Competition in the workforce is tough, and we are having to work harder than ever to differentiate ourselves and attract the attention of recruiters and employers. Increasingly, people are turning to further study to help them stand out, recognising education as a way to be seen in the job market. But have you ever considered volunteering as an additional way to get the experience and edge you’re looking for?
In 2016, Alexa Nguyen completed a Bachelor of Science, but lacked direction and didn’t apply for any roles immediately. This led Alexa back to additional study, completing a Bachelor of Computer Science (Advanced) at the University of Adelaide in 2019. This time, however, Alexa was determined to arm herself with some professional experience to help secure her dream first role.
While studying, Alexa applied for volunteer work with Code Like a Girl, a social enterprise providing girls and women with the confidence, tools, knowledge and support to thrive in the traditionally male-dominated world of coding.
“I didn’t start volunteering regularly until a friend pointed out that I had the skills that an organisation could benefit from and encouraged me to apply for the volunteer position,” says Alexa.
“I initially started volunteering for Code Like a Girl because I wanted to contribute to a worthwhile cause and help create a safe space for women in tech in Adelaide, but I quickly discovered that it provided me with the tools to develop important professional skills like communication, interpersonal and team work skills, time management through balancing volunteering and study, problem solving and adaptability.”
Alexa eventually took her volunteering further to help other community organisations, including Robogals Adelaide where she worked as a workshop volunteer, as well as Adelaide City Library as a Media Lab Volunteer. A keen photographer, Alexa also sought out volunteer photography opportunities to cover events such as Big Day In, the Japanese Film Festival and AVCon. In 2020, Alexa secured her current role at SEEK, one of Australia’s top tech companies, as an Associate Developer.
“I definitely believe that my volunteering experience helped me stand out when applying for competitive graduate programs, and I was able to refer to examples from my volunteering in interviews. Volunteering also played a big role in being able to secure internships and paid casual roles during university, and I was able to nominate the people I volunteered for as referees.”
Another recent graduate, Johnny Dang, had a similar positive experience with volunteering. Johnny studied a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Actuarial Studies and Management. While studying, Johnny volunteered with the Dual Identity Leadership Program (DILP), an initiative to support and encourage second generation Vietnamese-Australians to reach their potentials and become leaders representing two cultural identities.
“In my first year at university, I wanted to get a foot in the door and start to develop myself professionally,” says Johnny.
“I realised that not only did DILP offer opportunities for me to be mentored, but also to be a mentor myself. As a volunteer mentor, I needed to commit to 2-4 hours per fortnight, which paid itself back in folds. I forged great new connections and worked on some interesting projects, including leading a mental health workshop where Vietnamese students from all universities came together to learn about mental health issues from a group of psychologists.”
“This experience, together with my broader participation with DILP, not only gave me valuable professional experience but I also gained a lot from it personally. It taught me not only how to work in a team but also how to communicate and learn from others’ perspectives; skills that not only employers look for but that are generally valuable in life.”
Throughout subsequent job interviews, Johnny was able to reference his volunteer experience which not only demonstrated his professional skills but also highlighted his initiative.
“When I came out of high school, I obviously didn’t have any professional experience but my participation in DILP really gave me that. I now work at KPMG as a data analytics consultant and prior to this, I also interned at PWC and NAB, and throughout all the application processes, I have been able to leverage the DILP opportunity.”
Now is your chance to find the opportunities that will give you an edge over other applicants in a crowded job market. Visit SEEK Volunteer and start your search today.