Why graduate volunteering could be the best thing for your career

Why graduate volunteering could be the best thing for your career

Been turned down for a job because of lack of experience? But how can you get experience without a job? Volunteering might just be the answer and we're here to catch you up on all you need to know.

Volunteering is great. If you don’t believe us, then you could ask the author. Since researching this article, Matt now spends his Saturday mornings stroking homeless cats.

If you’d like to gain some new skills or broaden your network (or just pet some kitties), then volunteering could be for you. In this article we’ll show you how to find the best volunteer roles, and we’ll look at what you’ve been missing by not doing it.

Wait, working for free? That sounds kind of stupid …

It goes without saying that salaries are fairly important to most people. Without them we couldn’t afford to eat, pay our rent, or use the internet to look at memes. So why would you waste time volunteering?

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that many people in the UK don’t enjoy their job. Hey, that’s why it’s called ‘work’, right? Nobody’s so motivated that they’re doing it for free.

Ever feel like life is passing you by?

Volunteering is different. Actually, if you’re feeling burned out by your 9-5, then a volunteer role can be a great way to counteract that.

For some people this can be as simple as varying the tasks they carry out week to week. For others, it’s a matter of waking up with a smile on their face on the odd morning. For people with illnesses like Depression, volunteering could be nothing short of life-changing. Most types of volunteering have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.

Volunteering is a great way to rediscover something that many of us have forgotten – the joy of work. Forget the tiredness and demotivation that come with the average 9-5. Volunteers are there for the love of it. Energy and passion abounds.

It could even help you to live longer.

Volunteering can also make a difference to the lives of people who are unemployed. First, it helps to counteract many of the negative feelings that not being able to find a job can produce. Second, it’s a great way to add new skills to your CV – and could even lead to a full-time job.

How to get a job with no experience

This is so far beyond a cliche that it’s untrue. It’s a classic catch-22.

You want a job and employers want experienced candidates. The trouble is that you don’t have any experience. Nobody seems to offer any training.

Sure, you could do an unpaid internship – but how would you afford to live?

So how do you get ahead in the world with the odds stacked against you?

You could carry on applying for those jobs. But after so many rejections, your confidence might be wearing thin. Self-doubt won’t help you if you do manage to score an interview.

Wouldn’t you rather spend time around passionate people?

So why not try another approach? Get yourself a basic day job to pay the rent. The type where you don’t need any experience. In the meantime you can gain experience with a volunteer role.

For most jobs you can think of, there’s a volunteer role that would allow you to gain relevant experience. That’s not to mention all the transferable skills you would gain, or the networking you could do. Then there’s the fact that your chosen organisation might come up with a full-time job opening and hire you.

As an example, we took a quick look at a local volunteering site and checked out a few roles that needed filling. We were quite surprised at the variety of roles on offer. You could gain everything from legal, to event management and environmental experience:

There’s more to volunteering than just working in a charity shop (although that’s still a very worthy role!)

This plan actually works very well. Because many nonprofits are desperate for volunteers, they really tend to appreciate your help. This means that they will often allow for a degree of flexibility in your hours.  

But experience isn’t the only thing you could gain from a voluntary position …

What do employers actually think about voluntary work?

When it comes to hiring people who volunteer, the figures are clear.  Employers love to do it.

73% of UK businesses say they would prefer to hire someone with voluntary experience. That’s almost three quarters!

Could volunteering be the best way to find yourself a job?

To clarify why this might be, we spoke to HR consultant Barry Flack. Barry was positive about voluntary experience among candidates. With this said, he was quick to point out a major limitation with its use as a primary hiring factor. He said that:

“I think voluntary experience is a valuable insight to the traits and motivations of an individual. I think it can uncover some conclusions, but we need to be careful that we aren’t overly biased when factoring it in. Volunteering may be beyond the reach of certain people (i.e. carers, busy parents, etc.).”

This shows that voluntary experience is generally a good thing to have on your CV – but that it isn’t a magic bullet. There are good reasons why many people don’t have time to volunteer. The best employers won’t discount these people. Any hiring decision should be made based on a candidate’s expertise and chance that they will do a good job.

How do you find a volunteering job?

For most people nowadays, finding a job isn’t that easy. That’s why recruitment agencies are really useful for graduates.

