Volunteering / work placements for no money – Yes or No?
We look at the pros and cons
If you haven’t worked in a while, or you know you need to develop more skills for your CV, you may be considering doing some volunteer work, or taking on a work placement for experience but no pay. You may even be feeling pressurised to do some.
Your automatic response to the concept of work for no money may be … No! … it’s slave labour … it’s immoral … we shouldn’t encourage employers think they can just exploit free labour and lay paid people off … all there is is boring and irrelevant dead end work with no future and no real skills to learn … I’m already used to self discipline, getting up – I did it for years and I don’t need to practice … I may lose my benefits if I volunteer …
It’s important to consider the pros as well as the cons, as there may be benefits that you hadn’t considered.
Skills and experience
Trying a new role in a new field can be a revelation – you may find you actually like it and have an aptitude for it.
You’ll stand a better chance of building up the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be employable if you’re spending time in a work environment than if you’re just hanging round waiting for the phone to ring. If there’s any free training or qualifications going – grab that chance.
You’ll have the opportunity to develop your business mind set – getting up, travelling and self presentation habits may not be quite there yet, especially if you’re new to working, and this gives you the chance to develop them in a low key environment.
Once you’ve gained some experience, you can polish up your CV with more up to date material and new transferable skills to make you more employable.
If you’ve suffered knocks such as redundancy or sickness, or have never been offered a job before, your confidence can be low.
If it’s been a while, the chance to use those skills again, brushing the rust off and reminding yourself what you can do and what you might be capable of can only help. Proving to yourself first of all that you can do it is sometimes half the battle.
Feeling employable is a great boost, and when you feel confident, you start to project confidence, and this can help inspire an employer’s confidence in you.
You may find that as a result of a placement you’re now able to do things you couldn’t do before – developing a range of sellable skills such as handling money and goods, customer service, dealing with people and situations, taking responsibility and being trusted can help you widen your horizons.
You may find you enjoy contributing to the work of a team and achieving shared goals, and being a team player is highly valued.
Think strategically, beyond the instant “no.” A work placement may give you the chance to show the employer what you can do, as an extended interview. As a result you may be offered paid work – some organisations only recruit from their volunteer pool first. So that unpaid stint could possibly get you engaged in a new job.
Many organisations offer the chance of tasks that are themselves interesting – working at a theatre, a wildlife reserve, a charity you believe in, for example. The feel-good factor can be a great boost to your mood and positivity – again, all personal qualities an employer would value.
Always remember that you’re more attractive to a prospective employer if you’re actively engaged than if you aren’t, even if you aren’t being paid. Demonstrating the work ethic, showing you would rather be busy and interested than just sitting around, means a lot to employers.
Networking is in itself a vital business skill today. A placement can be used as a big networking opportunity, opening doors and helping you to build your contacts in a new field that you may want to pursue.
You might develop relationships with mentors, role models and coaches who can help you develop.
And of course, the all important Reference – it’s a great way to secure an up to date reference for your CV.
So – work for no money, or say no? It’s all under scrutiny at the moment. The government website www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-work-experience-and-internships looks in more detail at whether volunteers who are being asked to do particular tasks at particular times are entitled to minimum wage. PH
Image credit: Victor1588 on Flickr creative commons
Related: How-to: Employability At Interviews