Getting Work Experience By Volunteering

The conundrum facing many university graduates is trying to get a job without having any relevant experience. And of course, how can you have experience when you’ve been in school for the last few years? Well you might be able to, even if it isn’t paid work. You can do this by getting work experience by volunteering.

Most students hope to get some sort of internship, preferably a paid one. But those are not always easy to get, and if you take an unpaid internship you are essentially volunteering anyway. But what we’re talking about here is more informal type arrangements, where you set up volunteer work situations with employers that are relevant to your career major.

You should try to do this as early in the your university term as possible, that way the potential exists to get experience with multiple employers. This will give you an even broader background and more experience and skills to put on your resume when graduation comes and a serious job search begins.

Getting Relevant Experience

Sometimes in applying for a career position after graduation, even a little bit of experience can open doors. That’s where volunteer work can be a big advantage. Even though you weren’t paid for the experience, it still gives you exposure to the industry.

Getting Work Experience By Volunteering
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Sometimes it’s enough just to learn the workflows that are typical in the industry, as well as the jargon that is used. Virtually every industry and career field has its own “language”, and you can pick up some of this just by being around relevant employers. It can also be an opportunity to learn what computer software packages are common in the field. If you know this, it gives you an opportunity to concentrate on learning that software before you begin applying for serious career positions later.

Related: Can’t Find a Paid Internship? Try these Alternatives

Even if the volunteer experience is merely working at the fringe functions of the business, it will still give you kind of exposure to the industry that could put you ahead of other candidates with no experience whatsoever.

Building Relevant Career References

Even though the work you will be doing is unpaid, if you put out a solid effort in your work, it will not go unnoticed. As a result, you may gain some important career references. A department manager, or even seasoned coworkers, could be valuable references after graduation when you’re looking for a career type position.

It’s even possible that some of the people that you’ll be working with in a volunteer work arrangement will be at other employers by the time you graduate. This could open up the possibility of landing a position in their new organization, just on the strength of the reference that you gain from volunteering.

Related: What Is Interning and Should I Do It? 

That should make a very strong case for taking volunteer work very seriously. Even though the work is unpaid, if you turn in a strong performance, the people who you’re working for and with can’t help but notice your enthusiasm and work ethic. Treat it as a paid work assignment, and you can’t go wrong!

Building For The Next Assignment

Even if a volunteer work situation does not get you the exact experience that you want, it could prove to be the steppingstone for the next assignment that does. Even in the search for a full-time, permanent career type position, you sometimes have to take a few detours in order to get to your ultimate destination. That usually involves taking a less-than-perfect job assignment, primarily for the purpose of getting the type of experience that will move you into a more substantial position.

Treat volunteer work experiences the same way. The less-than-perfect situation you take now could set you up for more significant experience the next time around.

And Sometimes – You Might Even Get Paid For Volunteering

Go into a volunteer work situation, give it your best effort, and if the people you’re working with know that you’re serious, you just might get paid!

Many times when employers take on volunteers, they expect to get a half-speed effort in return. Prove them wrong. Surprised them – work like the job really means something to you. Do that, and you just might get paid even for volunteer work.

Related: 5 Great Reasons to Student Volunteer 

It may not be anything like a full-time wage, but getting paid something like the equivalent of the bonus isn’t a bad deal either. You came in expecting nothing, and you’re going out with something – that’s a win.

It could go even farther than that. Do the job and the employer might even extend you an offer of employment, such as a part-time job through graduation.

How To Line Up Volunteer Work Experiences

It’s going to take some effort and investigative work on your part in order to find volunteer work situations that are even remotely related to your career major. Here are some suggestions as to where to look:

  • Your school – Check with your school to see if any volunteer opportunities have been offered. Many times these situations are available because other students prefer to pursue paid assignments instead.
  • Craigslist – Depending on your major, you may find a number of unpaid work situations through this source. You may find relevant work situations listed with the phrase “this is an unpaid assignment” – that means you may be the only one who applies for it.
  • Free circulation newspapers – The type of free circulation publications that circulate on university campuses tend to be particularly prone to have volunteer work situations. Just make sure the assignment is what it claims to be.
  • Employer websites – Make a list of employers relevant to your career major, and approach them directly with the offer to work on a voluntary basis. This can be especially productive if the employer is the middle of a busy season and needs extra help.
  • Networking – Just as you would network for a paid work assignment, you can do the same thing with a volunteer job. Join career networks, and let fellow networkers know that you’re interested in a volunteer work assignment.

Volunteering may be an opportunity to gain experience, perspective, important references, and maybe even a paycheck or an ongoing paid assignment. With all that hanging in the balance, you should give it a try.

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