Give a little free time to earn some big breaks

Boost your job prospects by contributing some time to a worthy cause, advises Stephen Hoare

Whether you are in the sixth form, at university, or taking a gap year, volunteering is a good way of boosting your CV. The work is often highly motivating and volunteers develop confidence and skills they would not otherwise have acquired.

Rosina St James, 21, has been volunteering since she was 14. Now studying for a degree in government at London School of Economics, she chose her area of study on the basis of her voluntary youth work. “At school I put my name forward to be a member of the youth parliament for Croydon,” she says. “I got elected to represent young people in the borough and we organised things such as a mobile recording studio and a cheerleading team. It was all youth-led.”

By the time she had completed her term as a member of the youth council, St James had attracted the attention of the council’s integrated youth support service. She now works for them part-time.

“I started out as a volunteer but after a year or two I got taken on as a part-timer, researching current provision for young people in the borough and helping put together funding bids. I now get paid five or six hours a week in term time and I work through my long holidays,” says St James.

Employers’ advise including and highlighting all volunteering activities on your CV, as it will boost your job prospects. Cable & Wireless hires 30 to 40 apprentices and around 10 graduates each year. “We look on volunteering and community work as a very positive thing,” says Lisa Anthony-Righton, senior resourcing manager.

“It displays willingness to learn, while volunteering overseas shows exposure to different cultures and social situations and is a sign of flexibility.” She says volunteering is useful in filling any gaps between work and study on a CV and advises that volunteer positions can be listed using a separate heading, or come under activities and personal interests.

Volunteering doesn’t stop the moment you start your first job. Anthony-Righton explains: “A lot of people choose to apply to Cable & Wireless because of our approach to corporate social responsibility. We encourage staff to become mentors to pupils in school and we have set up a partnership with a special needs school in Maidenhead to offer internships and prepare their students, many of whom suffer from Asperger’s syndrome or autism, to work in an office,” she says.

A study by the Institute for Employment Studies, Volunteering: Supporting Transitions, has found young people are using volunteering to develop skills that can inform or enhance their university studies. “Volunteers develop hard skills such as networking and organisation, and soft skills, such as communication and problem solving. With tuition fee rises and unemployment, the consequences of making the wrong choice of study are more extreme than ever. Volunteering also gives young people the chance to try things out before they commit themselves to an area of study,” says Becci Newton, a research fellow at IES.

Several organisations and websites specialise in helping young people find work in a local charity or community project. The Directgov website, for example, lists thousands of volunteer positions and work experience placements. National Citizen Service aims to give 11,000 school children the chance to learn new skills and get involved in community events this summer. The National Young Volunteers Service finds volunteer positions for young people aged 14 to 25. Earlier this year, it ran a campaign, “Big Society’s Big Mouth”, a website to raise awareness among young people and ask them what role they wanted to play in society and what issues matter most to them.

Charlotte Barnes, a campaign assistant at the volunteering charity Vinspired, for 16- to 25-year-olds, experimented with career choices while studying drama and theatre studies at the University of Kent. “I got work experience teaching drama in schools and worked unpaid as a teaching assistant at a primary school before realising teaching wasn’t for me. Then I volunteered in the marketing and press team at a couple of small local theatres and found I loved the work,” she says. Now she helps to run the website, which links students with local opportunities. “We’ve got three apps for Apple, Android and Blackberry, which students can download for free. It has a GPS map and helps you find the nearest volunteering opportunities to where you live.”

Ste Prescott, 20, from Page Moss in Liverpool, is a member of the youth advisory board for Vinspired. He left school at 16 with few qualifications and volunteering helped him get back into education. His passion for the internet led to a two-year BTEC qualification for IT practitioners at St Helens College. Helping to set up the Vinspired website has given him the confidence to start a web design company, Ste Prescott Designs.

It has truly paid off. “I was National Digital Volunteer of the Year sponsored by Toshiba,” says Prescott. “At Vinspired I’m helping to design a volunteering website for Tesco.”

Besides supporting academic applications, volunteering allows young people to try out possible career paths or even set them on a path of study, building confidence and self-esteem and providing them with direction. “Volunteering has given me opportunities that I would not have been able to tap into.

If you don’t volunteer you haven’t got the edge some people have got,” says St James, who believes volunteering has given her networking skills, confidence and a career direction. After her degree, her ambition is to take a law conversion course and apply to work as a barrister in a chambers specialising in human rights cases.

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