The value of volunteering

There are many reasons to volunteer, like wanting to help others, keeping up a hobby, making use of spare time, meeting new people etc. Often people forget that volunteering can also be an important step to getting that desired job or place on a postgraduate course.

Volunteering can give you structured opportunities to establish, improve or maximise general workplace skills like time management, communication or more specific skills that an industry demands – see Prospects’ Job Sector information to identify some of these. Volunteering can introduce a range of scenarios that you could use as examples to help answer competency questions for job applications and is a great addition to your CV, showing an employer that you have gained valuable work experience and taken the initiative to get involved in different things outside of your studies.

Work experience through volunteering can be vital to being accepted on a postgraduate course especially if the degree is more vocational or it’s a change in career direction.  For example it is likely that an IT graduate wanting to do an Masters in Social Work would need to build up practical experience of working with vulnerable people. Volunteering can also be an information-gathering exercise to know more about the area you are hoping to study as a postgraduate.

Remember that there are some practicalities to consider before you start volunteering like commitment, location, financial support and application processes. There are many different ways to volunteer – for example, being a member of a society committee, being a course rep or helping out at your local community centre.  Here is a brief list of places to look for volunteering opportunities to start you off:

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Become a Student Ambassador – applications now open!

The Queen Mary Student Ambassador scheme is an opportunity for current students to further their involvement in College life by representing Queen Mary to the public. We hear from Qudsia below, who studied Chemistry and was a Student Ambassador for 2 years:

“Being a Student Ambassador was a great opportunity which really enriched my uni experience. One of my responsibilities was to lead campus tours, and I had the privilege of representing the university, often to an international audience. This gave me the chance to be able to share my experience of being a student at Queen Mary with a large number of visitors to open day events.


This helped me to improve my communication skills, as I had to be able to understand and respond to the queries and concerns of parents as well as the eager students looking forward to starting this exciting chapter of their lives. On school visits both on and off campus, I had the experience of working alongside colleagues from different degree programmes, running days where we gave students of various ages an insight into university life. This was a really enjoyable experience.

Summers were the best part about being a Student Ambassador. With various events

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Was your new year resolution to get some work experience? Here’s how:

If you’re a student, the New Year is unlikely to feel as new or fresh or organised as the billboards and Spotify ads would suggest. The hangover of the previous calendar year will persist well into January as you wait on exam results or assignment marks. With all the havoc that January wrecks, it is often easier to live in the present rather than plan ahead.

But unfortunately, with each January, graduation is ever closer. And at some point, you will need to ask yourself what it is you are going to do with the next forty plus years of your life. This conversation can be either panicked, or productive. Thankfully, Queen Mary Careers and Enterprise Centre are available to make the conversation a productive one.
What many students struggle with is the idea of how they will reach their envisioned career goal. Whether it is banking, business development, charity or media you see yourself working in, it can be difficult to know where to begin when your CV is empty aside from your four-month stint at Build a Bear or Wetherspoons. QM Careers run a number of successful schemes aimed at developing your professional profile and preparing you for applications to graduate roles.

If you are determined, but lacking in relevant experience, QM Careers’ QProjects scheme is where you should start. QProjects is an award winning work experience scheme that places QM students on challenging and meaningful projects in local organisations. Past projects have included medical research, corporate partnerships, marketing and finance.
Not only will these projects enable you to grow transferable professional skills and demonstrate them to graduate employers, they will give you confidence and trajectory. Students who have undertaken a QProject have often extended their placements or even secured permanent paid employment at the organisation.
So rather than making New Year’s resolutions that you know won’t last – never will another sugar granule pass my lips, for example – why not resolve to do something that is worthwhile, meaningful and forward looking? Something like a QProject.
To learn more about the QProjects available, please visit

Read our article ‘Experience Matters’  (QMUL login required) for a list of 10 other ways you can build your work experience.

Volunteering: Good for your CV and good for you!

Volunteering is a way for you to interact with and make a real difference in the local community…but do you realise how much it could help you?

Even though, in recent years, top graduate recruiters have increased their number of graduate vacancies available, so many of these places go unfilled (an average of 45% of places were left unfilled per major graduate recruiting company in 2015, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters). One reason for this is that candidates lack the soft skills that employers are looking for. In today’s competitive job market graduates need more than a degree – employers are looking for key skills such as interpersonal and communication skills, team-work and self-reliance. Volunteering is a way to gain and demonstrate these, and other key skills, to employers and stand out from the crowd.

