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Volunteering: A New Career Option

Posted At: October 21, 2009 1:21 PM
by Enelda Butler

The current state of the U.S. job market is less than stellar. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers are expected to hire seven percent less graduates from the Class of 2010 than they hired from the Class of 2009. Because of this, many students are exploring options after graduation other than entering the traditional workforce.

Some students seek internships in their prospective fields, while others plan on attending graduate school before beginning their careers. Some choose to become involved in community service programs. Volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps, Teach For America and AmeriCorps have grown in popularity over recent years. These programs allow participants to gain work experience while helping their communities.

Community service is nothing new for many young people. “Today’s college students have really been involved in service throughout their lives for the most part,” said Wahnee Sherman, director of the Community Service Center of The University of Alabama. “This generation of students has been taught to give back and to see the world as broader. Continuing that in college is just a natural progression.”

This kind of work can give participants a different perspective than other types of employment. “If a student does not have a job lined up for after graduation, volunteering is a great alternative,” said Tiffany Goodin, a consultant at the Career Center of The University of Alabama. “It keeps students active so there is no major gap on their resume between the time they graduate and find a full-time job. Some students choose to find a temporary or part-time job to have an income, but will look for volunteer opportunities more relevant to their field.”

One benefit of volunteer work is that it can give students a competitive edge when they decide to apply for other jobs later in their career. “Students really see the value of contributing to society in a positive way,” said Sherman. “They understand that giving a couple of years of service to something like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps or Teach For America will make them better employees one day for companies who are looking for employees who see the world as bigger” than their immediate environment.

According to Tasha Smith, a consultant at the Career Center of The University of Alabama, the Peace Corps, Teach For America and Youth Villages are some of the most popular organizations targeting graduating seniors. These organizations are connecting with students in many different ways. “They are reaching our students through the Career Center, student organizations and the Office of Community Service,” said Smith.

However, national community service groups can be very selective. They are often promoted to students as elite organizations. For example, Teach For America was founded by a Princeton University graduate, and the program was originally marketed to Ivy League students. Being part of an elite group appeals to many young people.

Because of this competition, some students choose to work for smaller or local nonprofit organizations. This type of work has advantages for the organizations and the students. “I think that it is a mutually beneficial relationship between nonprofit agencies and college students,” Sherman said. “Agencies are able to get much needed assistance, and college students are able to give back and even get valuable work skills.”

These organizations also draw on the desire of many young people to make a difference in their community. Volunteering not only helps students give back, but it can have an impact on them as well. “Community service really does change the world and change the individual,” said Sherman. “Students are able to help make their communities better by engaging in meaningful service. It allows students to understand others. Students can also gain valuable career skills through service. And many times college students are able to find their passion and what they want to do for their careers — or solidify a previous choice — through their experience with community service.”

Considering future career options can be overwhelming for some students. Goodin offered the following advice to students who are approaching graduation:

1) “Be open minded. Some of the best career opportunities exist where you never would have imagined.”

2) “Network. Studies have shown that approximately 80 percent of jobs are obtained through some form of networking. This can include face-to-face interactions as well as electronic interactions.”

3) “Keep in mind that one opportunity leads to another. You may or may not fall in love with your very first professional position. Even if it is not your dream job, it will most likely be great experience and you will certainly increase your professional network.”

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