Student blog: how volunteering can help international students get jobs
Ocean Cheung is the Managing Director and Co-founder of Startup Interns, where he connects international students to Queensland’s tech startups to accelerate students’ employability and entrepreneurial mindsets.
International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) published an International Employability Guide to help international students expand their job prospects and enhance their employability. One of the key suggestions is to encourage first-year international students to gain local experience through volunteering at charity or non-for-profit organisations or one-off events without getting paid.
Volunteering has many benefits for international students:
- Gain experience and acquire new skills for your resume
- Increase your Australian network and develop friendships within your adopted community
- Develop an insight into Australian lifestyle and workplace culture
- Improve your English language and interpersonal skills by interacting with a diverse range of people
- Gain local referees
However, can volunteering help you to get a job?
From my experience — YES! My first paid job in Australia came from my volunteering experience.
I was volunteering for Multicultural Development Australia (MDA) in my first year at university. MDA is one of Queensland’s largest multicultural agencies committed to achieving the best settlement outcomes for refugees, people seeking asylum, international students and migrants.
With a marketing background, I helped MDA with media production and event facilitation. After having volunteered for a few months, staff in MDA offered me a part-time position in Marketing and Communication.
“Thank you for everything.”
That is what a five-year-old girl (one of MDA’s recipients) said to me at an event. I guess she thanked me for the help at the event (I was picking up rubbish at that time), as well as the many other helping hands offered to her and her family during their time in Australia. This has made my volunteer work more rewarding.
Volunteering is a great way to build up confidence and develop a range of skills. Employers are always looking for students who actively engage in their local community and can demonstrate professional skills such as teamwork, cultural fit and effective communication. You may not necessarily get a paid job from the organisation you volunteered for, but the experience will open doors for you.
How to get the most out of your volunteering experience?
1. Have a passion for learning. Skills like communication, problem-solving, and collaboration are essential in the 21st Century. The only way to practice these skills is to work with other people. Also, simple things like knowing how to manage a registration table (or put up a banner) can be extremely useful to your career.
2. Be a self-starter. Always put your hands up for opportunities. Some volunteering work can be more technical or related to your study. For example, you may want to help by managing the volunteer roster if you are studying Human Resources or Event Management.
3. Build relationships. The person you volunteer with may know somebody who can help you further. In Psychology, it's called Social Capital. In Business, we call it Connections. Building connections is critical to your career because your dream jobs might not be advertised.
4. Express your ideas. If you have ideas that you think are better than the existing solutions, shout them out. Organisations look for problem solvers and innovators in their workplace. However, it takes time to become brave enough to speak up. Volunteering is a safe and welcoming environment for you to challenge yourself.
5. Ask for feedback and endorsement. It shows your passion when you ask for constructive criticism and personal branding enhancement. Make sure you follow up with your supervisor/organiser after your volunteering work. It is all about relationship building.
6. Use Linkedin to connect with your network. Post your volunteering experience on LinkedIn to show your experience and further your business connectivity.
Where to find volunteering opportunities?
- Clubs and societies
- Sporting organisations
- Local school and community groups
- Faith base – through your local church, mosque or synagogue
- Seek Volunteer
If you would like to know more about volunteering opportunities in Australia, speak to a career advisor or a student counsellor from your education provider.
To search on volunteering opportunities in Queensland, check out Volunteer Queensland, Brisbane Student Hub, Gold Coast Student Hub and Cairns Student Hub. You can also call the 1800QSTUDY (1800 778 839) student hotline to discuss all things living, studying and volunteering in Queensland.