Why do it?

Who in their right mind would work for free? Internships and volunteer positions are a fantastic way of making an impression on a future employer and, moreover, making an impression on society.

Volunteering

Doing volunteer work is one of the best feelings in the world. You might be interested in helping people, animals, local social enterprises or international organisations. The work might not be easy, but it will definitely be rewarding. Employers will look favourably on volunteer work, but don’t make this the driving force behind helping out those in need. Find a cause you’re passionate about and check out their website, as well as university careers services, for info about volunteer positions.
 

Internships

You may be seeking employment in an unpaid internship in order to gain some unparalleled experience in your field of interest. To avoid the typical Catch 22 employment situation – “you can’t work unless you have experience, but you need work to gain experience” – try looking for internship work to boost your chances of getting employed. Not all internships are going to be advertised (indeed most are filled through word-of-mouth recommendations), so if you’re really keen to gain some work experience at a particular company or in a particular field, take the initiative to do some research and make the first contact!

Internships and volunteering are also a really good way of getting a taste for your profession or later career. It’s sad but true that some university degrees can only teach you so much in terms of the practical aspects of a particular industry or role. So be on the look out for companies or organisations which you’d like to work for, because it could lead to long-term employment down the track.

For example, many law students apply for volunteer legal assistant positions with community legal centres (which can be found here: www.naclc.org.au/directory) - they may also offer an opportunity to complete your practical legal experience later on. These roles help you understand the day-to-day operations of your chosen field, which you may have minimal knowledge of by just reading your textbooks.

For business students who miss out on prestigious cadetships or internship programs with the big four accounting firms – there’s still hope! Some of the best work experience can be found by speaking to family and friends who run small to medium businesses, these places are often short-staffed and you are likely to have much greater responsibility and contact with management compared to large corporations.