We often talk about the benefits of volunteering to build your employability. The mini volunteering fair on campus yesterday made me think about it again. Sometimes there’s a clear link between what you want to do and a volunteering role, on other occasions it’s harder to see any link but the volunteering is still going to help for almost any job, so why’s that?
Graduates have to be able to communicate.
I don’t think many would argue with this idea, almost any graduate job is going to demand that you can communicate effectively with colleagues within your team. You’ll also often have to be able to deal with members of the public who will sometimes have challenging (and even unreasonable) expectations. If you can’t meet their demands then you’re going to have to manage expectations effectively. Most volunteering posts also place burdens upon you. If you’re supporting a child with special education needs, the demands of that child may well exceed anything you can deliver. You’re going to have to think fast and be very persuasive if you’re to avoid that tantrum. Is this so different from finding ways to appease the City client who wants something NOW? It isn’t! I’ve done both! You’ll achieve success by clear communication, effective setting of expectations, the provision of evidence of progress towards delivery and probably by ladling out a bit of charm as well. The really good news is that graduate recruiters “get it”. When you have to deal with competency questions at interview they’ll know what you’re talking about and will be giving that section a nice big tick.
Graduates have to be able to multi task, plan and commit.
It’s hard to think of a graduate post which isn’t going to involve a need to multi task and to plan your time effectively. Your skill at this is one of the reasons why you’re able to command a good salary. Spending time during your degree doing things for others means that you have to be that bit more organised with your academic work to make sure that you don’t miss key deadlines. If you agree to a regular volunteering commitment that means what is says on the tin. People will expect you to be there every week. Employers quite like a bit of commitment too! You need to be able to turn up and be on time. They’ll look at you more favourably because they will be able to see that you have a good work ethic, are organised and don’t let people down. That’s another tick!
How about the direct relevance of volunteering?
For some jobs it’s going to be essential. For example it’s hard to get a graduate level job in a charity. These only go to those who are able to demonstrate a really clear commitment to voluntary work and a great understanding of the range of activities in which charities engage. Generally if you want to go down the standard PGCE route to teaching you’re going to have to show that you’ve done quite a bit with children, either in the classroom or in some supervisory or teaching role. If social work is your thing you’ll be able to show your passion and your resilience through volunteering with groups of people likely to be social care users, think end of life care at hospices or consider working with children with special educational needs or with abused women.
And the indirect relevance?
This is going to be most important in helping you get sought after jobs where there is no clear graduate scheme and where the posts go to those who have managed to build a convincing portfolio of experience. If you want to work in international development you might have to roll your sleeves up and work for free for a charity involved in the area. This is one of my favourite job sites for sourcing useful opportunities but you might also like to think about unpaid posts in some of the think tanks, and here’s a useful list. Similarly if you want to be a criminal lawyer you might want to think about working for an organisation like Futures Unlocked where you’d be mentoring prisoners before and after release. This particular charity is having a major effect on reoffending rates and you’d learn skills which might persuade law firms to take you on.