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Mind the Gap

If you've been thinking about your future career direction, you might have identified one or two gaps in your CV--skills that your prospective dream employer will be looking for but you don't have. Or, maybe you've yet to settle on a definite direction and are swithering between two equally attractive options.

Either way, volunteering could provide some answers by giving you the chance to try things out before committing to a full-time job. That's what you'd hear from Student Volunteering UK ( SVUK), a group that supports and develops student-led, community-based volunteering.

You don't have to be a beardy do-gooder to volunteer. In fact the biggest beneficiary of a few hours of your time could well be you. That's the message that comes across loud and clear in SVUK's workbook The Art of Crazy Paving. "Virtually every job in the marketplace can be mirrored by a voluntary opportunity," it claims, and Crazy Paving's aim is to help you derive the maximum career benefit from those opportunities.

The workbook walks you through all the usual stages of career planning, from working out where you want to go and just which skills you will need to develop, to building a network and creating your "knock 'em dead" CV. What makes this publication different is that it clearly shows how voluntary work can be just as effective as paid employment in convincing future employers that you're the one that they want. Throughout the workbook, personal profiles show how volunteering helped former students define their career paths, and testimonies from companies reveal how highly they rate applicants' voluntary experiences.

This publication is definitely more than a worthwhile read--in fact, if you sat down to plough through it from cover to cover you'd be finished in no time. It's very much a workbook in that it sets you tasks, such as carrying out a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, and following a 10-stage plan to build your network. The final section, which offers some great advice on CV writing, also lists "the ten toughest interview questions" and gives tips on how to answer them by using your volunteer experience.

Although Crazy Paving seems to be aimed primarily at undergraduates, it's often postgrads and postdocs who need the most help with career changing, and they're not exactly flush with spare time. But one of the most interesting things I found in reading through this publication was that volunteering activities can be extraordinarily diverse. So, even if you don't have much time, there could still be a voluntary opportunity out there to meet your needs.

Whether you're already a volunteer or considering doing something to help others as well as yourself, Crazy Paving could help focus your efforts. At £10 it's not cheap, but ultimately you could find it's worth a lot more to you than a few pints, and you might be able to share it with a friend!

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