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VOLUNTEERING / DEC. 27, 2016
version 12, draft 12

Volunteering: A Guide to Increasing Your Employability

volunteering

It’s a long-standing concept in the career world that volunteering can lead to more and better employment opportunities. Research, however, has been unable to determine whether volunteering can indeed increase your job prospects conclusively. But even without any scientific data to back it up, it’s important for any professional to understand that it may well be your secret weapon when it comes to getting employed, especially if you are a long-term jobseeker or a recent graduate.

Interestingly, research has been able to prove that it’s essential for professionals to not overdo volunteering. According to research conducted by the University of Birmingham, a graduate’s career may well start on the right foot as long as they’ve managed to effectively balance the amount of time dedicated to voluntary schemes and other endeavours. Doing a bit of charity won’t hurt your career opportunities, but it may help you make the transition into the career world much easier. Unpaid employment can also assist people with gaps in employment.

 

How Volunteering Can Make You More Employable

Volunteering and employability

We tend to think of volunteering as insignificant when compared to a full-time job but the reality is that if you manage to get a position with an organisation in a similar role, most employers will see it as proper work experience. This means that you should demonstrate the same level of commitment since you can use it to showcase your abilities.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find unpaid employment in the field you are interested in but that doesn’t mean that you should opt out of volunteering. In fact, anything you can do to give back will help you become a better employee.

You’ll Develop New Skills and Competencies

To get a job, you’ll usually have to prove that you possess both hard and soft skills. These include vocational skills you gained at university (or through apprenticeships) and workplace skills such as excellent communication and teamworking abilities which are generally gained through work experience.

Doing charity work will not only help you gain soft skills by exposing you to a workplace-like environment but it will also help you learn hard skills as well as encourage you to apply your qualifications and take the initiative in dealing with various situations.

Although gaining new skills is always stressful, it can also be highly beneficial to your career as it allows you to be occupied in an environment that’s very similar to the workplace. Bear in mind, however, that if you are a recent graduate or if you are considering changing careers, this experience will come in handy as you can use it on your CV.

You Can Apply Existing Skills

Most graduates tend to think that gaining a degree is sufficient to find a job but as they begin to search for one, they soon realise that things are not quite that simple and that employers are actually interested in a lot more than just qualifications that have never been put to the test.

Many people remain unemployed because they’ve never been employed, and this is how the vicious circle of unemployment starts. To get around this problem, you can always do some unpaid work and find a safe space to apply your knowledge.

You Can Explore New Career Paths

One of the most important benefits of volunteering is that it allows you to explore different industries and fields without having to commit yourself to them. So, although you are supposed to demonstrate some dedication to wherever it is you are applying because your livelihood does not depend on it, you are free to roam through different occupations and career paths.

So, whether you are a recent graduate who’s realised that they are not satisfied with their chosen profession or if you’re are somewhere further down the career road, there’s something to be gained from charity work, so don’t be afraid to take the chance and look into unpaid opportunities outside your chosen profession.

You’ll Build Your Network

It’s important for any aspiring professional to actively develop their network. Connections can increase your job prospects and allow you to discover more opportunities. A lot of the bigger companies use employee referral programs, for example, and to get one of those opportunities, you need to know someone on the inside.

Doing charity work will allow you to make various professional connections that will help you to fulfil your professional goals. It’s important to get to know the people who manage the organisation where you volunteer while you should also try to meet some of the major sponsors and other volunteer, too.

Keep in mind that it’s quite common in the professional world for hiring managers to hire people with whom they share a personal connection, so whether you volunteer for an organisation that your future boss sponsors or one which they volunteer for as well, you are going to be able to make a more lasting impression.

It Makes You Happier During Your Job Search

Job hunting can take a lot out of a person because it drags on and generates more failures than successes. Many jobseekers, in fact, find it impossible to keep their spirits up – let alone remain motivated and pursue activities that allow them to remain current in their industry.

But it’s essential that you seek opportunities that allow you to remain active as not only does this keep you motivated but it also helps keep your skills sharper. It is, therefore, important – especially for long-term jobseekers – to seek such opportunities.

