January 26, 2017, by Kathryn Steenson

The Advantage of Volunteering

This is a guest post by Isobel Sheene, BA English and History student.

It’s the age-old problem: you can’t get a job without experience, but how do you get experience without a job? Never fear – if you’re interested in a career in heritage, we have the answer: volunteering. I’m a student who recently completed a placement at Manuscripts and Special Collections through the Nottingham Advantage Award, and I want to explain why you should consider doing the same.

My experience

Manuscripts and Special Collections is the University of Nottingham’s archive on King’s Meadow Campus. As part of the NAA module ‘Experience Heritage’, I was given a placement there for 35+ hours volunteering. Over the course of the Autumn Term, I have been given the opportunity to see the heritage sector from the inside, understanding how archives work, receiving handling training, and getting hands-on experience in the reading room and digitisation.

Because I was working through the NAA module, I also got the opportunity to visit locations other students had been given placements at, including the Boots archive (yes, that Boots), Brewhouse Yard Museum at Nottingham Castle, and Culture Syndicates, who are heritage consultants.

If you are considering volunteering, I would personally recommend the Advantage Award module, as you get lots of extras out of it, including career help such as CV workshops and assessment styles that prepare you for working life.

Isobel sitting at a scanner, wearing nitrile gloves, digitising photos of the University

Isobel digitising photos of the University

Why you should give it a go

Volunteering is an excellent thing to put on your CV. Yes, that’s what people say about everything, but it’s true. You gain experience working in a professional environment, which shows employers you know what to expect and are prepared for the world of work. It shows you are committed, can to work independently and be self-motivated, and demonstrates your time management skills. And that can be applied to any job application, not just heritage.

For heritage in particular, though, volunteering is a great option. You are able to explore many different aspects of the heritage sector, so it’s perfect for exploring your options and learning more about what it’s really like to work in that environment. It’s also very important to have experience – heritage is a competitive option, so if you can demonstrate your commitment and prior knowledge, you are much more likely to be successful.

More importantly, it’s enjoyable. I had great fun discovering what was in the boxes I was sorting through, and getting to see and handle photos from the university in WWII was really interesting. There’s a lot to learn, and sometimes it can be challenging, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Photo of an archive box, a rolled up plan and a file of letters and newscuttings on a table

UoN Halls of Residence archives, listed by Isobel

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to try volunteering on a heritage placement. Even if you’re not currently thinking of a job in heritage, the real-world working experience and career help is invaluable, and it’s important to be able to showcase your interests, skills, and commitments to employers. So get out there and start volunteering – it might just be that CV boost that gets you your dream job.

More information about the Nottingham Advantage Award, including a handbook of modules, is available from the Careers and Employability Service website, or you can follow them @advantageaward. For more information about volunteering generally in Manuscripts and Special Collections, visit our website or email us on mss.library@nottingham.ac.uk

Posted in Guest blogs