student life

Find out why it really does pay to work for free

That’s it done, I’m finished.

That’s it done, I’m finished. I’ve read/not read the books, lost hours of my life writing eleventh hour essays, worn the silly hat, smiled for the camera and grabbed that all important piece of paper. I’m now a graduate and the hardest part is over. In the Summer of 2009 I was a new graduate and this was how I was thinking. Despite the recession I was determined to make my mark on the world and it was going to be pretty straightforward.

So I started the daily job hunt, filling in application after application only to be told other candidates had, ‘more experience,’ or even worse being told nothing at all.  I soon began to realise that the degree was the easy bit and the hardest part was only just beginning.

It took me six months after graduation to get myself a job that offered some security and then the pay often made me wonder why I had bothered. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. I want to say that my two years in the graduate wilderness have been hard, (at times infuriating), but they haven’t been in vain. Many hours staring at my CV and wondering, ‘why not me?’ has forced me to think differently and vitally more realistically about my career and this has lead me to my most important discovery to date- the value of one word. Now I know that I’m unlikely to win any friends here but that word is, ‘volunteering.’ 

I understand that student life is expensive and so working for free probably isn’t high on your agenda, I also realise that there seems to be a disproportionately large number of student opportunities in places like London that for people further afield just aren’t an option, but stay with me. Now I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t people out there waiting to take advantage of you, nor am I going to tell you that you don’t deserve to be paid for the work that you do. What I will tell you is that since leaving university I have done more voluntary work than ever because quite frankly I have needed to. I missed a trick in not doing more when I was studying and didn’t have the pressure of needing a job that pays the bills. Don’t do the same!

Of course your degree has value but in my experience it will only take you so far. A decent degree is great but countless other people have them too and we are living in a time where employers can afford to be choosey. 

Over the past two years I have been and a volunteer at my local hospital radio station, I have also volunteered for a commercial radio station, a local theatre and have worked with a friend to set up my own Arts group. None of these things have benefited me financially but they have given me insight into different working industries and environments. They have also given me new professional contacts who in turn have kindly offered me their advice. 

I have experienced things that otherwise I never would have – how many people can say their day spent volunteering ended with them Morris dancing?! That’s the beauty of volunteering – it allows you to try new things and you’re helping others, surely that can never be a bad thing can it? 

Volunteering has helped me to have a much clearer idea of where I want my professional life to go and how to go about it, it’s done wonders for my confidence and most of all it’s been bloody good fun!

So use your time wisely. Set yourself apart, prove your enthusiasm, your commitment and go and volunteer because otherwise when your degree is done, your work will be far from finished.