Why not volunteer?

Convincing a prospective employer to take you on for work experience can often prove to be a difficult task to accomplish. Volunteering for work experience kills the proverbial two birds with one stone, helping out a good cause whilst gaining vital work time. By offering your services free of charge, it shows your pro-active approach to work and proves your commitment and willingness to learn – both hugely desirable employable assets to have from an employer’s perspective.

Job opportunities can be found in many places, sometimes you just have to think outside the box

Where can my skill be used?

While it’s easy to assume that only paid work experience is worth pursuing, remember: virtually any club or association that handles money could use someone with your skills. Plus, voluntary work looks great on your CV as a testament to the lengths you’ll go to in order to advance your career.

Here are five methods you might want to use to secure a volunteering placement.

1. Use social media

The average UK adult has over 100 Facebook friends; for teenagers this number is over 400. This vast database of acquaintances/friends may well contain people who are members of a club, association or community organisation.

Opportunities of employment can materialise from dropping a quick enquiry email to one of them. Social media places publishing and distribution services in your hands – so why not use them? Perhaps you could quickly set up a free blog (try WordPress or Tumblr) on which you could list your skills and what you’re looking for, before sharing on your Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter networks?

It might also be worth politely tweeting organisations to ask them to retweet your appeal to their networks. Update your site regularly to keep people informed and share how you’re approaching the task of finding a placement. If this method helps get you some work experience, mention on your CV the innovative ways in which you approached the matter – it shows good problem-solving skills.

2. Sign up to sites that list volunteering opportunities

Similar to looking for paid positions, the internet can do much of the work when it comes to looking for unpaid accounting work experience.

For example, do-it.org.uk is supported by Volunteering England, but serves up opportunities from all over the United Kingdom. It’s an easy-to-use, searchable bank of adverts for voluntary positions. You can narrow your search down by location and specific activity – and there’s a category for finance and accountancy. Create an account and a profile on the site and you can apply for opportunities quickly and easily.

Another site worth checking out is vInspired, which lists opportunities specifically for 14-25 year-olds. Run some searches for accounting-related keywords (for example, “finance”, “treasurer”, “bookkeeper” and so on) and see what’s available in your area.

With sites such as these, don’t be put off if there are no opportunities on offer at the moment. Registering a profile means that when those vacancies do arise, you’ll be ready and able to apply on the spot.

3. Use your existing network

Think you don’t have any contacts in volunteer organisations? You might be surprised. Have you ever been part of a choir or a sports club? Or how about a group with a subscription fee from members? All of these organisations often need someone with accounting skills to look after their finances. Don’t be afraid to approach people – volunteer organisations can always use the help.

4. Don’t be afraid of speculative applications

As with paid positions, not all voluntary opportunities will necessarily be advertised; or if they are, lack of resources and financing may mean they’re not publicised very widely.

Politely ask around the charity shops in your area to see if they need any help; and if they don’t, maybe leave them a card with your details on so that if they require assistance in the future they remember the friendly, helpful person they encountered. Think about what other organisations there are in your area, and if you run out of ideas…

5. See how your council works with voluntary organisations

Different counties/boroughs work differently, but it’s worth Googling terms like “[your county] volunteer council” and “[your county] volunteer organisations”. You might come across associations of community bodies, which can be a great place to get contact details for organisations in your area.

This article from AAT student Leeanne Ivey  details how she came to find her job as an Accounts Assistant, by studying with AAT. You can follow AAT on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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