A QMUL graduate, Michael Zamecnik, now pursuing his dream as a trainee solicitor, said “Looking back at all the applications and interviews I completed in the end, I can’t believe just how important all my volunteering experiences turned out to be! It certainly wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that nowadays, every employer considers volunteering crucial for developing a variety of valuable skills, including team work, leadership and professionalism.“ In fact, 80% of employers value volunteering on a CV.


The personal benefits you can get from volunteering go beyond securing future employment, and include self-discovery and broadening horizons. A current QMUL student Law student, Megan Domas, is a Mentor volunteer: “Outside of adding to one’s CV, it is a great opportunity to hone skills much needed in any practical aspect: responsibility, empathy and leadership. For current medical student, Harriette Pearson, volunteering has been about “meeting new people, challenging my own assumptions, and learning things that can’t be taught”.

As a student, time is on your side. Your university experience will fly by faster than you can imagine…consider your volunteering options now!

Queen Mary’s Volunteering Service, QMSU Volunteering, offer students a range of different flexible volunteering options, one-off and regular, with various charities and statutory bodies. For more information about volunteering roles available come along to their Volunteer Fair on 21 October, 1-3pm, Students’ Union Hub. Visit the QMSU Volunteering website for more info! 


Being a Green Auditor

On the 3rd June 2015, 23 student volunteers from across a range of subjects at Queen Mary became environmental auditors. The volunteers were trained by QMUL Sustainability to verify the work of 27 Green Impact teams across the university.

Why did I decide to take part?

I decided to get involved with Green Impact as I have a great interest in the natural environment and being outdoors, which comes from being a geography student and being raised in Cornwall. I am also aware of the increasing impact we are having on the shape of the planet and the pressure this has put on natural resources. Environmental Auditioning was something I hadn’t come across before at university, until a careers events when I green maryhad the opportunity to speak to the team of an auditing company and thought this might be something that interests me. Therefore, when I saw the advert for Green Auditing at QMUL, I thought it was an opportunity to gain a greater insight into what is environmental auditing but also see the work across QMUL of various impact teams and the beneficial impact this is having on sustainability at the university.

How did the day go?

On the actual day of the training, we started early and were given a brief talk into why we conduct environmental audits and how they are beneficial. This gave us to an insight into sustainability at QMUL. We were then divided into our groups and started to look at the audit forms and discuss the kind of questions we should be asking when going around to talk to each Green Impact team. After a light lunch, we then went from the training to actually conduct our own Environmental audits and each team of auditors was responsible for visiting three Green Impact teams. We visited the School of Computer Science and Electronics and the Student Union. The purpose of these visits was to check their submitted impact forms against physical evidence. Each meeting often started off discussing issues around a table and then getting an informal tour around the department/building to see some of these measures and changes that have been implemented.

The skills gained from this opportunity

I have been able to develop various skills the most important being communication as this was key to engaging with the Green Impact teams and getting the most out of the meetings. Organisation was important as well, as we discovered you need to be very organised from the beginning to make sure you knew what you were looking for since many of these teams had spent a lot of time applying for their Green Impact certificate.  Finally, this opportunity taught us about professionalism while working, as in this case we were meeting with established members of staff and beyond it being awkward at times, we needed to act professionally to get the job done whilst we were representing Green Impact for the Sustainability team.


Working for Imperial War Museums

This post first appeared on the QMUL History Futures blog.

For the latest in my series of posts about work in the museums and heritage sector I visited Jim Hutchinson, the man in charge of volunteering for Imperial War Museums, London.

Jim, could you just place the Imperial War Museums (IWM), London in context please? Well the first thing I should say is that our three London sites – Churchill War Rooms, IWM London in Lambeth and here on HMS Belfast are in a highly competitive market. Our visitor numbers are good though – the Olympic ‘bounce’ is still being felt. This is one of the reasons that our need for volunteers is buoyant. While the Heritage sector has never been a quiet little number, however, money from central government has been even harder to access over the last few years. It obliges IWM to be creative and innovative. The heritage sector as a whole has been impacted by shrinking government and local government funding support – which in turn means there are less curator entry level jobs. In this tough operating climate volunteering still remains an important way for aspiring museum professionals build their CVs and experience. In addition, after being involved for more than six months, volunteers can apply for internally advertised jobs which is another big benefit of a closer volunteer connection with IWM.

