Recent SFU Grads Reflect on their Volunteer Experience [Event Recap]

Peer Into Your Career - March 2011 Event Recap by Kelvin Claveria

What is life after graduation like? Do volunteer experience really help in the job search?  How do you fit in volunteer work with your already busy student life?

These are just some of the questions answered at last week’s Peer Into Your Career, an event presented by SFU Career Services and SFU Peer Programs. Four recent SFU grads were at the event to share some of the things they’ve learned. The panelists included:

The hour-long program brought up some key themes about the university life, volunteering and career transition. Here are some of the best nuggets:

1. Volunteering is beneficial.

Given that all the panelists are former volunteers of SFU Peer Programs, it’s probably no surprise that they’re all very passionate volunteers.

In Jessica’s case, she credited her time as a Learning and Writing Peer as one of the things that gave her an edge in getting into the SFU’s PDP Program. She recommended that anyone considering the program start volunteering now.

Earl also pointed out that sometimes it’s not necessarily about getting a job. He said, “Always try to give back – you’ll help others and you’ll help yourself.” As these examples show, volunteer work could provide tangible benefits in the future for students looking to gain competitive edge after graduation.

2. There is no plan.

When asked what it’s like in the real world after graduation, a couple of the panelists talked about finding themselves in a position that they did not necessarily plan for.

Jennifer, for instance, originally planned to go to medical school after graduation.  Although she didn’t get in to a med school, her involvement in many extra-curricular activities helped in landing her current job. Many of the skills she picked up as a Health Peer helped in getting her prepared for a career in Kinesiology. She still plans on pursuing med school someday, but Jennifer is happy to have found a job she enjoys.

3. Volunteering is addicting.

When asked about her current volunteer involvement, Candy used a popular catch phrase. “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” Candy proclaimed. Currently, Candy is volunteering for Vantage Point and will be sitting in as part of its board of directors.

Earl, too, has found himself continuing to volunteer even after graduation. Last holiday season, he volunteered as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. He’s also currently involved with Metro Vancouver Professionals.

4. You do have the time to volunteer.

Jennifer, in addition to her role with YMCA, also currently volunteers at a hospice. She said that contrary to popular belief, most university students actually could handle volunteer work on top of their school work.

By better managing their time, students can squeeze in a few hours a week – just think about how many hours you spend watching TV or  sleeping in! “There’s always time for more,” Jennifer concluded.

Candy also offered some advice regarding this. She told the audience to “be selective… and prioritize.” She shared a tip she received from one of her professors.

“Always bring a textbook with you because you never know when you’ll have 5 minutes,” she said.  Candy emphasized that students do have the time to volunteer; it’s just a matter of organizing your time and making sure that your priorities are in check.

Jennifer added that it’s a misconception that volunteer work will negatively affect your grades. As an example, she mentioned that her grades actually went up in her 2nd year of studies, right after she started getting involved.

5. Networking is key.

The panelists agreed that networking is integral in succeeding after graduation. Earl used the old adage “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” But he also added “actually, it’s who knows you.”

Earl said he goes to at least one networking event per week. “It’s fun – I enjoy it a lot.”

Some of the panelists also mentioned the importance of social networking sites. Candy suggested looking into LinkedIn.

Earl recommended Twitter. “Most of the jobs I got recently were from Twitter,” he said. For those wanting to look for jobs online in a more traditional way, Earl recommended Eluta and Craigslist.

Panelists Talk About Their Experience as a Peer

All the panelists agreed that being part of the SFU Peer Programs enriched their university experience and benefited their post-graduation plans.

Jessica credited the Peer Programs for improving her communication skills, especially because her role involved one-on-one consultation with students. She said she also learned how to become more assertive while still being respectful, an important skill given her career choice.

Candy and Earl, who both volunteered as Career Peer Educators with Career Services, also credited their experience for getting an edge in their own job search. They were both able to leverage the skills they’ve learned in resume and cover-letter writing as well as in interviews. According to Earl, at least two contracts that landed on his lap in 2010 were a direct result of his ability to write a good resume and cover letter.

The benefits of the Peer Programs go beyond gaining practical skills. As part of the program and with the help of a coach, peers are required to work on their core competencies.

Although she admitted not immediately seeing the long-term impact, Jennifer revealed that “working on my core competencies made me such a better person. It made me such a better Kinesiologist.”

Jessica added that working on her core competencies have helped her in becoming more self-reflective, a skill that’s very important for teachers. ”Because I was used to being challenged, I embrace challenges,” she said. Working with a coach has trained her to see discomfort as a good thing.

The panelists agreed that being part of the Peer Programs have enhanced their time at SFU because it allowed them to meet like-minded friends.

“I made friends with people that I don’t have anything in common with,” said Jennifer. “Peer educators are the best. You need to be one,” she concluded.

By Kelvin Claveria