Some of you will know, either through knowing me personally or reading a previous post of mine (which I’d posted on my other blog, Fanciful Reality, because of the accompanying YouTube video, but linked it here) that I volunteer in a charity shop. In that post, I talked about the benefits of volunteering – knowing you’re helping a worthwhile cause, while making friends and having fun all at the same time, while possibly spotting an amazing bargain ahead of the crowd! A benefit I don’t think I touched on is the work experience, though I might have mentioned it in the video.
Don’t get me wrong – while the driving necessity for retail experience was a major factor in me deciding to volunteer, it almost immediately became much less of a focus, due to all the great reasons I listed above and in the original blog post. But having moved back to my small hometown with barely any money to my name, I needed a job, and at that point, I thought anything would do. That was mainly because I studied classics, and my hometown offers nothing to a classics graduate desiring to remain in the field. I applied to a lot of retail jobs, using academics as references, but of course, I received lots of rejections. Shops simply didn’t care whether I was a good student or not, because I couldn’t back certain things up well using only my academic career – and being a student says nothing about your till abilities!
After I’d been with the charity shop three or four months, I was able to obtain a reference from the manager, praising all that I’d learned on the job – till, interacting with customers, helping out, etc. And I was able to use what I’d done in my application too – I was able to write about stressful situations that weren’t about dissertation frustrations at 8am in the library. I was able to mention shop-specific situations. I felt that my applications were a lot stronger this time, and, being on Jobseeker’s Allowance (jobseekers’ welfare) by this time, I was feeling the strain of keeping up with the tasks I needed to do and record in order to receive my welfare money.
It didn’t take long for an application to be successful – in fact, the very first application I sent off with the new reference and details got me an interview. Then, I got a second interview, and a third, and I got the job! Now I’m a sales advisor for Debenhams, which is a high-class department store (not quite Selfridges level, but rather pricey), and I know the volunteering reference and experience must have been the kick my application needed. I wasn’t (and am not) paid for what I do with PDSA, but of course, whether you’re paid or not doesn’t make a difference to what you learn on the job.
There are three ways I feel volunteering gives a job application that extra kick: 1) as I said, you rack up retail experience without actually having to have a ‘real job’; 2) you can impress at whatever stage by making it clear that working in a charity shop is a lot less simple than a normal store, because your stock is unpredictable and ever-changing, showing you have to keep on the ball about what you have and don’t have in your store, and 3) it shows your potential employers that you have a good work ethic – you’re willing to work, and do a good job (corroborated by your volunteering manager’s reference) for absolutely nothing. Luckily, if the wage for the job has already been set, you don’t have to worry about the employer wanting to take advantage of you because you’re willing to work for free. And anyway, you’re willing to help a charity for free, not a corporate business. You will shine if it is apparent that you are happy to do your job and that money is not the sole factor in your dedication and assiduousness (even if it is :P).
So if you’re after a retail job but find it difficult to get any work experience, think about giving your local charity shop a visit. Again, you’d be helping a great cause, and also be helping yourself gain the experience you need to get your feet into the retail world! I probably wouldn’t be working now if I hadn’t begun volunteering; shops still wouldn’t have wanted a classics graduate who’d never touched a till in her life!