Volunteering experiences can enhance your career

Above :Volunteer teaches Maths at school in Tanzania

Make the best use of your volunteering experiences

There are so many ways that volunteering can help you. Not only will it give you opportunities to learn new skills, meet new people and boost your confidence – it will look great on your CV too! In a competitive job market, even if you have a degree, employers are looking for candidates with hands-on experience in the real world. Volunteering could be the key to opening the door to your dream job!

So you’ve volunteered in Africa. But what can you write on your CV? If you really want that interview, you need to get it right!

As you probably already know from the media, the UK job market is very competitive, especially during an economic recession. You need to be able to stand out from the crowd so that employers notice you! According to The Independent, there are approximately 230,000 young people taking a gap year each year. That means that there are loads of CVs out there with volunteering listed as work experience – and you need to find a way to compete!

At Original Volunteers, we receive lots of applications so we notice trends and styles which could, with a few tweaks, be greatly improved. Here’s an example of a statement on a CV we received this year:
“June 2013, spent the summer in Ghana at one of your projects which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was such an eye-opener and I feel this experience puts me in a great position to fit in with your team.”

So let’s have a look at how the information could be improved to make a much better impact:

  • List the tasks completed and skills gained
  • Include how long you volunteered for (2 weeks or 2 months?)
  • Include the name of the project or exact location in Ghana (was it a school, a children’s home, a community centre?)
  • Be sure to mention both team-working and indendepent thinking- they are both skills which employers value very highly!
  • Once you’ve covered the basics of your volunteering, you can have a think about adding more interesting details to really impress a potential employer!

Can you show that you are a go-getter, a can-doer, an independent thinker?

Employers are looking for reliable but outstanding team-players who will give 100% to each and every working day. They’re looking to be impressed, inspired and enthused by you so make sure you describe what skills you offered or passed on to others. Provide plenty of examples and highlight how you went that extra mile to help someone or improve something – especially if you can relate them to the job you are applying for! What did you do that nobody else did? How did you solve a problem? What did you take responsibility for? Even as part of a team of volunteers, YOU can stand out by doing something different or making more of an effort, especially if you’re passionate about a particular project.

Remember: Don’t be shy about self-promotion but do make sure you include details to back up your facts!

So let’s take consider a revised statement for your CV:

“14th June – 28th June 2013 Volunteered in Ghana through Original Volunteers. Participated on a number of unpaid volunteer projects in Ghana, from building to care work in and around the Lake Volta region.  I self-funded my trip without any support raising £1,200 from summer jobs and online fund-raising (buying and selling second hand clothes on Ebay earned me £358 in only 3 weeks). My personal success in Ghana was spending my first free weekend organising a cataloguing  and ticket system for the toy library at Motopo  which required urgent organisation as was in a muddle and donated toys were going missing. Held a 3 hour handover and training workshop using my own handouts and posters I had made from scratch as the internet lab had no electricity that week. This was entirely unaided as the other volunteers were busy at other projects. I presented the workshop to local women living closest to the library who would oversee things and carry it forward and the volunteer programme staff who would be promoting it to new volunteers to get involved with. Photos of the new system and handover meeting can be found in my blog at (LINK). Have maintained contact with the library since my return and send parcels on a monthly basis.”

This improved version demonstrates a range of skills that employers will be looking for: an excellent communicator, a ‘can-do’ attitude, thinking outside of the box and a well-organised person.

TOP TIP! Remember to write your CV professionally, give relevant examples and ask someone to read your application through to check for errors before you send it!

You can make use of your volunteering to impress future employers but most of all, you need to make it count!

For more helpful advice about using volunteering to boost your CV visit Prospects.