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Many people get a tremendous buzz out of volunteering. But did you know it can also improve your career prospects? National Careers Service adviser Shona Horan, who specialises in helping people back to work, demonstrates how volunteering can provide a valuable stepping stone in the process.

As an adviser I work in a range of settings offering careers related information, advice and guidance to people from all backgrounds and at all stages in their lives.

Returning to work after an illness, redundancy or years of raising a family can be extremely difficult. Volunteering or an unpaid work placement can offer valuable insight into a new industry and the opportunity to develop contacts and networks for future job seeking.

There are various studies that show that employers would look favourably at someone who had volunteering opportunities highlighted on their CV over someone who hadn’t. Employers really do value the skills, experience and development volunteering can offer an individual.

Many of my clients are returning to the workplace following a custodial sentence. While employers are becoming increasingly open minded, and thanks in part to reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and BITCs Ban the Box initiative, it can still be extremely difficult to secure paid work straight from a prison sentence. Volunteering and unpaid work experience can offer a routine and a reintroduction to the working world. This can be key to building an individuals confidence and ease the transition back in to a paid job.

Develop valuable employability skills

For many young people volunteering is their first experience of work and takes pride of place on a first CV. It is evidence to show an employer or university admissions tutor that they have begun to develop those necessary employability skills required in the workplace in the future – timekeeping, teamwork, diplomacy, negotiation, delegation and a positive attitude to learning new things and contributing to a business.

Students offer your summer holiday time

I strongly encourage young people to offer some time during their school holidays, even if it is only for a few days, to do volunteering or unpaid work experience. This might allow them to find out more about a particular industry they may be considering for their future career. Law, Medicine and Teaching all expect work experience at the application stage for a university course. Plus, volunteering is a way to get a positive reference when they begin looking for their first job. Recent statistics show that students earn £1000 a year more on their salary for each period of work experience they have completed before they graduate, meaning that two students with comparable degrees could have very different starting salaries.

In short, volunteering and unpaid work experience is not only valuable to the recipient (charity, individual or commercial business) but to the individual who adds it to their CV.

Want to find a volunteering opportunity? See our links to local and national volunteering sites or volunteer for Adviza.

This blog was first published in June 2016.

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