Get the most from volunteering

 1 February 2012

A volunteer placement in an arts or heritage venue gives you the opportunity to build contacts and gain experience. But what should you do to make the most of the experience?

Take every opportunity to learn or try something new.
Take every opportunity to learn or try something new.

1. Be clear about your role

When you begin volunteering, agree a role description with your manager.

Volunteering should not be the same as an unpaid full-time role, so get a clear understanding on what kinds of things will be expected of you.

This doesn't have to be set in stone. As you settle into the role, you will discover the aspects you like and don’t like and get a better over-all feel for the organisation.

Go back to your manager and agree amendments to your role, so it’s more focussed to your interests (and maybe to your future development needs).

2. Learn something new

Making some great contacts could result in your ideal job.

Take every opportunity to learn or try something new. Whether that’s formal training sessions, turning your hand to a different task or shadowing an experienced member of staff.

Demonstrate enthusiasm and a willingness to get stuck into all sorts of tasks (no matter how seemingly insignificant at the time).

This may sound exhausting, but it will encourage staff to give you the opportunity to try new things and develop your volunteering experience even further.

3. Keep a record

Keep a note of your volunteering experience (whether good or bad – there’s something to learn from both!):

  • skills you’ve learned
  • tasks you’ve carried out
  • personal achievements
  • key learning moments.

These things are all too easy to forget without writing them down. You can use your notes to write great application forms and give relevant, real-life examples at interviews.

4. Make the most of the support offered

Volunteering is giving you the experience you need to get that dream job.

Take an active part in any support or review sessions with your manager or volunteering coordinator. This help with recognising your achievements.

It’s also an opportunity to ensure that your volunteering is giving you the experience you need to get that dream job. If you don't feel you're getting the right experience, raise it with your manager.

5. Try out different career paths

Once you’ve gained some real experience through volunteering, you might start to think that the career plan you had mapped out isn’t actually the right one for you.

Being a curator might always have been your ambition, but through volunteering you might discover you much prefer working in an educational role.

If that’s the case, talk to your supervisor about revising your role so you can gain more experience in the areas that you like.

6. Turn volunteering into a job

Keep an eye on the organisation’s vacancy bulletin. Volunteering won’t guarantee you an interview, but it will put you in a stronger position when applying for jobs.

Ensure that volunteering gives you the experience to get that dream job.

When filling in the application form or preparing for an interview, go back to your notes of what you have achieved and use real examples from your volunteering to demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the role.

Find staff in similar roles to the one which you are applying for. Talk to them about what sort of questions they were asked when they were interviewed, and use it to prepare your answers.


© The National Trust

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