Posted by: calumkirk | January 15, 2014

To volunteer or not to volunteer? There is no question.

So in my last post I mentioned volunteering, what I consider to be the most important factor in finding a career or job. Well, I still stand by that statement and so I thought that I’d expand a little on that idea that, I’m sure tantalised you all last time.
I will however start with a disclaimer. While I have myself volunteered at a number of places and in a variety of roles, my experience is nowhere near exhaustive. I focussed my volunteering to suit my particular aspirations or interests so my suggestions may not be directly suited to you. “Effects may vary” if you will. But still, I hope that you find some use in the following.

So first what are the perks, why is volunteering a good thing? Why spend your valuable time doing something for free?
Primarily, like I said last time, it expands your experience, your contacts, and your C.V. Gaining first hand experience of what your chosen industry will be like, away from the lecture theatre, is essential. You can see how well you’re suited to the role, whether it’s right for you. Or if you’ve had thoughts about another career option you can use a volunteer position to test a career option. I have a friend who changed their entire career direction based on a volunteer position they had. Also, don’t worry if you’ve had no training in this new area. It’s unlikely to be an issue as you are giving your time which is what the company or organization is after in the first place. They will give you what training you need, which adds to your experience and C.V. I volunteered with the North East ambulance service one summer, as a porter of patients for busy ambulance crews. Many of my fellow volunteers were trying to get into a paramedic training programme and knew that this volunteer position would give them vital experience and good references.

So you’re learning new skills and enjoying the position, either in your chosen career or a new one. What else can you do? Talk to people. Talk to people at your placement to find out what extra skills or qualifications you might need to really advance in your career. It’ll also make you a presence in the company. I’ve yet to come across an example of an industry or profession where the term “it’s all about who you know, not what you know” didn’t apply. This can be an infuriating fact but by volunteering, talking to the right people and making yourself more than just a name on a list of candidates, you put yourself at a great advantage. Even if you apply for jobs that aren’t with the company you’re volunteering with, you never know who your colleagues may know and be able to put a word in with.
And yes, sometimes volunteering can lead directly to a paid position, but don’t go in with this as a first priority and definitely not an assumption. You’re willing providing your time for free, so why would they pay you for it? You need to prove that you’re worth the money.

So how do you go about getting such an awesome and fulfilling position? I approached getting a volunteer placement exactly the same way I approached getting a job. I checked volunteer opportunities at places where I was interested in working, and I kept an eye out for general volunteer openings. For the latter I simply Googled volunteer opportunities in Newcastle. A simple tip though possibly slightly pointless in this age, but it should never be underestimated what you can find on the net. For specific places where I wanted to gain experience or get a foot in the door, I set up email alerts. These usually just involved ticking an extra box when setting up alerts for jobs, but occasionally meant setting up an additional, separate, email alert. Worth the extra five minutes of effort, trust me.

An additional bit of effort that you will most likely have to put in, and which may be a surprise, is a C.V. Most positions will also involve an interview of a sort; either over the phone, a five minute meeting or a full on panel of interviewers. This obviously varies with the position you go for but most will definitely require more than just your name and the hours you’re willing to give. The ambulance service volunteer position I mentioned not only involved an interview with two interviewers, but also a full criminal record check. Not surprising as it was a position with NHS involving direct contact with patients. It didn’t require giving any actual health care to the patients, but like I said depending on your volunteer position of choice be prepared to provide more than just your time.
This may seem like a lot of extra effort but it is, ultimately, worth sacrificing the weekend or an afternoon for. It’ll all pay off in the end.

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Responses

  1. Well put Calum. Those looking into volunteering might want to check out our Careers Service page on volunteering http://www.ncl.ac.uk/careers/develop/volunteering/ (we’ve done the Googling for you!) In particular, SCAN, based in the Student’s Union, have loads of opportunities right on your doorstep – http://www.nusu.co.uk/scan/
    Some Newcastle Uni students have even gained academic credit for their voluntary work – which can be an added bonus – http://www.ncl.ac.uk/careers/develop/cdm/voluntary.php.


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