Have you heard of ‘the experience proxy?’ Or maybe you've experienced it yourself as a job candidate. It’s an idea that essentially goes around in a circle - a candidate can’t get hired because of a lack of experience, yet they can’t build on their experience because they can’t get hired.
If you are starting your career or looking for a career change, chances are you’re worried about having the right experience in your field to land the role you want. Participating in volunteering can help bridge the experience gap.
“If someone interns or volunteers then it means they are trying to sort their careers out... That's the type of person we want in our company, that’s who we are.” – Recruitment Expert
SEEK Volunteer’s ‘Putting volunteering to work’ report identifies key areas that candidates can develop, and then frame to transfer those skills to a workplace. 4 out of 5 managers agree that volunteering can be great to gain experience and skills to use in skilled work. The plus side of this insight means it’s a great response to the 44% who identified that a lack of candidate experience is the main challenge they face when hiring.
The research report found that volunteering is a proven pathway to identifying key traits that can be taken into a job. Volunteering can also inform a wide range of skills that can then be transferred into a workplace, with some types of volunteering being particularly helpful as you try and enter your chosen field.
Tip #1: Identify key personal traits demonstrated from volunteering
It’s important to bust the myth that the only ‘good’ work experience is paid work experience. With 75% of hiring managers agreeing that volunteer experience is seen to be an advantage in a job interview, your volunteer experience is evidence of skill building and development. So, when you are thinking about your next role, you should consider volunteer experience as another route to employment.
“I think volunteering is a great way for inexperienced people like graduates to get some examples of work they have done in order to write better applications,” one hiring manager reported.
You can use your volunteer experience as a way to identify key traits that are valued in a workplace. Hiring managers look for three key selection criteria in their candidates:
- cultural fit,
- professional capabilities, and
- soft skills.
- If you are in the early stage of your career or looking to make a change, you can use volunteering as evidence you have skills for a role, particularly if you need to show more career experience.
- The majority of hirers see volunteer experience as a great way to gain experience and skills for work.
- Volunteer experience can help you achieve the top three selection criteria that hiring managers look for: cultural fit, professional capabilities and soft skills.
Tip #2: Focus on the transferable skills gained from volunteering for the specific job
Your volunteer experience may inform a wide range of traits that your future workplace needs - and provides you with new, additional abilities that you can bring with you to a new job.
According to one recruitment expert, the skills you learn while volunteering can help you develop new and useful traits. “Those skills can transfer into the job you might apply for one day.”
In the ‘Putting volunteering to work’ report, we found 72% of hiring managers rank transferable skills in the top 5 selection criteria for candidates, which means your volunteering experience should demonstrate the skills that you can bring to a workplace.
These skills can include technical skillsets, such as familiarity with programs and systems, as well as knowledge around language and key skills demanded from certain industries. If you’re thinking about volunteering, you should aim to find opportunities that are relevant to the industry and workforce that you want to enter. Doing some research into the job you want, and tailoring who you volunteer for, can help you get the most out of your volunteering experience.
- Volunteer experience often demands the same skills and expertise that is needed in paid employment.
- For 72% of hiring managers, transferable skills rank in the top 5 key selection criteria that they look for in candidates.
- Investing in relevant volunteer experience is the key to help you bridge the experience gap and ensure your skills can be transferred to the workplace.
Tip #3: Choose the right type of volunteer work for your end goal
Volunteering is not a one size fits all pursuit: there are two main categories that were identified in our research.
General volunteering: volunteering time that doesn’t specifically align to a particular skill. For instance: volunteering at an animal shelter.
Skilled volunteering: volunteering your skills to help an organisation through activities such as developing a marketing plan. Skilled volunteering may be formal or informal, the former being for an organisation, and the latter being a proactive response, such as volunteering for bushfire relief.
For 45% of hiring managers, skilled volunteering was deemed the most valuable volunteering experience to have. Why? It demonstrates a level of expertise, as you would be working in an industry relevant to the field you want to enter.
“You will always look for those doing volunteering that is relevant to what the job is.” - Line Manager
General volunteering is a great way to enter the world of volunteering, and can lay the foundations for crucial soft skills, communication, teamwork and time management. Applicants who have general volunteering experience also show that they are caring and committed to doing something good, which aligns with many organisations’ values, communicating culture fit.
Skilled volunteering helps candidates gain professional experience in their industry, while demonstrating their passion and commitment to that sector. Although skilled volunteering can really highlight technical skills, there’s also the chance to develop soft skills, such as leadership and client management.
- Different types of volunteering bring their own valuable skills to the workplace.
- Depending on the workforce that you want to enter, you should try and find the most relevant volunteer experience for your goal, with many hiring managers favouring skilled volunteering.
- Skilled volunteering is useful for developing technical and professional skills, while also nurturing soft skills.
Using your volunteering experience toward your entry into the workforce provides you with a new, valuable strength, and is a true point of difference that you can refer to. The ability to transfer your skills to your chosen workplace means that your volunteering can turn a lack of paid experience into valuable traits that are relevant to your industry and future job.
Start your search for a relevant volunteer opportunity now.