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Back shot of volunteer in charity shop

Voluntary work

Students and graduates can find many ways of getting involved in voluntary work.

There are many different ways of getting involved in voluntary work, from helping out at the local primary school to befriending someone who has mental health difficulties. Organisations in the community really value the help given to them by students.

Voluntary work ranges from administration and campaigning to practical support, advice and counselling. There are opportunities for short and long-term involvement. Provided that you can show reliability, commitment, enthusiasm, patience and flexibility, you could be involved in very interesting projects alongside professionals who will provide you with support and may act as referees when you apply for employment.

Many people shy away from volunteering as, “working for nothing” is seen as a waste of time. This may be true if you are older and have bills to pay but at a young age in secondary school and even in college, volunteering can have a real benefit to your career. Remember that you’re not working for nothing. You’re not getting paid now in monetary terms, but this experience will help you to get the career you want further down the line.

Where do I start?

You should have questions too: ask for written information about the charity’s programmes, finances and their credentials. Make certain you are comfortable with their fundraising methods and policies on expenditure of funds.

If you wish to develop a particular skill, look for a charity or volunteer group with a job profile that suits your aims and will incorporate supervision or appraisal sessions to assess your development.

Research the causes that are important to you – look at groups or organisations that work with issues you feel strongly about. Consider the skills you have to offer – many voluntary organisations will try to match your skills and knowledge to their needs. Be aware you may have to attend an interview or fill out an application form. Vetting procedures may be undertaken in the interests of children and ‘at risk’ populations, which the organisation has a legal responsibility to consider.

Benefits of voluntary work

  • Polish up on your skills

We all have abilities which we feel confident in but there are also areas all of us can work on. Going into a professional role with some of these skills raw and unpolished can be daunting. By volunteering you can refine these skills in a relaxed and stress-free environment. If you feel as though your people skills could use some work, volunteering at a charity shop or even at your local football club can be a great way to improve on this skill. Getting out of your comfort zone is vital and you will be surprised how well you can thrive in unfamiliar environments.

  • Networking and references

Volunteering is a great way to meet people who might be in a position to help you in the future. By offering to volunteer you are already showing the person in charge that you have self-drive and are determined to improve as a person. By working hard and contributing to the business/club, you may meet someone who you can turn to for advice once your career starts or you may even be able to use them as a reference.

  • Good for you, not just your career

Volunteering can be a great way to grow as a person. It can be extremely rewarding and help to foster a feeling of positivity and happiness. Although, “growing as a person” can be a cliché, the majority of graduates start their career while still in their early 20’s and are still discovering what type of person they are and ultimately the kind of person they want to be. By volunteering for a charity, you can gain a new perspective on life and see things through a different lens. This can help when you feel work is getting too stressful or when you’re approaching a busy time of year. Recalling your volunteering experience can help you to navigate these waters with a calm and ease you might not otherwise of had.

  • Fill in the gaps

Having gaps in your CV can lead to employers asking questions and wondering what you were doing in that time. If you are struggling to find a part-time job while at college, then volunteering is an option worth pursuing. It shows that you have drive and are determined to work hard. If you are volunteering it is also likely that wherever you undertake this, they will work around your free-time rather than if you were working part-time in retail for example.

  • Explore a career

Choosing a career is one of the most important decision you will make. You need to put a lot of time and thought into this choice and volunteering can aid you in making the right choice. Volunteering in your chosen industry is a great way to dip your toe in the water and see if the career is right for you. You can get creative with your choices here as well. If you are interested in a career in finance, you could volunteer to be a part of your local sports team’s treasury and assist with the finances of the club. This will give you vital experience and will also help you to make an informed decision.

Volunteering abroad

Working overseas gives you the chance to demonstrate skills like adaptability, resilience and independence. Always check with the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Northern Ireland when going overseas to be sure your destination is considered safe.

You will find specialist organisations set up to provide support, training and information. They act as a one-stop shop for voluntary agencies and maintain a database of current opportunities. They also provide training for volunteers, which can lead to recognised qualifications.