with you. You’ve got to go against others and convince everyone that you’re better. Throughout your career you are going to end up in competitive scenarios, whether for a job or promotion or trying to get someone to invest in your idea or project rather than someone else’s. Learning how competitive in a friendly way is another great skill to learn. Some of the people I ran against are still people I know, still people I would feel comfortable to chat to. I know it sounds ridiculous but some people don’t do so well at dealing with competition and it’s a competitive world!

When did standing in the elections first enter your mind?

I was a Programme Rep in my first year and I ran as a School Representative Officer in the Bi Elections and lost quite badly. It was the first elections I’d ever lost and I was gutted about it! Then I ran again for the same role the year after and I won! There are many people who’ve ran a few times and only won the second or third time. I think that’s a good lesson. If you want it sometimes you have to try! Even running in one election, especially as a Part Time Officer, you build your network so quickly in that first election that if you want to run in future elections, you’ve already made so many supporters. People will say, “oh yeah I voted for you last year, I’ll vote for you again”. That really does stick in people’s minds. So, I definitely would recommend standing for a part time role if you do have aspirations for a full time role but aren’t ready yet. Plus it gives you a taste of what it might be like to be part of the SU full time, it didn’t take long when I was a part time officer to decide that I wanted this to be my full time job. I felt like I could do it. I just saw a lot of things about the Union which I thought could be better. I’ve never looked back! Hands down the best thing I’ve ever done. If you don’t win it’s a great learning opportunity but if you do win it’s a great job.

What was it like to be re-elected?

It was amazing to be re-elected because people clearly saw what I had done and had faith that I would be able to do it again. I had a manifesto and I worked really hard to tick off everything on it. My first year manifesto had quite tangible things on it like Wednesday afternoons free for sports and a lecture capture campaign which broadened. I could put up my manifesto with a big tick as part of my re-election campaign and I think that helped.

What sort of candidate would you like to see run?

I think diversity in the elected officers is always good, particularly given the makeup of the student body and the lack of diversity in University staff, senior management etc. Apart from demographics, who would I want to see run? I would like to see anybody run. I think there’s lots of reasons you should do it. You should want to see change and you should be willing to put in the work because it is what you make of it. The money is nice, it’s a decent paying job for your first job out of Uni and it’s great for the CV, I have some really good achievements from my time at the Union that are always interesting to interviewers. It’s an opportunity to work on projects and be part of conversations that you’re probably not going to be able to do for at least another ten years in your career. You get an opportunity to sit in these meetings and to be part of these campaigns and to lead on these projects which could be award winning. The potential to do anything is there and that is a really good position to be in. If you’re willing to do the work, it’s a really good springboard.

Standing in the elections certainly helps you to climb up the career ladder, or a rock if you prefer.

How has it helped you since?

In interviews, I always have things to talk about. For my big campaigns like Friday prayer, I fundraised a lot of money, I ran the student voice awards and I doubled the nominations. There are so many things you can put on your CV that people want to see and that they ask questions about. If you’re ambitious and you want to do well in the world then this is a really good opportunity to layer things on your CV. It’s a really intriguing experience for employers. Even people who don’t have a job for me are often interested in what I’m doing and where I’m going thanks to the role. I guess what it can do for you is as long as a piece of string, there’s so many opportunities.

There’s all the things on your CV but then there’s also those actual abilities that you develop. Those communication skills, those negotiation skills and there’s the confidence that it gives you. I think people want to know that you care about something and that you lead by your values. As an Officer, your values are out on display and it’s obvious that you care about others and want to do things for others. That’s another question that I can always answer, a lot of interviews recently have said “give me an example of when you’ve helped an individual” and there are so many opportunities to do that in this role. And that’s also just such a rewarding thing generally. That’s a great skill, to be empathetic, you will have so many students coming up to you who’re having issues and you have to be able to reassure them.

What would you say to students who are thinking of running but don’t consider themselves to be very confident?

I think if you can get through that first day, then the adrenaline kicks in and you end up just doing it. Talk to people, get some friends involved and you can always drop out before anyone even knows that you’ve put your name in the hat. I don’t think it’s just for extroverts. I would say that some of the best people that I’ve worked with at the Students’ Union weren’t extroverts, they managed to get through their campaign and they managed to do it. We need those people and we need those characters in the Union.

Any famous last words?

Running in the elections is such a liberating experience. It’s exciting, it’s stressful but you definitely come out the other end feeling very proud of yourself. Even when I lost my first elections, I didn’t freak out and go “I’m never running in an election again”. I thought, “what can I do to put myself in a better position for next time”? Once I’d figured that out I won three elections by quite a good margin. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the first time.

If I could have done it forever I would have, I loved that job so much. And everyone knows that I didn’t really leave. I’m still sad that I’m not here all the time.

Thanks so much for speaking to us Issy!

Find out more about our elections, see all 18 positions available and nominate yourself now. Deadline 21 Feb.

Want to hear from other previous Officers? Read Zain’s take on the electionsGiulio’s take on the elections,

Rima's take on the elections  & Umar's take on the elections