I first became a volunteer when I was doing my GCSEs and contacted a local playgroup charity asking to come in for a few hours per week. My reasons were, on the most part, selfish – I wanted something to put on my currently blank CV and hopefully get myself a part time job. What I wasn’t expecting was to stay with the charity for a five years, sitting on committee meetings, fundraising, organising events and becoming a valued member of the team until I finished school and moved on to the University of York.
By this time my motivation for getting involved in volunteering projects was completely different, I chose to take part in a broad range of opportunities that were available to me with the hope of meeting new people with similar interests. I said yes to as many things as I thought I could fit around my degree, completing a primary school placement with York Students in Schools (YSIS), mentoring year eleven students through the Girls Enrichment Mentoring Scheme, spending nights on shift with inebriated students as a (very sober) Night Safe volunteer, and helping to start a brand new student led group.
Throughout these placements and projects I worked with teachers, business partners, fellow students, the police, MPs and charities to deliver workshops with young people, organise events and launch social media campaigns. In short, if I stripped away all of the people I met and experiences I had from getting involved as a volunteer at York, I really wouldn’t have much to say about my time here apart from lectures and long library sessions.
Whilst the direct impact on organisations and individuals that came out my time volunteering was quite obvious, what didn’t occur to me until the ‘graduate panic’ started to creep up were the skills I had developed almost by accident. When it came to being asked to “give an example of when you’ve worked in a team” (probably included in almost every job application I’ve ever seen), I didn’t struggle to come up with relevant and genuine examples that I could happily expand upon in an interview. I also knew what I was good at and where I could improve, what I liked doing and preferred to avoid – so I wasn’t starting from scratch when it came to deciding what to do next.
I put this into practice in securing a twelve week internship in local government in my second year, using almost exclusively volunteering examples to make my way through three rounds of recruitment. As the number of applicants left in the running started to fall from two hundred, to fifty, to four, to one (me!) I realised the real value my new employers placed on the work I had been doing alongside my degree. I’m now in a graduate role working for the Communities and Volunteering team in Careers, which includes facilitating some of the student projects that I once took part in.
My advice would be that regardless of what your motivations are, volunteer for anything that interests you. Whether you gain work experience, new friends, a reference or a helpful contact, what you can be sure of is you’ll be making a real difference to whoever you are working with and adding so much value to your time at York. If you don’t know where to start, the Careers team are here to help with advice, interview practice, internships, volunteering projects and lots more – so make sure you come in and say hello!