At 17 years old, I didn’t join a sorority to advance my career. Like many potential new members, I was looking for a quick way to make friends and see what all of the hype was about. For a week, sorority women told me about their commitment to community service, study tables, and showed us pictures of date parties and semi-formal dances. Honestly, I had no idea what I was committing to when I accepted an offer to join Delta Zeta, but I had met some women I liked and gave it a shot.
Fast-forward 10 years: I was invited back to my Alma Mater to speak to current students as part of a Greek Alumni Panel, chosen to represent the various organizations on campus to share how our fraternity and sorority membership prepared us for our careers. The experience reminded me of the popular quote many of us had on our door decorations and t-shirts:
“From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”
And here we were, being asked to explain it.
Being a part of a Greek organization is definitely a unique opportunity, but I don’t believe that we can’t explain it. In fact, I think we are doing a disservice to our organizations when we say things like this. For a community that is so vibrant and claims to produce tremendous leaders, we ought to do our best to combat the prejudices and secrecy that often precedes us. And if it’s on your resume? Be prepared to talk about it.
Chants and Cheers aren’t just for Formal Recruitment. My first leadership position in the sorority was the Courtesy & Charm Chair, an appointed role responsible for sending birthday cards, thank you notes, and generally promoting goodwill on behalf of the organization. (More formally, it might be called a corresponding secretary.) And as cheesy and stereotypical as the title sounds, it was a great first leadership role for me.
As a supervisor, it is my job to support, celebrate, motivate, inspire, and communicate. When the people you work with feel valued, they value their work. I’m often looking for volunteers to help with tasks and there is no quicker way to turn people away than to undervalue their contributions. You can be sure that I send thank you notes, bake cookies, and do my best to appreciate and motivate the people around me.
Supervision is hard; supervising your friends serving in volunteer positions is really hard. Whether you are coordinating a silent auction, planning a social event, running an executive board meeting, or trying to enforce study table hours – working with your peers can be a true test of your patience. And while we join these organizations to promote sisterhood and friendship – you are never going to be best friends with every member of your organization. Spending this much time with people (often times living together) challenges your ability to compromise, work with different leadership styles, analyze the value of your work, and learn to work as part of a team. Depending on your role in the organization, you also have the opportunity to learn Robert’s Rules of Order, craft an agenda, prepare reports, speaking confidently in front of a group, and run formal business meetings.
Sometimes it’s okay to talk to strangers. Whether at conferences, meetings, company picnics, or trade shows – we are often required to initiate and sustain conversations with strangers. Perhaps without realizing it, Recruitment trained us to build relationships and sell a product, idea, and experience to a diverse audience. While many students enter college determined to join a Greek organization, most need some education and convincing before they’re willing to commit.
Regardless of how formal your recruitment process was, how much money your chapter dedicated to it, and how silly you felt singing and clapping for hours – we learned a lot of valuable skills preparing for and participating in those events. Telling potential new members about our organizations is selling, whether it felt like it or not. For those who joined nationally recognized organizations, we are selling a brand that has existed for over 100 years. While it may not feel so formalized, we learn to talk about the long and short term benefits of membership, payment plans, and the competitive advantages our organization can offer.
It wasn’t until I started advising non-Greek student organizations that I realized just how good we are at this. Walking through the student union or an involvement fair, it’s clear that some groups don’t know how to sell themselves. Their table and marketing materials don’t have a clear identity or brand. Members aren’t sure how to initiate conversations with people who walk by, often doing homework or staring at their phones instead. And when someone does approach them? They aren’t sure what to do after they’ve sold the raffle ticket or offered given away the free pen.
Get your beer out of that picture. We were always careful not to drink in our sorority letters, lest our behavior reflect poorly on the organization. Facebook was invented when I was in college, and chapter social media policies quickly followed. You are always wearing your letters was our way of reminding ourselves that our behaviors reflected our organization, our sisters, and ourselves no matter if we had on a sorority shirt, or not.
This isn’t about covering up behaviors or pretending that we don’t like a glass of wine every now and then, but about understanding the way the pictures you share influence the perception others have of you. We giggle about it now, but we still put our beers down for group pictures when we get together. It’s not to say we can’t indulge ourselves, but that maybe every picture of it doesn’t need to end up on the internet.
Life Happens. As much as we try to plan and prepare, sometimes life just gets in the way. As Chapter President, my futon was often a landing pad for sisters in crisis. Sometimes it was a financial hardship that meant putting a payment plan in place or a box of tissues after a break up or loss of a loved one. These same things happen in our lives as professionals and can sideline us too. And as much as we want to make it to that meeting on time or put in a few extra hours to wrap up a project, our lives don’t always make it so easy. While I don’t have friends knocking on my door to cry on my couch nearly as often these days – it’s still important to have a support network to help you through the times when things get a little tougher than you can manage on your own.
Sundays are for long, slow, silly brunches. Not the Sex and the City kind of brunch where everyone is perfectly coiffed and drinking mimosas. In college, we spent most Sunday afternoons loitering in the dining hall wearing sweatpants, sharing stories, and avoiding our homework. Spending this kind of time together is what our sorority experience was all about. The relationships we built were the foundation for all of the leadership skills we learned. Recruiting people to join our organization wasn’t about selling our product or reaching a quota – it was about building relationships and sharing an experience that changed us.
Getting to know the people you work with (and for) may never be quite this intimate or vulnerable- but good business, service, and leadership starts with building relationships and strengthening trust.
You don’t need to join a Greek organization to get all of this. Wait, what? Isn’t that the point of the last 1000 words? It’s absolutely true. Fraternities and sororities provide a sort of One-Stop-Shop experience for students to pursue service, leadership, friendship, philanthropy, and academics. All of these elements can be found across a college campus- but you won’t find them all so nicely packaged anywhere else. And you won’t find the intimate friendships, international alumni network, and lifetime membership in quite the same way that these organizations offer.
Are you a fraternity or sorority member? How did your experience prepare you for your career?