I’ve volunteered abroad in three continents and I noticed than probably two or three in every volunteer group were making far more of it for their future careers than the rest of us were. While most of us were just following the daily schedule and letting our hair down in the evenings, there were some individuals who had put a lot more thought into things and probably gained more back home because of it, sliding effortlessly into jobs and hard-to-get internships because of what they got up to abroad.
Now that my volunteering days are possibly behind me, while I try to climb a career ladder I thought I would share some tips for anyone else who would like to get some relevant work experience on their CV. It is now harder than ever to get a little internship in your dream job, there are certainly some loopholes in the volunteering sector that you can take advantage of if you plan carefully.
Volunteering abroad is possibly the easiest way to gain skills and experience on your CV with a verifiable reference at the end of it.
Choose a Suitable Project
Previous experience is not required for most volunteering making it the perfect way to gain industry skills that you’re interested in. You don’t have to be a veterinary student to work with animals abroad, a large sanctuary will be busy with volunteers and tourists and many have an office needing administrative help. It is always worth asking to find out if there are options available that aren’t currently being advertised, phone an organisation or if you’re going direct pop an email to a charity abroad.
Whilst volunteering in Ghana I met biomedicine graduates who were volunteering in the local hospital to gain experience before applying for their medicine degrees, even though these roles weren’t advertised they enquired on the off chance.
Stay for Long Enough
I’ve seen people demand to build a classroom to completion, teach and run their own evening workshops…all three…in one week! Be sensible, we know at home it takes a few weeks to settle into a new job, why would it be any different abroad? If you are planning to organise multiple projects you may want to stay longer to see them through to completion, if you are only there for a week other volunteers may have to take over once you leave. There are some things that don’t take too long, which short stay volunteers can easily achieve. For example, me and some volunteers organised a fun sports day inside 4 days, but it was a group effort and was a lot of running around…before the event!
For self-confident and independent people, it is too easy to want to get on with things by yourself, often it’s less hassle and less fuss to have to cooperate with others. Any glance at programmes like The Apprentice demonstrate how difficult groups can be to work with co-operatively. BUT employers value experience of teamwork, you don’t often find job roles where employees work in isolation. Find a project where you will be working as a team towards a common goal or find a project which offers an opportunity to organise something with others, for example a sports day, training session or building project.
Data and Results!
Everyone wants to see proof and results these days.
Keep a record or make a note of how you can show or prove something was beneficial, ideally with numbers and data. For example, as strong way of showing what your efforts achieved is with a comparison of before and after. If quantitative data is not readily available, grab some quotes or do an oral survey.
Create a portfolio of your volunteer work ready to take along with to any interview. A good portfolio can demonstrate the skills an employer wants to see. The portfolio is a great place to include the facts and figures you collected whilst volunteering, to demonstrate data handling, functional math skills and commercial awareness where possible.
It is likely other interviewees will only take along their CV, if that. A portfolio will help you stand out especially if what you did abroad matches in any way the job you’re applying for. Demonstrating the skills shown in the portfolio, as well as initiative and presentation skills. Place the portfolio on the table at the start of the interview, this will remind you to mention it at a suitable moment or prompt your interviewer to ask about it.
Footage of your volunteering can show you performing the desired skills your future employer would like to see.
It is common for volunteer to return home and realise they only have footage of their free time joking around at the weekend doing touristy activities and none of volunteering.
Ask another volunteer to video you demonstrating skills an employer would want to see. Include shots of you demonstrating teamwork, delivering a speech and organising others. You can include this video on a digital form of your CV and email it along with a PDF version of your portfolio after each interview, whilst thanking the interviewer for their time.