It Creates a Positive Impression

As you probably know, competition in the job market is fierce; this means that you need to identify areas where you can distinguish yourself in the workplace. These could either be skills or qualifications but you should also try and create a positive vibe around you by giving back.

Getting involved with volunteering always creates a positive impression, and it’s important to get on the hiring manager’s good side right from the start. Having done unpaid work guarantees that you’ll get their attention, so it’s a strategy worth investing in.

You’ll Get Offered a Job

Although this only happens on rare occasions, it’s not unprecedented for people to get hired in the organisation where they volunteer. People who show lots of motivation and are excellently skilled often become invaluable to some organisations who find that they need to hire these people on a more permanent basis in order to take advantage of everything these individuals have to offer.

It is, therefore, important to always volunteer for causes that you are genuinely interested in, and it’s also important to demonstrate the ethos of an excellent employee, even if you are just working for a few hours a week with the organisation you’ve chosen.

 

How to Maximise Your Volunteering Experience

Maximise volunteer experience

In order to make the most of your experience, it’s essential to commit to it, and this means that you should treat the organisation as if it were your place of employment. Make sure you are punctual at all times, while you should also demonstrate the same amount of eagerness you’d show in a new workplace. It’s also important to put your creativity to use and to help the organisation move forward.

By showing commitment, you are ensuring that you’ll be able to create effective relationships with the people in the organisation, while you’ll also be making sure that you are gaining skills that can help you get a job later on. However, if you are interested in maximising your volunteering experience, you shouldn’t just do the minimum – you should also consider implementing some of the strategies below as well:

Be Passionate

We often talk about the importance of passion but did you know that your passion should be evident in any work-related endeavour you undergo? Passion can help push you to do your best while it also makes you feel more motivated to bring your creative ideas forth. Being passionate for your volunteering position can help maximise your potential as it ensures that the people responsible for you will appreciate your commitment while they’ll also perceive you as more trustworthy.

Volunteer Whenever You’re Unemployed

Having to explain an employment gap in your CV is one of the most difficult things you’ll do during a job search, and this is why it’s important to minimise those gaps. Offering your services for free will help you do just that as it’s a pretty straightforward way to continue using your skills while being out of work.

However, in order to ensure that the experience you are adding to your CV is of value, you need to look for opportunities that will allow you to expand on your current skills. So, if, for example, you are an accountant, it’s best to look for opportunities that will allow you to help different organisations with their books.

Inform Management about Your End Goal

Although your primary focus should always be to give back, there’s no harm in helping your career as well, and this is why you should consider talking to the organisation’s management about your goals.

Volunteering should never be a means to an end, but there’s really no harm in using your existing skills to get ahead, and this is what you should communicate to management. Simply tell them that you want to use this opportunity as a chance to grow as a professional and explain to them that you are having a hard time getting a job and that you’re just hoping that your job at the organisation will double as work experience on your CV.

 

Where to Volunteer

Searching volunteer opportunities

If you are determined to become a non-profit employee, you’ll find that there are lots of opportunities available. However, what you choose to do depends heavily on what you want to achieve through this unpaid work.

If you are a university student, you should consider talking to your university’s career services as there’s a good chance that they’ll have some on-camous opportunities for you which will help you save on commuting expenses as well as time. However, even if they don’t have any on-campus opportunities, they’ll have a few other collaborators that might be able to help you. Keep in mind that talking to your career services professional will help you make a more informed decision as they’ll be able to provide you with more personalised advice.

If you’re a graduate or are simply someone who’s found themselves out of a job all of a sudden, you’ll be happy to learn that there are tons and tons of available positions for eager volunteers throughout the UK. Contact organisations who you believe in and ask them if they have any volunteering needs; there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to offer something to each and every organisation out there, so go with what you believe most in.

Volunteering Opportunities in the UK

#1 Search the Do-It Database

The Do-it Trust, the leading volunteering voice in the UK, is undergoing an effort of modernising volunteering and social action. They offer a variety of platforms, including a super-hub for professional skills-based volunteering that allows professionals to offer their expertise to people in need. To find an opportunity through the Do-it Trust, all you have to do is enter your city and postcode, and their search button will return results based on proximity. You can also use their advanced search options which allow you to enter your availability, interests and skills to receive more personalised results.