A great thing about volunteer jobs is that they’re generally easy to find. Most people aren’t that interested in doing anything for free, so positions lie vacant.

If you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can see the benefits in volunteering. There are enough of them, after all.

So where are the best places to go to find a volunteer role?

Well the obvious one is if there’s a particular organisation that interests you. Get yourself over to their website – or even better, their local HQ – and see what’s going on. You may well get a surprise.

There’s more than one type of wealth in the world …

But don’t worry if you want to look more generally, or happen to turn up a blank with your favoured cause. You may still be in luck. Websites like the NCVO and Do-it make it easy to browse volunteer roles in your locality. The government also has a page where you can find volunteering organisations.

In fact, a simple Google search for ‘volunteering’ is also likely to turn up some local sites. Do remember to check an organisation’s credentials before giving away any personal details, though.

Volunteering can mean you find yourself doing something you’d never even considered before. Matt considered himself to be more of a dog person until he started volunteering at the Cats’ Home. Recently though, he adopted a cat from ‘work’, because he couldn’t bear to live without him. Matt and Caspar are overjoyed to live together, and have no plans to be parted ever again.

See what we mean? What shape is the hole in your heart?

What is microvolunteering?

Nothing grab you on your local volunteering sites? Or actually don’t have the time? Well, not to worry, because you can still help out.

Allow us to introduce you to a (very) little thing called microvolunteering. Microvolunteering helps you to make the world a better place, one tiny action at a time. It’s done on your terms and can be as flexible as you are. You can even volunteer from home if you want.

Microvolunteering often doesn’t take any real effort or commitment at all. You can do anything that benefits your chosen cause.

What does your room look like?

It could be as simple as installing software on your computer. Stanford University’s Folding@home project uses distributed computing to solve complex problems. Problems like cancer. And you could help with that. It’s not complicated, either.

Or you could put a little more effort in and write a letter of support to a sick child. You could use the camera on your smartphone to assist visually-impaired people. You could help to classify galaxies.

All these things allow you to make a difference on a flexible basis. Most of the time, if you decide you want to stop, then there’s no awkwardness, either. You can just stop.  Microvolunteering is perfect for anyone who’s unsure how much they can commit.

Want to travel? Why not volunteer abroad?

Everyone likes to mix business and pleasure – so why not do it in style? By volunteering abroad, you get to see the world while building your CV and gaining new skills.

There are many ways to do this and some of them might surprise you.

The classic way to volunteer abroad would be to help a charity in a developing nation. You could be building schools, or digging wells; it’s all great work.

But there’s more than one way to make a difference in the big wide world. You could work in education, care, or conservation.

Often you’ll be responsible for supporting yourself while abroad. Roles do exist where this isn’t the case, though, so it’s worth having a good look before you commit.

There are many different sources where you can find voluntary roles overseas. A lot of these are location-based. Check out Volunteer AfricaVolunteer South America, or Volunteer Latin America, for instance. There are also generalist sites, like the UN International Service, or Transitions Abroad. Some are also interest-based – Sporting Opportunities for instance.

Although not volunteering, there are also many ways you can get paid to develop skills abroad. Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is a classic example. You could also work in snow sport or watersports roles.

If there’s something you want to change about your life, change it.

Convinced yet? Reasons to volunteer

Hopefully this article has allowed you to consider volunteering in a new light. The important thing to remember is that it works both ways. You’ll be doing a noble thing by volunteering, but you will also reap the benefits in many ways.

We’ve shown you that volunteering can:

  • Help with your employment prospects. This is especially true in oversubscribed niches like animal care or the arts.
  • Improve your health – both mental and physical.
  • Help you to make friends and enlarge your network.
  • Cause you to discover interests that you never knew you had.
  • Teach you new skills, or help you to develop ones you already had.

So as you can see, volunteering could actually improve your life quite a lot. As the Dalai Lama put it: “the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others”. In other words, you’ll gain quite a lot working to help other people, and there should be no guilt in that.

And for many people, this all comes on top of the biggest benefit of all – making a difference. How many people can go to sleep at night knowing that they made the world a better place? Well, if you volunteer, this benefit becomes available to you straight away. And take it from us – it feels pretty good.

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