The Value of Volunteering and Part-time Work

By Agnieszka Mozdzyn

With over 700,000 students[1] graduating each year in the UK, competition for graduate-level jobs can be particularly fierce – and it can be hard to stand out from everyone else. Doing some volunteering or having a part-time job can be the solution – and although it involves you giving up some of your time, it can prove a worthwhile investment in your future.

Whilst studying Sociology with Social Psychology at the University of York, I made the most of volunteer opportunities open to me: I volunteered for the Festival of Ideas and helped to organize an exhibition on Health & Social Care within this role.  It was a fantastic opportunity for me to gain useful teamworking skills, I also grew in self-confidence and developed my public speaking abilities and research skills. I also took part in the excellent York Consultancy Community, where you can take on a role as a professional business consultant and have a real-life impact on development of local businesses and start-ups.  It was incredibly rewarding and developed my commercial awareness and communication skills.  I could draw on these experiences when applying for roles after graduation, and they went a long way towards helping me with examples of my transferable skills at interview.

 There are so many other advantages to volunteering and part-time jobs alongside your studies:

  • The chance to develop and provide evidence of your softer skills, such as team-working, communication, problem-solving and customer service. Although you will be developing some of these skills from your studies, so will everyone else, so volunteering or work experience can help you stand out.
  • Develop your self-confidence and help you to gain invaluable work experience.
  • Enables you to test out different types of work and job roles. This can help you answer that tricky interview question about why you want to pursue a particular type of work – and is especially useful for the high number of graduate-entry roles, which ask for a degree in any discipline.
  • To show a potential employer that you have made an informed decision about your next step – and have some knowledge about the type of work you want to do – so you are less likely to want to change jobs as the work was ‘not as you expected it to be.’
  • To demonstrate workplace experience, commercial awareness, and professional competence. This is particularly important if you have little or no other work experience.
  • Provide evidence of your ability to work with others and manage yourself, including juggling several priorities (study, work, and/or volunteering and social activities) and managing your time effectively.
  • Develop your network of professional contacts and you may be able to obtain a reference from this source. Colleagues and managers may also offer you ongoing support as you move into the next stage of your career.

Volunteering can also provide the chance to support a cause or event which interests you and may give you a higher level of responsibility or leadership that you might have been offered in a paid student job, so can be particularly good to develop and evidence your leadership skills and potential for management, which is vital for many graduate jobs.

According to the Community Life Survey[2] of 2020-2021, 68% of adults – approximately 28 million people – volunteered in some way in the preceding 12 months. Volunteering may be directly related to your studies or career plans, though, according to a study by Volunteering UK,[3]  68.5% of students who volunteered, were volunteering in activities which were not related to studies or future career plans. Volunteering can highlight your versatility and show a different side to your personality, for example, if you volunteer in the arts, whilst pursuing a STEM degree.

If you need the extra income, part-work can build the skills and experience employers are looking for too. Reach out to the University Careers Service for advice on looking for work experience and internships. Most internships and work placements are offered during the summer vacation, though may be advertised several months in advance of the start-date.  So, what are you waiting for, the time to start looking is now. 

Useful Links

The author of this feature, Agnieszka Mozdzyn, graduated from the University of York in 2021 and works as a Careers Adviser delivering the National Careers Service in Yorkshire. 

[1] Graduate Outcomes Data Summary, HESA

[2] Community Life Survey 2020-2021, Dept for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

[3] Volunteers – a National Profile, Volunteering UK