#2 Contact Your Nearest NCVO Volunteer Centre

If you are more comfortable talking to someone about your options in-person, you might want to consider locating your nearest NCVO volunteer centre. These centres are local organisations that provide support to potential and existing volunteers, and they are a great way to find out more about volunteering needs in your community. To locate your nearest centre, you simply need to enter your postcode, and the search engine will generate a map with all the information you need.

#3 Search the CharityJob Database

The CharityJob website doesn’t just offer opportunities for people interested in unpaid work but it also includes vacancies within charity organisations, so it’s always a good idea to take a look at what they have available first. They are currently the UK’s largest and busiest website for jobs in the sector, and it seems that their mission to help charities save money in staff recruitment is working out. To search the website, you simply need to enter your postcode or city and select your area of expertise from the dropdown menu.

#4 Go Through the Volunteering Matters Website

Volunteering Matters is more than a just a database; it also offers tips and advice to aspiring and existing non-profit employees. Their mission is to develop and deliver solutions across the UK in order to help with some of the most difficult situations individuals and communities are facing today. The site specialises in opportunities in England but you can also lists opportunities in Wales and Scotland. To search the database, all you need is your postcode, and the website will generate results based on proximity to your area.

#5 Search Reach’s Database

Reach connects charities and non-profits with skilled volunteers as it’s the organisation’s belief that all that charities and non-profit organisations need to flourish are skilled people in key positions. What’s great about this particular website is that it allows you to either search its database by entering your location and area of expertise or simply build your profile and let charities find you.

Volunteering Opportunities Abroad

#1 Check Out Working Abroad

Working Abroad is a UK-based organisation that offers a myriad of projects all over the world. Projects offered are as short or as long-term as you like, while you can also look for programmes that require the specific skills that you possess. To find a project that suits your tastes and appeals to your senses, use their interactive map which flags their currently available projects.

#2 Take a Look at GVI’s Projects

One of the leading voluntary organizations around the world, GVI actually sends over 2,000 volunteers abroad every year. If you are a student, you’ll be happy to know that some of the programmes offered by this organisation contribute towards your university qualifications.

#3 Search for a Project via Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad is an organisation that has been in operation for over 20 years, and during these 20 years, they have sent nearly 100,000 volunteers abroad. They don’t just specialise in students or graduates but, rather, they pride themselves for helping individuals at different career stages find voluntary opportunities abroad.

 

How to Use Volunteering Experience on Your CV

Volunteering experience on CV

In order for your volunteering experience to count, you need to ensure that it holds a prominent place on your CV. Depending on how relevant or irrelevant your role as a non-profit employee was to the role you want is, you should write your CV in such a manner that reflects just how valuable the experience was to you.

Essentially, if your role as a volunteer has been directly relevant to your professional experience, then you need to think of it as equivalent and include it in the past experience section. So, if you are planning on writing your work experience in chronological order, then include it in the correct chronological order but you’d do well to flag it up as voluntary work. Remember that you don’t want to hide it, after all, but that you want the hiring manager to acknowledge the fact.

If, on the other hand, the volunteering you’ve done is not relevant to your actual industry or profession, then you are better off not including it in the past experience section. It will only confuse the hiring manager, after all. It’s best that you create a separate category which can be named ‘Community Service’ or ‘Volunteer Work’, and list your unpaid work under there.

Information You Should Include

  • The Name of the organisation, title and duration of your placement
  • Your duties and responsibilities
  • The skills you acquired, and which are relevant to the role for which you are currently applying
  • Your accomplishments in the role (for example, if you helped plan a fundraiser, how much you managed to raise, etc)

 

Apart from everything volunteering can do for your career, it can also help you develop on a personal level. It will teach you to appreciate what you can offer while it will help you view your skills from a different perspective. This will help you become more confident, which is essential for successful job interviews. What’s more, volunteering can also help you get around the no-previous-work-experience issue which might be extremely beneficial, especially if you are a recent graduate who’s never actually been previously employed in a similar role. It can even help you if you you’ve been out of a job for a long time and need to demonstrate some sort of activity in your CV. Of course, you should always keep in mind that there are many benefits to giving back, and if you can afford to do it, there’s really no reason not to.

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation below!

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