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Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market
Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market

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6 Impressing employers

'69 per cent of employers have done voluntary work in their lifetime, with over half stating that volunteering gave them people skills which helped them get to where they are today. Half of employers say that job candidates with volunteering experience are more motivated than other candidates.'

James Caan, Dragons' Den

There is no doubt that the ‘soft' skills you can develop in your voluntary work will serve you well when job-seeking, but how to convince the employers you have what they want?

If you examine job advertisements, they will usually specify exactly which ‘transferable skills’ they want, in addition to any formal qualifications or experience. For example, ‘must have excellent communication skills, and ability to work on your own or as part of a team’ is a very common requirement.

The trick is to analyse them carefully, and then, using the right words, give hard evidence that makes the employer want to meet you to find out more. So when they ask for ‘communication skills’, don’t just take the phrase at face value. Think about all the different ways you can communicate – for example:

  • listening and empathising
  • conveying information clearly and accurately
  • good written expression in reports, articles or letters
  • adapting style and content of communication appropriately, depending on the audience
  • using language persuasively to negotiate, convince, mediate, sell, etc.
  • public speaking or presentations.
  • understanding information.

Don’t just present employers with a random list of all your skills; you must convince them that they are exactly what they want. They will appreciate that you’ve analysed what their post requires and matched relevant examples of your experience.

How do you convince them you are the right person for the job?

Before you can convince them that you’re just the person they need, you first need to know what they want. There is a helpful section on the OU Careers Advisory Service website that will take you through the process.

Activity 7

Whatever skills you’ve developed – and you should have a good record if you’ve been keeping up your volunteering log – you need to put them in a relevant context of evidence to present them in job applications.

Test your knowledge about what employers are looking for by naming at least six transferable 'soft' skills that are wanted by most employers.


The skills listed on the Prospects website cover most of the popular ones:

  • Communication: The ability to communicate orally, in writing or via electronic means in a manner appropriate to the audience.
  • Teamwork: Being a constructive team member, contributing practically to the success of the team.
  • Leadership: Being able to motivate and encourage others while taking the lead.
  • Initiative: The ability to see opportunities and to set and achieve goals.
  • Problem-solving: Thinking things through in a logical way in order to determine key issues, often also including creative thinking.
  • Flexibility/adaptability: The ability to handle change and adapt to new situations.
  • Self-awareness: Knowing your strengths and skills, and having the confidence to put these across.
  • Commitment/motivation: Having energy and enthusiasm in pursuing projects.
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to relate well to others and establish good working relationships.
  • Numeracy: Competence and understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs.

Activity 8

Read the case study in Worksheet 4. Jack evaluates his voluntary experience and what action was taken, by using a STARE grid and ‘action words’ (see also Worksheet 5 in Section 6).

Try completing the blank grid provided in Worksheet 4 using examples of your own activities to demonstrate your skills and how you acquired them. The information in your STARE chart will be invaluable for those situational type questions that often crop up on application forms, such as ‘tell us about a time when you worked in a team; describe what you were trying to achieve and what your role was’. The STARE chart will cover all three aspects of this question. To give your evidence the most impact, use strong ‘action words’ (see Worksheet 5 in Section 6).

Worksheet 4

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Activity 9

Look at Worksheet 5, select some words that seem relevant to what you’ve achieved and introduce them to an entry in your volunteering log (Worksheet 3) as appropriate. You might want to look again at the case study in Worksheet 4 to see the developments that Jack initiated and recorded.

Worksheet 5

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