Volunteer

Times are tough all over these days and jobs are hard to find. So instead of thinking of ways to make money over your Christmas break, how about considering ways to make the world a better place while making your future job prospects a whole lot brighter. Lending a hand to someone else can give you a big leg up on your career opportunities after graduation, not to mention a million other blessings.

1. Experience: That old Catch-22 you can’t get a job until you have already had one is truer than ever. These days less businesses are willing to take a chance on hiring those without any real world experience. Volunteering is the single best way to get real world experience, often doing some very high level jobs or working with high level companies and people that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to without prior experience.

2. Get Your Foot in the Door: Once you have that experience, you can of course go elsewhere to find a job, but why not go right back to the company you volunteered with Most organizations look very favorably on those who volunteered, and they will consider hiring you for a full time position after you graduate.

3. References: If you think getting a job without experience is difficult, try getting a job reference. Though a kind word from your mother, your neighbor, or your college professor may sound great to you, it bears very little weight with a real world manager looking for some substantive insight into how you perform and deliver when the pressure is on. Make a difference for a non-profit and they can really make a difference for you with a few choice endorsements that go a long way.

4. The Ultimate Extracurricular Activity: Almost every hiring manager wants to see that a potential employee did more than just the minimum required to get through college. And volunteering beats the heck out of being the treasurer of your dorm’s beer fund.

5. Learning Empathy: One of the most important skills you could possibly have in life is to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But most supervisors say its one of the greatest deficiencies in recent college graduates today. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago,” according to Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Volunteering gives you the ability to see life from a totally different perspective than your own and to identify with the problems, challenges and situations of others, a skill that is crucial to being able to work with others.

6. Be a Maker, Not a Taker: More than ever before companies are asking their employees to go the extra mile, often asking them to take on the responsibilities of several positions at the same time because of cutbacks. Knowing you are someone willing to contribute to the greater good rather than simply looking for a paycheck is important and often crucial to you being hire, and volunteering presents that positive image.

7. Contacts: Volunteering is a great way to build solid connections and form relationships which will grow for the rest of your life because they are formed through common values and beliefs. These strong personal ties can lead to future jobs, recommendations, and or assistance in a hundred different ways throughout your career and your life.

8. College Credit: There are dozens of ways to volunteer over the holidays, from donning a Santa suit and ringing a bell outside of your local mall for the Salvation Army, to serving holiday dinners at Saint Vincent de Paul or your local shelter. But by far the most interesting way is to take a volunteer excursion abroad where students spend a week to a month in some distant land helping out with some major humanitarian campaign. Called “voluntarism”– these vacations usually offer college credit. They cost from $250 to $2000, but there are scholarships available for many of them, and the skills, the experience, and the contacts gained are priceless. Here are a few websites to help you find these opportunities:

9. GPA Boost: Many professors will actually give you extra credit toward your course grade helping to either boost or protect you from a poor performance on a test or in a class where you just couldn’t get your groove on.

10. Better Buzz than Booze: At the end of the day there is no better feeling than the one that comes from helping others, and it will go a long way to alleviating some of the all too common stress and frustrations of college life.

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