Saturday, 8 October 2011

Thing 22 - Volunteering to get experience

Standing out from the crowd
Volunteering in order to get experience is something that I have mixed feelings about in all honesty. I really enjoyed reading Jo's post about how she volunteered after qualifying, and can completely see the benefits of it and how that experience has helped her to get where she is today. However, she mentions that she was able to continue working part time, and use the rest of the time to gain voluntary experience. Alas this was always the huge stumbling block for me personally - I simply could not afford to work anything other than full time, therefore the capacity for voluntary work is reduced to weekends only. Now I realise that lots of people are probably thinking, tough - you will just have to use these two days then! Fair enough if that's your opinion - in theory I would even agree - but in practice, when you are doing a long commute like mine on top of working at least about 2 hours extra a day, the weekend is a godsend - I need it just to try and recover as I have little energy left for anything by this time.

That having been said, I think if you can fit voluntary work experience in somewhere, it is absolutely fantastic and will never go wrong on your CV. It is a really difficult position to be in, when you want a job in a particular field, but you don't have enough  or the right experience - how do you get it, if no one will give you a chance? Sadly it's probably becoming even harder to break into new fields in this climate, as there is so much more competition for every role now. While I now have a decent amount of experience in law libraries, I have virtually no experience in any other library/information field. I volunteered in my college library at uni, and I did some voluntary work at my local library helping out with a children's reading scheme that I absolutely loved, but the latter was while I was working full time AND studying for my MSc, and so I was pretty shattered by the end of it. I would really like to do more in the children's field, because I think this kind of voluntary experience is not only useful in itself, but I believe also shows some commitment to the field you want to get into. 

I realise this is different, BUT the principal is the same - when I was 14 years old I desperately wanted a Saturday job more than anything else, but I lived near a big city so there were no local shops willing to turn a blind eye to the fact I didn't have an NI number! So I had no choice to wait til I was 16 to find paid work...and in the interim, I worked in an Oxfam shop every Saturday in term time, and at least twice a week in the school holidays. It was actually fantastic experience in terms of the retail field I wanted to get a Saturday job in when I was 16, and I even made a very good friend with whom I still keep in contact. When I turned 16 I applied to loads of department stores and I got a weekend job in one 3 weeks after my birthday! So I know this is hardly a professional career, but the principal is the same - they liked the fact that I had gone out there and got some experience in dealing with the public, and it definitely made me a bit more confident once I was actually in a 'proper' shop.

All in all I would definitely say that if you can make it work financially (and sadly this can be a big barrier) - but if you can make it feasible, it's a fantastic way of showing you are committed to breaking into a particular field, and in gaining some solid experience of that field that will actually be useful when it comes to obtaining paid employment in it.

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