Today’s job market is becoming more and more competitive. According to The Guardian (6 July, 2010), the number of applications for graduate jobs rose to 68.8 per vacancy in 2010. This number would have only increased in the current times of austerity. Moreover, with university tuition fees on the rise, young people need to think creatively about how they can differentiate themselves from other job seekers.
Employers look for a range of skills from potential candidates. From soft skills such as problem solving and team work to more job-specific technical skills; and of course experience. Employers are unlikely to give you a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without getting a job. It’s a real Catch 22. So what do you do?
Enrolling in an internship is a fantastic way to gain practical experience. However these are extremely difficult to obtain, especially in the UK. Why not go travelling? Sure, you will improve your time & financial management skills, become more independent and develop some useful inter-personal skills. But is that enough these days? As an international volunteer you can combine travel with real life work experience.
Of course the main reason you should volunteer is to help make a positive difference to communities in developing countries. But in doing this good work you also vastly improve your employability. Here are just some of the ways volunteering abroad can help your future career prospects:
One of the most exciting and daunting things about volunteering overseas is the variety of people you will encounter on a daily basis. You will work alongside local people and international volunteers who may come from very different backgrounds to your own. How you navigate such social situations will be an experience that will undoubtedly equip you for the workplace.
Building understanding and effective working relationships across cultural and language barriers is a testing task but one you will need to master in order to achieve your goals. In addition you will need to get your views across, diplomatically, to people who may hold different views to you. Through your experiences as a volunteer, you will gain such qualities that will serve you well in later life.
I believe that ‘worldliness’ is one of the most important skills that volunteers develop. We have entered a more globalised world and we work within an international marketplace. As a volunteer in a foreign country you become part of the local community. You begin to witness the daily challenges the local people face and understand the social structures. This cultural sensitivity and global perspective is an extremely attractive attribute to potential employers, particular in today’s multicultural society. This adaptability will put you in good stead for international opportunities and for roles that involve international client relations.
Volunteering abroad is a challenge. Whilst you’re out there things will inevitably go wrong. You might be an English Teaching Assistant in Cambodia and the local teacher doesn’t show up for class. It is up to you to lead the class with the little resources available to you. However, such examples of your resilience will communicate to an employer how you can think laterally, problem solve and deliver results under challenging situations.
In addition, you may not always have a clear set role set out for you. You will have to use your initiative to assess how your skills can be utilised and apply them accordingly. You can relate this experience to your job search. As a candidate for a job it is your responsibility to outline how you can add value to the workplace.
One of the most important points that you learn through volunteering abroad is a greater understanding of yourself. You will be placed out of your comfort zone, in a completely different culture and surrounded by unfamiliar people. You will face challenges and encounter situations that you wouldn’t at home. These experiences will help you understand your boundaries. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What tasks did you succeed in more than others? This knowledge will help you determine your career goals
Volunteering abroad is a fantastic way to develop key skills and gain real life work experience that can be carried through to the work place. It is important that you choose your volunteer placement carefully. Think of how it relates to your chosen career path and what skills you have that can be applied to the project. It is your chance to show your potential. Go that extra mile, maximise your experience and your contribution to the local community!
Written by Gad Mimran Co-Founder of Plan My Gap Year
Plan My Gap Year offer a range of affordable structured volunteer and internship programmes across Asia. Their projects range from Teaching Buddhist Monks in Thailand to Medical programmes in India. Visit www.planmygapyear.co.uk for more information.