Words by Beth Turnball-Smailes
Finishing uni is a strange feeling, particularly when it’s not exactly a normal year to begin with. You’ve worked so hard for three long, stressful years until one day when you press ‘submit’ on your final assignments and then suddenly you’re not a student anymore! The safety net is suddenly gone and you have absolutely no idea where to start with adult life. Obviously not everyone will have had this experience, but I think a lot more of us can relate to it at the moment. For a few months after graduation, I started to fill the time by doing volunteer work for RNID (formerly Action on Hearing Loss) and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! Here’s just a few reasons why you should consider volunteering too…
You can get some valuable experience for your CV
I’d imagined myself sitting on my sofa, replying to the odd email and doing some small, unimportant tasks now and then. The reality was the exact opposite! On the first day I spent around half the day on Zoom calls to my volunteer manager, who talked me through their software, how to edit the intranet and how their writing and communication planning process worked. I drafted two comms pieces on the first day, getting constant feedback and help! Within a few weeks I could see how much my writing skills had improved thanks to the ongoing feedback; the learning curve was long but in this way it felt like a real job with proper responsibility.
It’s a stress free environment to improve your skills
I didn’t study communication and before RNID I didn’t have any experience writing for anyone at all, let alone a company with 1000 staff members. Volunteering with RNID gave me the chance to learn and develop all of these new skills, without having to do any sort of paid course or training. One of the advantages of volunteer work is that there’s no pressure on you to be amazing at what you’re doing, as there would be if it was a job where you’re paid for your expertise in the specific role. You can learn and adapt along the way – without the constant worry that you’re not matching expectations.
You can take it as an opportunity to try something new
As I mentioned above, you don’t have to be an expert in anything in order to volunteer! It helps if you have a genuine interest, or have maybe tried it once or twice, but having a good attitude and desire to learn is far more important. Volunteering is so flexible, if you aren’t enjoying the work you’re doing then you can try something else too. Trying new things becomes harder as you get older so you’ve got to take the opportunities when you can!
It’ll help you to get back into a working routine
Having a routine and responsibility is key to being productive. One of the reasons that many of us struggle so much after uni is that we’ve lost our structure and find it hard to motivate ourselves for the days or weeks ahead. If you plan in a day or two of volunteer work every week, not only will you have to get up and be prepared on those days but you’ll automatically have to re-organise your priorities for the rest of the week. Having a little less free time will help you to make the most of it. If you do then get a part or full time job it also won’t feel like such a shock to the system!
It’s a chance to learn more about a cause you care about
Now, the most important consideration when you decide to do volunteer work is by far which charity you want to dedicate your time and effort to. Luckily for me this was easy.
Last January I was diagnosed with a condition which has caused severe hearing loss in one ear, which was quite difficult to process at first as I knew nothing about hearing loss or deafness. Volunteering with RNID was an opportunity to learn more about my own condition as well as understand the challenges and discrimination faced by people who are D/deaf or have hearing loss. It really helps to choose a charity who have a cause that you are genuinely interested in as it means you’re much more likely to enjoy it!
Obviously volunteering doesn’t pay the bills and isn’t exactly a long-term option if you’re also searching for full time jobs. But if you have some time to spare it could really boost your skillset and confidence which will go a long way to helping you land that dream job!