Building your CV with volunteering

Published: 25 Feb 2014 By Sam Wright

If you’re a student, you’re probably used to hearing that volunteer work ‘looks good on your CV’. It’s also likely that you haven't been told much more than that, and are wondering how helping out in your local charity shop is going to make you more employable.

There’s more to volunteering than that, though. While it’s true that charity work can really boost your CV and increase your chances of securing a good job once you graduate, it’s also important that you choose something relevant to the career you’d like. Here’s how to go about it:

Identify your weaknesses

Speaking with a careers adviser can help you identify the weak areas of your CV, but it’s not too difficult to find them yourself. For example, a job in advertising may require you to pitch things to clients — and, if you have no experience with public speaking, that’s going to set you back. Charity work that requires you to be professional and persuasive — like street fundraising — could really help you secure your dream job. Volunteering can help you grow as a person, and make you realise that you’re far more capable than you thought.

Focus on the role, not the charity

Medical research might not be remotely relevant to your career of choice, but office experience could be — and if Breakthrough Breast Cancer or Meningitis Now can offer you that, go for it. Instead of worrying about whether or not the charity is appropriate, focus on what your role would be as a volunteer.

Use charity work to discover your strengths

If your graduation is fast approaching and you still don’t know what you want to do with your life, charity work can be a fantastic way to find out. Pick something you’ve always been interested in, or something that you think you might enjoy, or be good at — and, even if it doesn’t work out, you’ve still gained valuable experience and confidence that will make your CV stand out.

Charity work can be particularly beneficial if you decided mid-way through your course that you’re doing the wrong degree, as it can open up completely new avenues for you to explore. If you feel the need for a drastic change, volunteering abroad is an option, although travel can be expensive. Working for a charity in Europe is a good compromise if money is an issue — with a railcard, travel costs are negligible.

Stop worrying about paid work

Unless you really have to, don’t waste your university summers working for minimum wage in retail or hospitality. It might be nice to have a little extra money to spend, but it won’t do much for your career prospects. Charity work can offer you so much more in the long run — and if you volunteer abroad, you don’t have to sacrifice a summer holiday, either. Some people believe that charity work is all about giving, and assume that they’ll receive nothing in return. The truth, however, is that volunteering can provide you with transferable skills, work opportunities and life experience — and that’s far more valuable than the six pounds an hour you’d earn as a shop assistant.

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