There is a way of radically improving your prospects of finding a job and breaking into the career that you want, whilst simultaneously creating a wider social benefit. The answer is volunteering. Speaking from personal experience, volunteering is something that enhances not just your chances of finding a job but also helps to boost confidence, social and leadership skills as well as broadening your horizons.
As a volunteer on CATSS, a youth residential project I learnt skills ranging from managing accounts to dealing with unruly children at 2am. Volunteering led me to where I am now, working on the Student Volunteering Week 2012 campaign, which celebrates and promotes the work of student volunteers.
Putting this into context, Amy Anderson, Support Officer for the Oxford Hub, a student volunteering organisation, says "volunteering has the edge over other skills-boosting opportunities students may have at university as it exposes students to a diverse range of people and allows them to build networks beyond their own peers. The challenges that this diversity might bring about develops resilience and flexibility, soft skills that will be essential as they go out into the working world."
This evidence is not anecdotal; as research has shown that 83% of students who have volunteered feel that it has increased their general employability. 51% of recent graduates under 30 who are in paid work say that volunteering helped them find a job.
Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters argues: "Being able to demonstrate a range of experiences and skills gained, together with the commitment to undertake voluntary work while studying, will impress many employers."
Volunteering is not simply about helping out in charity shops or going off to some far away developing country, although many volunteers are involved in these areas and put in many hours to make a difference to the lives of others.
It is impossible to list the amount of things you can do as a volunteer, and for students many of the things that you might become involved with count as volunteering. For instance getting involved with the students' union or helping to run a sports team all count as volunteering.
Amongst my own friends, volunteering experiences included producing plays, designing a yearbook, running a charity pub quiz night and befriending an older person. You can even volunteer in an area related to your chosen career, for instance Bright One enables people to volunteer in charity communications and PR. The sheer range of things you can do means over 63% of students have formally volunteered since starting university.
The most important thing is that volunteering meets your interests and needs. Finding a placement that fits is important because if you don't it is unlikely that you or those you are helping will benefit from it and you will be less likely to keep it up. Things to bear in mind are that the role should be attractive from the outset, and you should feel properly supported with a person in the organisation to talk with about how things are going. Many roles have developmental opportunities such as training or additional responsibility. Being a student, the time you can give to volunteer may fluctuate depending on course work, exams, and vacations so it is important that the organisation understands your availability and has flexible volunteering opportunities.
A good place to start is a university volunteering service. These are typically based in your students' union or careers service and are able to broker placements with different organisations, help you with any problems, and even help you articulate the value of your volunteering when applying for jobs.
Reflecting on my own time volunteering as a student it is clear that university was the perfect training ground for learning new things, far beyond the academic knowledge covered in my course. It is the formative experience that university provides plus creating a positive social change that makes student volunteering unique, and far more beneficial than any internship.
Follow Oli Gregory on Twitter: www.twitter.com/VolunteeringEng