By Alexis Musick, Toppel Peer Advisor

Bright and early on Saturday, August 29th, more than 300 students met at the Rock to take part in the first service day of the school year: Orientation Outreach. According to the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, Orientation Outreach is a day to “introduce first-year students to volunteerism within the Miami community” and allow them to broaden their horizons, strengthen their ideas about the world, and connect with upperclassmen who are passionate about service.

This year, students worked with North East 2nd Avenue Partnership, a nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing Little Haiti to preserve the community’s cultural identity and encourage economic growth through development. Volunteers traveled to the Little Haiti Cultural Center in groups of various sizes, each led by at least two student Site Leaders. Individual groups of students then went to work on a different project, including painting oil drums with the Haitian flag, creating a mural for MACtown with artist Renda Writer, painting over graffiti, and spreading mulch.

Description: Student Site Leaders for Orientation Outreach 2015 prepare for UM’s first day of service.
 
Like most volunteer experiences, it was fun, rewarding, and something worthwhile to do on a weekend day. But that’s not all that volunteerism is, and that’s not all that it can be.
 
Far too often, the majority of students shy away from days like Orientation Outreach – and, in some cases, from volunteering in general. The reasons behind it are numerous: some simply don’t want to wake up before 8:00am or think that their skills and experiences render them unsuitable for volunteer work. Others think that they should instead put energy into securing only what they believe to be “marketable” endeavors like internships or paid employment. Others yet don’t see how volunteering could help with career development at all.
 
Kara Montermoso, a content manager at Idealist.org (a site that connects people, organizations, ideas, and resources) addressed the misconceptions by stating, “Volunteer work, whether in addition to a current job or an activity in between jobs, shows an employer that you are willing to try new experiences, be involved in your community, and generally demonstrates a willingness to make things happen.” Career development isn’t just all about employment – it too can be about the totality of your experiences, including philanthropy.
 
Here are a few ways that your volunteer experiences can be leveraged for success in career development: 
 
1.      Through volunteering, you can learn a lot about the local community.
From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem that – with all of the other volunteers – your efforts might not make that much of an impact. However, volunteering gives you an inside look at just what resources are available to solve a community’s needs. Each person has their own unique perspective molded by circumstances that are entirely their own, so who knows! You may be the person who sees an unmet need in the community and, using your experiences, is the one to start a movement toward change. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and speak up when you see an opportunity. Remember that potential employers are increasingly looking to take on those who show a demonstrated commitment to their community, so making efforts toward community development through innovation is never a bad idea.
 
2.      It shows you are interested in personal development and can take initiative.
Finding a job or internship can take time even if you take an hour or two out of every day to make phone calls and submit applications. Making time to volunteer while you’re in that limbo period shows potential employers that you’re committed to continually educating and bettering yourself, even when the situation might not be as bright as you’d like it to be. Plus, it’s useful to have a few strong experiences up your sleeve to explain any gaps between your last Federal Work Study position eight months ago, other than the fact that you slept a lot and went to the beach.
 
3.      It makes you different.
With so many people in the market for the same set of opportunities – especially in a University setting – it’s critical to highlight what makes you different and the best person for a position. Having significant volunteer experiences would not only help you stand out, but it would give you something unique to talk about in any interviews you may have. For example, if you were a visual arts student looking for an internship, talking about how you were a Site Leader at Orientation Outreach for the group who worked on painting the oil drum barrels would differentiate you from the crowd of other applicants. An experience like that demonstrates your leadership skills and you’d easily be able to talk about what you learned in your interview, which puts you far above applicants who have never had any comparable direct experience.
 
4.      It gives you relevant experiences and skills to add to your resume.
As students, it can be pretty difficult to juggle classes, organizational involvements, and jobs, so we tend not to have an overwhelming amount of work experience, if any at all. It’s entirely normal (given that our job is, after all, to be a student) but it can pose an issue when trying to develop a professional resume. Fortunately enough, in lieu of professional experience, volunteer work can be emphasized and made the central focus of your resume. Highlighting recent and credible volunteer experiences is entirely appropriate and said experiences should be treated just as seriously as any part of your resume, meaning it’s necessary to list the organization’s name, location, your functional title, dates involved, and accomplishments. Mentioning volunteerism-related skills or writing your experiences in a skills-oriented manner is one of the best ways to position yourself in the job market, so make sure to record the details.
 
5.      It helps with networking.
Most people think of volunteering as a one-time thing where you show up, do whatever you’re assigned, and leave. However, making volunteering an active and regular thing can introduce you to a wide network of people. When you’re volunteering, ensure that you are the best that you can be. Take time to listen to the organization, to understand why the need for volunteering exists, and to treat your experience as a learning opportunity. If you donate your time and skills well, you may be able to secure a reference from the volunteer coordinator (or anyone else you have been in contact with). Moreover, by sharing your history and your career ambitions with other volunteers or the organization with whom you’re working, someone may be able to introduce you to the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for. Say, for example, you’re interested in a job curating art exhibits. You volunteer at Orientation Outreach and are placed on a site that involves painting the MACtown mural. You go out of your way to really talk with the artist and you have conversations with NE 2nd Avenue Partnership staff about how you’re passionate about community development and cultural preservation through art. Not everyone you cross paths with will have an opportunity in their pocket, but if you show them how devoted you are to your interests, you’re likely to get leads you wouldn’t have otherwise found.