Why volunteering as a student is better than a job

It sounds outrageous that a position that doesn’t pay anything would be considered better experience than one that does. Employers, especially ones looking to hire new graduates, tend to weigh volunteer and work experience similarly, which is antithetical to how most students regard these experiences.

Implicitly, many students feel that a paid position will build a stronger resume, but that is not always the case. Paid positions are necessities for many university students, but my experience with volunteering has only helped me grow personally and professionally.

As I navigated my way through high school, volunteering was a mandatory activity in my family. Thirty mandatory hours of work or volunteering has become a graduation standard in BC since I graduated. I feel that many students coming out of high school who were forced to volunteer may have consequently developed a negative association.  

Volunteering, when forced, loses its effectiveness as both a provided service for the organization and rewarding experience for the individual. I spent a few hours a week at a local community centre on their youth council, not really gaining useful skills, and frankly, not giving my best effort.

But to volunteer, especially with the same organization for a length of time, can give an employer a better idea of your personality. I spent most of my university career volunteering for SFU Recreation. This was a huge boon after university, as employers have since been intrigued by my love for sports while noting my long-term commitment. Volunteering shows that you evidently care about a community, and will help employers envision your transition into the workplace.

Nearer the end of my degree at SFU, I began my job search. With two unrelated degrees in English and Business in my pocket, I still had no idea what my future job would be. Searching SFU’s job board, I found a volunteer posting for Writer’s Exchange, a program to help develop literacy in at-risk youth.

The experience rewarded me as I quickly saw how my time and hard work influenced in helping at-risk children to develop their reading and writing skills. I struggle to see how the opportunity to make such a huge impact would be presented if I substituted volunteering for another part-time job.

For many students entering the workforce after graduation, there is a low expectation for work experience, and its value is diminished, as most of a student’s experiences will be irrelevant to their actual job. Soft skills and personality traits are more convincing when coming from a volunteer experience, because employers know that you commit your time out of desire to improve.

Everybody recognises people who only work for a paycheck, and while this is important for many students, it doesn’t always set you up for success in the future. I would suggest you not pass up a volunteer opportunity just because of the lack of pay, but look to the personal and interpersonal rewards these opportunities can bring you; ones that are far superior to a full wallet.