So how can students get involved?  There are two schemes students might consider for volunteering with Imperial War Museums. The main option for students are ‘student volunteer placements’. These are short term placements at one of IWM’s London branches. Subject to capacity at the time of application, students can get placed in areas such as collections, conservation, learning and access, marketing, research and information and the War Memorials in Britain online collection. We even occasionally get placements in press office. One student at IWM North in Manchester did this recently before going on to a Masters course. You can read about her experience in our newsletter (available here). There are around 25 volunteer placements each year but we always get more applications than we can accommodate, sometimes up to 60, so maybe I can give you some tips about how students should present themselves?

Some priority tends to be given to placement applicants who are seriously looking to enter the museums and heritage profession. Placements can last a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of six months but more usually average around twelve weeks on a two to three days a week basis. Programme’s run between April to September and October to March. The next closing date will be in late July for the next October programme round.

As well as prioritising students who are interested in careers in the museums sector. We also look for people who have reached a certain academic level and we also consider the amount and type of knowledge applicants bring. People who have been engaged with the sector before and with the IWM in particular will also benefit. For all of these reasons it can be tough for first-year students to get shortlisted particularly as we consider that they may be able to apply later in their course.

The focus of IWM is conflict since 1914. Obviously students covering this on their courses will probably have a better grasp of the issues than someone who has been focused on ancient Rome, for example, though, if they have read outside their course and have a relevant interest then they should still apply by all means.

The other programme we offer is the mainstream long term volunteer programme for adults and, again, these serve our London sites. Requirements vary as projects begin or complete but openings can include Collections support; engaging with visitors; Friends Desk operations; tour guiding; a range of specialist office support roles and warship conservation. There are both weekday and weekend roles and volunteers are expected to visit at least once a month for up to a year.


What kind of things would students get involved with on the student placement?  We have regular opportunities for students to work on our photo archive for example especially as we are digitising our collections. We have large amounts of First World War material. Some of these photographs are loosely sorted in boxes but we need to review them for duplicates and standardise the tagging and the terminology we use to make them easier for online researchers to access. A contrasting programme could involve conservation.   For example, on HMS Belfast student volunteers recently helped to restoring the old electrical workshop. Involvement in the Warship Conservation role would be ideal for someone considering going on to a conservation course masters.

Volunteers have also been closely involved with our ‘Lives of the First World War’ website which creates a digital memorial to more than 1 million British and Commonwealth men and women who served in uniform and worked on the home front during the First World War. To enable these collections to be accessible they have to be digitised, catalogued and records created for each of the items. Photographs are also often accompanied by letters from family members or work colleagues and these also need to be digitised. This involves extracting key data regarding the subject of the letter and adding it to spreadsheets. This captured data can then be imported into our collections management system called AdLib and a link made between the record for the letter and the corresponding portrait photographs.

Another programme might involve research in the public learning area. This summer 3 student volunteers will be evaluating a new interactive service that is part of the museum visits and this will involve interviewing both members of the public and volunteer members of the relevant teams. I should also mention again the press and PR placement that a history student took at IWM North in Manchester recently. The student worked with IWM during the First World War centenary year and helped promote our exhibition there, monitor its reception in the press and helped with numerous broadcasts airing from the museum. Her experience with us should help her get on to a postgraduate masters course in public relations because in the long term she wants to work in public relations focusing on the museums sector.

How can students make the most of their placement?  We get really good feedback from students who have been on placement but to make the most of the placement students should consider that it is a two way street. I would recommend that students embrace the fact that some of the work maybe routine; they should take the opportunity to observe what sector professionals are doing, see the kinds of skills they are deploying and make sure they leave the placement knowing what kind of skills gap they may have; they should get curious; they should be positive; ask questions and they should do this not just on placement but before the placement to make sure it is going to be right for them. Incidentally students should not be afraid to say no to a placement offer because we can always look at alternatives in due course. If they do not succeed on being placed I would recommend they consider our mainstream volunteer programme or more occasional ad hoc opportunities we can sometimes have for students to get involved.

If you are a student and interested in applying for an IWM student volunteer placement the next application round closes on 24 July 2015. For more information please visit the web site at and email for an application form to the Volunteer Programme Office at