Many students start their post-secondary careers unsure of where they would like their education to take them. My future career path, like many students may find, is very unclear. Co-op is a great opportunity to test out potential careers and to gain a clearer understanding of a post-graduation focus. I joined the Co-op Program hoping to seek a position last spring, but soon realized the importance of having a broad base of transferable skills to attaining a co-op position. This need to expand my skill base opened me up to the variety of opportunities to get involved on campus, all of which I have greatly profited from, and have facilitated my co-op job search.
I volunteer with a Peer Health Promotion group at SFU. The position is focused on many aspects of health, giving me a broad range of knowledge and also allowing me to expand my communication skills, which are directly applicable to my search for a Communication Co-op job. I have taken on writing, promotions, and marketing opportunities within this position, and have come to learn my strengths and weaknesses within these areas. This single volunteer position has opened me up to an array of contacts, building relationships that have offered me a range of further opportunities. Remember, opening just one door will often open a dozen more.
Volunteer experience can act as a great alternative to workplace experience. It is often discouraging to think that attaining a co-op position will be a great leap from the common customer service or retail job to the “professional” working world. There is a recognizable gap between these two workplaces and volunteer experiences can be used to directly bridge that gap. As a student you may not come across the opportunity to be paid for what you love doing, but will likely find the opportunity to do it in a volunteer setting, getting your foot in the experience-door. Employers are not concerned with where skills were acquired but whether or not you have them. Gaining a transferable skills base through volunteer work may in fact be of benefit, demonstrating your initiative, and drive to make change and further yourself, despite any monetary compensation.
The key thing to remember with volunteer work is in the very sense of the term, “voluntary.” A volunteer position should be enjoyable, and while giving is essential, the draw to this work is getting something back from your efforts. The notion that a volunteer role will build transferable skills setting you apart from others in a job search is a great motivator. Keep in mind that pursuing your interests is key in choosing a volunteer role. Students are sometimes bombarded with volunteer opportunities. While this can be overwhelming, it is reassuring to know that there are opportunities out there, sure to offer something of personal interest. When the work is enjoyed you will be more likely to commit to it, increasing the benefits of your experience. In relation to co-op however, remember that you will often be competing with a variety of students, sometimes nationally, and even internationally. With this in mind, don’t hesitate to apply to an array of postings. Your first co-op position is a key step to getting your foot in the door, and will be valuable, whether or not it meets your original job search criteria.
There is great value in putting yourself out there, to discover what you love doing, or to expand on your skills doing what you love. Volunteer positions are a great way to do this, and are essential to preparing for co-op!