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Why Every College Student Should Work for a Non-Profit Before Graduating

Updated on September 4, 2017
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Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

Volunteer internships and practicum placements in non-profit organisations can help college students get a competitive edge over their peers when they graduate and enter the workforce.

Two Reasons Non-Profit Employers Like to Hire Practicum Students

Organizations that offer practicum programs in partnership with colleges and universities benefit in several ways:

  • Only the best of the best candidates make it into practicum programs. Most college students eligible for their school's field study and internship programs must have a high grade point average before being allowed into the program. That means when employers are sent eligible applicants to interview, much of the pre-screening work has already been done by the practicum coordinators. Transcripts have been verified and the student's skills have been assessed. The practicum coordinators want to help both their students and the company's their working with find a good fit.
  • Some charities can get grants to hire summer practicum students. In many situations, charitable organizations can apply for government grants to subsidize the hiring of summer students. (A 2009 report published by the Congressional Research Service says that 7% of the American workforce works in the charitable sector, while another 10% of the workforce is employed in the non-profit sector.)

A 2009 report published by the Congressional Research Service says that 7% of the American workforce works in the charitable sector, while another 10% of the workforce is employed in the non-profit sector.

10 Job Skills You Can Learn While Working for a Non-Profit

Working for a worthy charitable organization, even for a short period of time, can give you transferable skills that are highly sought after in both the corporate and charitable sectors. Here are 10 things you can learn by volunteering or working for a charity before you leave college:

  • Budgeting
  • Public speaking
  • Fundraising
  • Event planning
  • Leadership
  • Public relations
  • Writing and editing
  • General office administration
  • Retail sales
  • Strategic planning

Here are some tips and suggestion for how to impress your practicum employment recruiter and increase your chances of getting hired.

  • Previous volunteer experience is will help you stand out. Community work, volunteer service, and awards and accolades you've received should be highlighted on your résumé.
  • Clearly state your learning objectives on your C.V. Identify the key skills you want to learn during your practicum so that the organization can determine if they'll be able to give you the work experience you need to develop those skills.
  • Do your homework. Read everything you can about the organization before the interview. Learn about the organization's mission, vision and values and who they serve.
  • Dress professionally and appropriately.
  • Project confidence with a warm smile and a firm handshake.
  • Be prepared and bring more that just a copy of your resume with you to the interview. A portfolio of your work, letters of recommendation, press clippings or copies of awards could be useful for your interviewer. You never know if the interviewer will to see these things but it doesn't hurt to have them handy so that you can highlight your accomplishments.
  • Always send a thank you note after your interview.

If you make it past the interview process and do get offered a job, keep up the level of professionalism you showed during the recruitment and interview process.Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time working for a charitable organization.

  • Watch your wardrobe. Notice how other staff adhere to the organization’s dress code and then try to dress just a notch up from that; not too casual, not too formal. If you are going to be exposed to the media, for example as part of a fundraising event, plan accordingly so that you look sharp and professional.
  • When invited to do so, always participate in staff meetings. Contribute to thoughtful discussions. You have a fresh, outsider perspective that can give the organization a better sense of how they are perceived by the public. Don't underestimate the value of showing up and offering your creative ideas during a staff meeting or brainstorming session.
  • Participate in off-site events and outreach activities. If you want to make a positive impression while working for a non-profit organization, be flexible. Though some of your organization’s special events and fundraising events may not be within your paid office hours, volunteering to help out anyway will be greatly appreciated. After all, not all worthwhile work experience has to be paid work.
  • Have fun and get to know your co-workers. Don’t be a wallflower or eat your lunch at your desk by yourself. Always find time to take your lunch break with your co-workers. One of the best parts of working for a non-profit organization is the diverse, hard-working people you'll meet and socializing over lunch is a great way to learn more about the culture and values of the organization.

Working for a charitable organization before you graduate from college can be a fun learning experience with great opportunities for networking.
Working for a charitable organization before you graduate from college can be a fun learning experience with great opportunities for networking.

Practicums with non-profit groups give college students a chance to develop their leadership potential, acquire in-demand job skills, and find rewarding employment after graduation. You've got nothing to lose. If you think you're qulified to participate in your college's practicum program, make an appointment with an advisor to explore your options.

If you haven't made plans to volunteer or work for a non-profit before you graduate from college, now is the time to start planning ahead.
If you haven't made plans to volunteer or work for a non-profit before you graduate from college, now is the time to start planning ahead.

© 2017 Sally Hayes

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