Helen Bostwick, a vice-president at JP Morgan comments:
"Most of the bank’s candidates have attained four grade As at A Level and good degrees, so students should consider what will make them stand out".
This quote could come from any one of the top graduate recruiters, and increasingly from companies not mentioned in 'top 100' recruiter polls.
Companies are increasingly looking for skills and experience that can only be gained beyond the traditional academic university experience. These can be gained in a number of different ways, including formal work experience or internships, part-time or vacation work, and getting involved with university societies. However, another fruitful way of gaining the kinds of experience that employers are looking for is to go for the volunteering option.
Volunteering can be anything from doing ad-hoc voluntary work in your own locality when you are away from university, helping out at local church or school events such as bazaars and jumble sales, or something more organised, such as working with children who have special needs or getting involved with sports camps for young people.
Volunteering can help develop the personal skills that recruiters are looking for, it may also lead to positions of responsibility and a part-time paid position in its own right if you show the commitment, attitude and innovation that the organisation you are with are looking for.
Another way of thinking about the kind of volunteering you might want to do is to tackle it from the point of view of what kind of career you would like to pursue and the kind of company or organisation you would like to work for. So, if you have a career in mind, what kinds of skills are needed for the job role you are interested in? What are the core competencies the company you would like to work for are seeking?
An example: a career in marketing
Start by researching marketing career options, ie, by looking on company websites, or at marketing job roles on Prospects. Here, skills required include interpersonal and team working skills amongst others. You can then start to explore what kind of volunteering experiences might help you to develop or demonstrate these skills. Working in a charity shop for example would enable you to develop both of the above plus other key competencies such as business awareness.
What's in it for me?
- Opportunity to explore new areas of work to ascertain suitability/commitment before making career decisions
- Acquire new skills and enhance your CV
- Necessary pre-course experience (ie. prior to teaching or social work)
- A sense of personal fulfilment
- An opportunity to 'give something back'
- Involvement in the community
The chance to meet new people and form networks
What can I offer?
- Personal qualities – organisations tend to value enthusiasm, new ideas and hard work more than specific skills. People skills like cheerfulness, patience and understanding are most important
- Expertise – particular abilities will always be welcomed. Practical/technical skills are needed on conservation projects whilst communication skills are important in teaching and counselling activities.
- Affinity – support for a cause, concern for a special group or sharing the aims and values of a specific organisation could spur you to volunteer
- Time commitment – you need to think about how much time you can realistically spare. Some projects may only need you intermittently, but others where you are involved in support or teaching will need regular and sustained involvement.
So, what are the benefits of volunteering? Not only will it give a boost to your employability skills, but it will also improve your own confidence in your abilities, give you the chance to meet new people as well as the benefit the organisation you volunteer for and the people it serves. Most importantly however, it will help to make you 'stand out' to graduate recruiters like Helen Bostwick.