Unpaid experience is now a must for those interested in working for charities

Fancy doing your bit for the greater good of mankind, and letting those mercenary types head for the rat race and wallow in their decadent, me-first lifestyles?

Fancy doing your bit for the greater good of mankind, and letting those mercenary types head for the rat race and wallow in their decadent, me-first lifestyles?

You might think that landing a job will be easier if you follow your altruistic tendencies. Not so! Even junior level vacancies with charities can attract hundreds of applicants, many with excellent qualifications. Before you get a paid job with the organisation close to your heart, you will probably have to do some unpaid work as a volunteer.

"What many past graduates have found is of invaluable worth to their application is having been a volunteer," says Lyndsay Boswell, Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising. "Hollow words, however well meant, at an interview, which aren't backed up by proof of action, won't get you far."

At Barnardo's, for example, where every advertised job attracts a large response, recruitment managers look for evidence of practical skills gained from voluntary work. Head of Communications, Diana Green, who herself worked on Mencap summer play schemes between school and university, says relevant experience will always help an application work its way to the top of a pile.

"We always need extra voluntary help in the summer and our website's 'Work With Us' section details all the different ways you can get involved."

Ailith Roberts, now a Young Carers' Advisor at a Barnardo's project in Leeds, got her job as a result of doing voluntary work with children and teenagers, for the NSPCC and Barnardo's. "When I left college, I didn't have any direct experience working with young people. The grounding I got from the voluntary work built my confidence and gave me the skills I needed to get a permanent job."

At the British Red Cross, too, volunteering is seen as a key item on any applicant's CV. "Volunteer experience would certainly stand a candidate in good stead," explains Rosanna Moses, head of personnel. "It shows initiative, enthusiasm, and a commitment to the values of the sector."

The Red Cross's 2,800 staff employees are helped in their work by 35,000 volunteers, so opportunities are numerous.

In addition to working in one of the organisation's high street shops or collecting money on an appeal day, examples include being a Fire Victim Support worker, or help people getting over illnesses or operations in the Home from Hospital service.

Jon Gater, 21, who's just finished an education degree at Canterbury Christ Church University College, is about to start a full-time job as a youth development manager for the Red Cross in the South-east of England, based in Maidstone. He puts his appointment almost exclusively down to the fact that he worked as a Red Cross volunteer for all of his three years at University.

"I started off doing three hours a week in the Canterbury office, and then became a project worker on a scheme helping refugee children. By the end, I was managing projects and helping set up a new scheme in Dover. Doing voluntary work has opened up a whole new world. Lots of people have degrees, but if you do a little bit more by volunteering, you've got much more chance."

Across the charitable sector, volunteer effort is indispensable and needed all over the country - not just at head office locations. So, there are innumerable opportunities out there for you to take that first step. And, in so doing, you'll be satisfying the altruistic impulse that attracted you to "doing your bit" in the first place.