Have you ever been sat in an interview and been asked for a specific example of when you have “thought outside of the box”? Or maybe a prospective employer asked you for an example of when you had “worked with a team to overcome a challenge”? Volunteering skills may just provide the answers to help you stand out.
Annoying as they are, these types of questions are extremely common. This is especially true in ‘competency-based’ interviews when it can be very difficult to avoid descending into a mumbling spiral of incoherent clichés. Yes, employers do want to hear that you have fresh ideas and are a team player.However these buzz words mean nothing without concrete proof. So what is a young jobseeker to do? Well if you have no experience, volunteering abroad is a great way to get some! Here are my top 5 ‘transferable skills’ learnt during my time volunteering in Ecuador, that can be applied to almost any interview situation…
This is a classic. From graduate recruiters to PGCE admissions officers, prospective employers love to look for evidence of ‘leadership’ in young applicants. Whether you are applying for a corporate, public or charity sector job, make sure you’ve got some ready-prepared examples. At moments like these, I use the example of me taking my very hyper, Ecuadorian class of 6 year olds from knowing no English to being able to count, sing the alphabet and have simple conversations.
2. Problem-solving and adaptability
Fortunately, my experience in Ecuador was very rich in examples of thinking on my feet to solve problems. As a teaching assistant, I used to help the school’s English teacher give lessons to all the 8 different age groups in the school. However, one day she didn’t turn up (it turned out she was ill) which meant I had about 2 minutes notice before taking all of her classes by myself. Some very creative lessons later, I had proven that I could take my own classes. I was then allowed to go solo as a teacher from then on!
3. Time management
20 English classes to give per week, plus lesson planning time, plus 12 hours of afternoon work helping staff? Also salsa classes, plus travelling every weekend? With so much going on, your time management volunteering skills speak for themselves!
As a volunteer abroad, your communication skills will be in high demand. Whether you are teaching, working as an outdoor instructor or caring assistant, you will need to communicate effectively with your colleagues and students/residents. In a country where English is not widely spoken, your communication skills will be further tested as you get to grips with the local lingo. My favourite example of successful communication from my volunteering experience abroad was negotiating in Spanish. I managed to gain a new free flight after we arrived 7 minutes late for check-in. Not only did we get another flight, they gave us €250 in compensation!
5. Working as part of a team
It seems so simple, but working as part of a team can bring its own unique challenges. Throw in some cultural differences and such challenges will be heightened. Volunteering abroad is a great opportunity to show that you can also successfully work with people whose backgrounds are very dissimilar to your own.
So there you have it – proof that gaining volunteering skills abroad is a life-enhancing experience. It’s also a stepping stone to securing yourself a career when you get home!