With national unemployment rates at 8.3%, today’s college graduates need every possible advantage to land that all-important first job.
While many students will graduate with little or no real world work experience, others will be able to point to their volunteer work to highlight their skill set.
“We know from employers that they value the volunteer experience that students gain in college,” said Kathy Sims, director of the career center at the University of California – Los Angeles.
Service learning courses, which offer students the ability to continue their classroom education in the real world, are expanding nationwide.
The University of Utah, which now boasts 150 service learning courses in 40 departments, encourages its students to participate in the First Lego League project, which teaches science and math to middle school students.
The social networking site LinkedIn added a volunteer section in September 2011 to their website because an overwhelming number of hiring managers consider volunteer work to be legitimate work experience, Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s connection director said.
“We’ve all been in that situation where we don’t have the required experience,” Williams said.
Volunteer positions give students the opportunities to build their skills sets while gaining real on-the-job experience.
“They’re treated like any other employee only they don’t get paid,” Said Nancy Bassinger, assistant director of the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the University of Utah.”
Volunteering also gives college students the ability to work with and develop relationships with veterans in their field.
“By and large most opportunities come through people,” said Williams. “That kind of recommendation can be worth years of tactical experience.”
Some companies value volunteer experience so highly that they will defer a job offer until after the student completes their program, according to Sims.
“It’s a signal that for profit organizations appreciate the maturity and experience that comes with volunteer experience,” Sims said.
After completing a volunteer opportunity students should record the job on their resume and include what they learned from the experience.
Between 2008 and 2010, 26.7% of college students volunteered their time, according to Volunteering in America.
Utah led the nation in volunteer efforts with 866,225 residents volunteering 169.4 million hours of service, according to Volunteering in America. Other states with volunteer rates of more than 40% include Wisconsin, Wyoming and Iowa.
1. Volunteer in an area you’re passionate about.
By doing this, students are more likely to take risks and push themselves to excel. Students wishing to volunteer need to research and find volunteer opportunities that coincide with their field of study.
2. Realize that your time is valuable.
Volunteering can be extremely helpful in students’ efforts to find a job after graduation but to make the most of the volunteer experience it’s important to find an area that you’re interested in.
3. It’s all about relationships.
Do your research and find out if you will have access to celebrities or executives.
4. Prepare for your interview.
Treat your interview with your volunteer organization as if it were a job interview. Do your research and learn as much as you can about your company. Don’t wait for the organization to suggest an idea, be proactive and have an idea about how you can contribute.
5. Maintain a balance.
The best resumes will have a balance between volunteer experience, internships and paid work experience.
“Because you’re not getting money, you need to be gaining experience,” said Williams.
Tips courtesy of Nicole Williams and Kathy Sims.
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