NEW SERIES: A College Degree...Now What?

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By Tom O'Keefe

Did you know you don’t necessarily need a job or internship to gain relevant experience in your field?

Programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Teach for America, City Year, the Augustinian Volunteer Corps, Americorps, and the Peace Corps have always offered college graduates the chance to devote a year or more to someone in need & learn about the social injustices many people face everyday, both domestically and internationally. Now, it seems that these programs may be able to offer, not only a once in a lifetime opportunity to help others, but also an opportunity to gain valuable work experience in a time when finding an entry level job is difficult. It will show hiring managers that you were proactive and creative in your job search (as well as a caring person!) and that you took on a job with significant responsibilities and leadership roles, skills that will prove to be very important to any job.

Most of these programs offer room and board, a small stipend, and health insurance, along with a 40 hour work week where you volunteer your time helping others. There are a plethora of work opportunities and sites across the world. For example, if you’re interested in law, you can work as a paralegal. Interested in event planning? Try community organizing. Healthcare? You can work on staff at a hospital. Education? Teach. And the list goes on. As Kristi Daeda reiterates, “find an opportunity that supports your goals, document your activities and quantifiable successes, step up and take more.” Of course, if you’re passionate about a particular social issue or injustice, I urge you to pursuit that and be creative in honing your skills for your field. These organizations usually have a huge network of former volunteers, site leaders, and coordinators that may be able to help in your life after volunteering as well.

There are some steps you can take to make sure things are in place for when you return as well. Do your best to keep up with Twitter, your blog, or your LinkedIn profile and make sure your resume is always up to date (include your year of service experience!). Also, as J.T. O’Donnell suggests, contact some professionals in your field BEFORE you go and ask what you can do during your year of service to maximize your experience. Contact them several times during your volunteering to stay on their radar for a potential job upon returning.

Other things you can do during your year of service to bolster your resume are to blog about it, Twitter about it, introduce and manage social media for the organization you volunteer for, and, as Amanda Walsh recommends, stay abreast of news in and out of your industry. Also, towards the end of your service experience, start looking for jobs! This way, you can transition back as smoothly possible.

As a disclaimer, if you do a year of service, it should be because you want to, not because you want to someday leverage the experience into a job. These programs are challenging, require a huge amount of commitment and responsibility, and should not be taken lightly.

That being said, a year of service can give you the experience, time, and contacts to find what drives you, where your passions lie, and where you fit in the “real world,” so you can land that dream job when you finish.

As Thomas Edison once said, “Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”

For more post graduate volunteer opportunities, check out this list from the University of Notre Dame:

Tom graduated from Villanova University in December 2008 with a B.S. in Organizational Communication and a minor in Business. He has recently been accepted to complete a year of post-graduate service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps East. He hopes to incorporate his skills gained at Villanova in the education field to help disadvantaged children gain more from their experience in school. He can be found on Twitter ( & LinkedIn (