Leaving University; Getting a Job.

The Value in Volunteering

Leaving University; Getting a Job.

As someone who left university before I could complete my bachelor’s degree, due to issues with my mental health, I know what it can feel like to come out of what felt like a sure path to a job, and be left floundering for one.

I often found, in what seemed like an endless job hunt, that I was either not qualified enough (fair – I had dropped out, after all), or I was ‘too qualified’. I had never thought that someone could be ‘too qualified’ for a job, but I was quickly corrected.

It seemed that whichever way I turned, no matter how much I refined my CV, my cover letters, my interview skills, I just didn’t fit what these organisations were looking for.

At this point, I had been on Universal Credit for a few months, and in the course of my regular appointments with DWP, I was introduced to someone from LCVS. It turns out, that in the same building as Boston Borough Council, Lincolnshire County Council, and the JobCentre; Lincolnshire Community & Voluntary Services resided (and still resides).

Of course, after many failed job applications and interviews, and many previous volunteering experiences in retail (I really didn’t want to work in retail, but it was all I could find available that wasn’t physical work… I didn’t want to do that either!), to be told I could volunteer for LCVS in an admin role was perfect, and exactly what I wanted to do.

I was not expecting much (I didn’t want to end up disappointed) – but if I had, my experience in volunteering with LCVS would still have exceeded expectations. It was everything I wanted to do, and I felt trusted, respected, and like I was an integral part of the organisation.

In short, I loved it there. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t even care when the few jobs I applied for in the meantime fell through. I was still getting universal credit, and I truly loved my work at LCVS far more than I thought I would be able to in a paid position. I finally had a purpose again; something that the stress of university, and then proceeding to leave it, had taken from me.

I stayed at LCVS for a year. I had no thoughts of leaving, and because I enjoyed my work there, I continued to work hard, taking on new challenges. I had finally found a volunteering role that I enjoyed. It was such a welcome surprise when they told me they were looking for someone to fill a paid Admin position in a new project they were taking on, and were hoping I would apply.

Of course I was going to try for it! And, because I had volunteered there for a year (and they were all incredibly friendly) my application was just a few hundred words about what I could bring to the table, and my interview was little more than a chat. The nervousness I was so used to feeling in interviews was now nowhere to be seen.

I don’t remember now when they told me I’d been successful – I only remember feeling extremely lucky (although other staff have since reminded me how much I had applied myself to that volunteering role). It was a fixed term contract for just under a year for this exciting new project (the project itself only being funded for a year). I knew I would have to move on when it ended, but I was just so happy to have a job doing something I enjoyed at an organisation that was so kind to me.

Over that year, I slowly transitioned into my new responsibilities (incredibly important for someone who had had somewhat of a mental breakdown).  At 7.5 hours, I would be paid similarly to being on Universal Credit. Being able to support myself without UC was incredibly freeing. I continued volunteering on the side to help fill up my spare time.

When my contract was coming to an end, all I could think was ‘I don’t want to leave’. I knew I was going to have to start searching for another job – and I did, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t trying as hard as I should have. I had been treated so kindly by LCVS for almost 2 years at this point, doing a job I loved and which gave me purpose – all whilst getting paid to do so! How would I cope with leaving? Just thinking about it got my depression (which had been slowly fading into something so small, I often forgot it was there) rising again. I did not want to go down that road again – no, thank you.

Thankfully, I was asked to stay another year as a general Admin Assistant to LCVS – one of the projects I’ve worked the most on has been Youth Ambassadors – this very website being one product of this.

This time, there was no application or interview process. I just signed the new contract, excited to do more diverse admin work. Later, not many months after the new role, my hours were increased to 22.5 hours, which was something I had really been hoping and ready for.

My role is ever-expanding, it seems – and yet only ever at my own pace. I know that, should things get too much, I can just say so, and my workload and responsibilities will decrease as necessary. I always receive support.

As it stands now, I have no idea whether I’ll have a renewal of contract or an entirely new contract for a different role next year, or if that’ll be the end of my time with LCVS. But, after 3 years with LCVS (2 of them being in a paid position) and having had such a good experience; whilst I’ll be sad to leave, I will feel much more ready and able to do so.

At the age of 20, I dropped out of Uni, feeling like my life was out of my control.

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Now, at 23, I know that I get to choose the direction it goes in.

Your volunteering opportunity is out there, you just need to know where to look – often the less conspicuous organisations will have the right opportunity for you.

Live in Boston Borough, East Lindsey, South Holland, or South Kesteven?

You can get help with finding the right volunteering opportunity for you on LCVS’s volunteering page [http://www.lincolnshirecvs.org.uk/lcvs-volunteering-for-individuals/] by entering your details into the orange form.

Live elsewhere in Lincolnshire?

If you live elsewhere in Lincolnshire, you can visit VCS’s volunteering page at https://voluntarycentreservices.org.uk/volunteering/, where you can find out how to get in contact with VCS in the orange box.

Or, wherever in Lincolnshire you are, you can find opportunities for yourself, via Do IT | Connecting people to do good things.

Also, see our own Get Involved page for project opportunities in Lincolnshire.

Good luck! And who knows, although it may not be with the same organisation, it might even lead to a job! 😉

By Emma (Admin Assistant, LCVS).