Gaining work experience or a volunteering engagement is a valuable opportunity to spend time with a specific employer, job or industry, either observing others perform a job, performing a role yourself, or a combination of both. Work experience or voluntary work can present numerous benefits:
- Establish, develop or improve employability skills;
- Gain job/industry experience;
- Network and form valuable relationships, and;
- Decide whether a (specific) job or industry is a good fit for you and help shape your future career plans.
Here are six tips for making the most of your work experience or voluntary opportunity.
Frame of Mind.
It is vitally important to treat your experiences as a job—it is a workplace, a legitimate business, and not any less important or valuable than a paid job (if it is not a paid position). Despite the common misperception, voluntary or unpaid engagements are not perceived any less important by employers—imagine the dedication and initiative one must have to commit to work and perform a job, especially unpaid? Equally as important, ensure you can (and do) commit to days, times or periods of engagement required, just as you would a paid position with an employer. Be respectful, and if you are aware of certain situations that need flexibility (e.g. pre-planned holidays, school holidays, etc.), be upfront and honest about them.
The vast majority of work experience/voluntary roles are not advertised, so be proactive. Network, and be selective by targeting your preferred employer, organisation or industry which best aligns with your future career aspirations. Take this opportunity to taste test the career or industry you would like to pursue—there’s little point in gaining experience in mining if your goal is to enter aged care or work as an administrator if ideally wish to pursue landscaping!
Engage with your targeted organisation on social media—be an ambassador by sharing content and contributing to conversations. Make sure your online profiles reflect the values and level of professionalism expected by your potential employers; make your social media profiles private, behave appropriately and select tasteful profile pictures.
Be interesting. When you approach your targeted organisations (unless specifically instructed to) don’t merely leave a resume and run out the door. Be a little different and curate a portfolio of work, submit a work sample or mock-up, and show your potential host some initiative, creativity and some effort that will set you apart from the rest.
Be A Great Student
Seize the opportunity to learn, learn, learn! This experience may very well pave the way to the career or job you desire, so make the most of it. Volunteer to assist with or take on special projects, events, tasks. Ask for feedback, and importantly, take it on board. Show your host that you are an enthusiastic learner and team contributor. Should an opportunity arise, you want to be the first person considered, and in any case, the aim is to make the most of the opportunity afforded to you, and draw as much as you can so you can leverage it to secure and perform well in other jobs.
Work experience and volunteering are not without considerable investment on the part of the employer/hosting organisation. So how do you give back? Where you can, and the opportunity is provided to, contribute beyond your job description. See an improvement that could be made? Speak up! Have an innovative idea? Share it! Not only will being a contributor broaden your range of experiences and skills gained, but it will also put you in good stead for future paid employment (either with the organisation or through a positive reference to secure work elsewhere), demonstrating your value and capabilities beyond your day-to-day tasks.
Say Thank You and Reflect
After your work experience or volunteering engagement has finished, formally thank the organisation for the opportunity and ask for a reference—both written or as a contact person. This will be exceptionally beneficial when applying for a paid role and will provide evidence of your skills and experience.
Further to this, take time to reflect on what you have gained and achieved during your experience:
- What skills have I used or learned?
- What tasks or projects did I contribute to?
- What did I enjoy most/find interesting about the role, and what did I enjoy least?
- What did you enjoy most about the organisation and industry? Does it fit with my values?
- Did I enjoy the work?
- What does this mean for my future career?