Work experience and how to make the most of it
By Vickie Lee
Bradford University studying a BSc (Hons) in Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
I’m Vickie, 26 years old and an undergrad at Bradford University studying a BSc (Hons) in Health, Wellbeing and Social Care. I volunteer and coordinate events for an organisation who deals with individuals battling drug addiction and alcohol abuse by helping them through their recovery.
Before undertaking any voluntary work or work experience of any kind, write yourself a mock contract with learning outcomes on it. Don’t laugh, I’m being serious. Even if it has nothing to do with your academic studies and you just want the extra hours to boost your CV or help your local community, you still need to set yourself mini goals to achieve while you’re there. Without learning goals and personal challenges and tasks, how will you know you’ve even been successful while volunteering? You won’t, is the simple answer to this. Make notes, but be incredibly careful to maintain confidentiality and keep in line with the Equality Act and the Data Protection Act; this is for both yours and their protection at the end of the day.
This will also help you later on when drafting your CV or cover letters when you apply for more work experience or graduate roles within businesses and organisations as you have evidence of what you have accomplished, gained and completed while there. You must reflect on your work, as without being critical of yourself, you have no scale on which to measure your success or failings. Take time to keep a notepad, diary or just a scrap of paper to jot down ideas, even if they seem irrelevant to you. Record thoughts and feelings each day and keep a track of how they change and by how much. Your mentors will not mind signing something that shows you’ve been attending on a regular basis either, so make sure you ask; it helps you seem keen and thoroughly invested in the work you are doing. Draw up a timesheet which clearly shows when you will be attending. They understand you are a student and your education comes first and will be fine when you tell them you need a Friday off in a few weeks as you have an exam that morning. Just don’t take advantage as they will see right through this. They have had other volunteers in the past and will have more in the future.
Essentially finding work experience is harder than finding paid work if you look at the fields you are going to be working in. One thing organisations HATE and will not tolerate are lazy volunteers. Yes, you are not getting paid, but you have offered to give your time and a commitment to them to help. They need this help you have offered, this is why they asked and you received. Do not throw it back in their faces as references will not be written and you will find it hard to find voluntary work again in the future. They do keep records which they are able to share with other organisations. I have run several campaigns for volunteers while coordinating with a large university and have had students commit and not attend and they ask why they have been removed from the opportunities section of their university. It’s simple; we do not like to be messed around. I don’t get paid for my voluntary work, however, I am fortunate that I am able to claim back expenses for parking as this is not cheap in a city centre for a student. Ask, they might have an expenses policy, but do not appear cheeky as this will be noted. Volunteering is as rewarding as it is fun, so make the most of it, but remain professional as you are considered part of the team. Make efforts, make cups of tea and coffee and check there is enough paper in the printer. It’s not trivial stuff, we all have to do this and if you are seen to be going the extra mile without being asked then you will have a much better time and gain so much more respect from the employer and organisation.