Today I want to discuss the impact extra-curricular activities can have on your career and in particular Volunteering in the place of Work Experience.
I work with Third-level students, and a number of them end up studying in fields that they have no interest in. When we speak I hear a wide variety of issues including:
‘I didn’t get the points for what I actually wanted’
‘My parents say there’s no career in ‘x’ ‘(<usually an art based course)
‘I couldn’t get a grant so had to pick something in Dublin so I could stay at home’
The list is endless and each case is as unique as the person themselves, but it all leads to the same truth, people studying something that doesn’t really inspire them.
Do people work in what they study?
I was at a friend’s wedding a while back, a college friend, and we’re all out of college ten years. There was a table of ten of us at dinner and as the usual, ‘So what have you been up to?’ conversation started and it struck me how few of us are in the fields we studied. Of ten, two people were working in their field of study; 20% of us.
So I wondered was there any need for us to go to college at all? I thought about it and eventually I realised that the answer was absolutely! We all needed to go to college, just for a different reasons than we might think.
It all had to do with what we did around our time in college, the time in college just polished us off a bit. I always knew a part-time job or a volunteering post would ‘build character’, but in some cases our extra-curricular activities and volunteering had gone on to heavily shape all our lives.
For example, I am a qualified Estate Agent. I have never set foot in an Estate Agency and the only house I bought or sold was my own . I was one of those 17 year olds who didn’t know what she wanted to do, but felt she had to do something. While in college I got involved in the Students Union, which lead to me running for election, which led to me completing a Masters in Political Communication and now I work with a brief in Communications and Events. A little more long winded than ‘I got a degree’, but you see where I’m coming from.
Another example from the wedding was one of my table mates who had done a building course. She had volunteered to do accounts and book-keeping for a family member during college to pay her fees. After college she took an accounts job in a major Marketing company temporarily, (she thought), for travelling money, and she progressed to be one of the top Marketing execs in the firm.
My partner-in-crime is a qualified Mechanical Engineer. He played sport his whole way through college and decided to pursue a Sports career. He now owns his own gym and a majority of his clients stem from people he met while volunteering with local teams to get experience.
The more I looked at my friends and colleagues the more I realised choosing their college course didn’t actually define their career, but a lot of what we volunteered to do in our spare time impacted us hugely.
Volunteer outside your comfort zone
In my role we often get students asking us if they can volunteer for events we run and we never say no to a volunteer, NEVER, but they frequently put themselves down by opening with: ‘I don’t do events, I’m in accountancy’ , or something similar. This is what is so great about volunteering, it doesn’t matter! Some of our very best people never studied Events or even worked on Events until they volunteered somewhere, and now they’re pro’s.
Events students are great, but ironically, people who volunteer in areas they haven’t studied in bring a whole fresh approach to how things work and new ideas. Then they meet new industry people and get a couple of jobs and then one day they meet they right person, with the right job and ta-da: An entire new career path unfolds before them.
Volunteering is great Work Experience
Volunteering, by its very ethos isn’t fussy. It doesn’t need you to have a fancy degree or years of experience, but the volunteering experience itself has immense value to a volunteer. It helps them see a new industry and job from a whole new angle, meet new people, make the right connections, AND it looks great on your CV. Given that it so hard to get relevant experience in a part-time job in the current climate, volunteering is the very next best thing.
And did I mention that it makes you feel good? Win. Win. WIN
Ultimately, what you studied in college doesn’t define what or who you are, and if you feel like challenging those boundaries or testing new waters, volunteering really is the best place to start.