Getting Real World experience

Volunteering and working with communities with is a great way to gain valuable real world experience, to develop new skills, to meet new people, to do something worthwhile and to improve your employability. There are volunteering projects out there to suit everyone, from a few hours per week in your local community to spending years on development projects in third world countries.

If you are coming to the end of your studies, particularly in your final year, or about to take a work placement module, you may be in a position to choose your own project or thesis topic.  If so, you might like to consider working in collaboration with an underserved community group. Students Learning With Communities is a TU Dublin centre that makes links between students (and their supervisors) and community organisations, to develop collaborative, course-based projects for mutual benefit. 


Even after graduating from your certificate, diploma or degree you may still be uncertain about what to do next. You may want to travel abroad or get experience in a career area before specialising. You may also be motivated by the opportunity to make life better for others or to 'give something back'.

Volunteering takes on many shapes and forms, from a few minutes a week to and can be done both here in Ireland and overseas.

Volunteering can:

  • help you to stand out from the crowd and will show employers that you've got drive and initiative. Make sure you include it on your CV- volunteering gives you a competitive edge and can increase your employability.
  • provide employers with evidence of interpersonal skills (communication, delegation, and people management) and self-reliance skills, all of which can either be obtained or enhanced through voluntary work experience. If you have led a volunteer project, you are likely to have developed leadership, time management, entrepreneurship, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • help you to develop a network with which you can discuss your career ideas. Take advantage of the opportunity to get advice and information from people working in a field which interests you.
  • help you to reach, consider, or develop long term goals and enhance emotional maturity.
  • gives you experience not easily found in a paid position.
  • help you gain skills and experience that you don't have but are necessary to get the job you want; and remember...
  • Voluntary work can be very rewarding and fun!
  • Research the causes or issues important to you. Look at groups or organisations that work with issues you feel strongly about.
    • Consider the skills you have to offer. Incorporate aspects of your personality e.g. interest in outdoor work.
    • Yearning to learn something. Acquire a new skill, e.g. volunteering to work on the newsletter for the local homeless shelter will improve your editing and writing skills. If you wish to obtain something in particular from volunteering, look for a charity or volunteer group with:
    • A job specification that sets out what you do
    • Supervision/Appraisal sessions to assess your work (ie how are you developing)
    • Combine your goals: Look for opportunities that help to achieve other personal goals e.g. if you want to lose a few pounds, choose an activity with young children or manual work.
    • Don't over commit your schedule. Better to start out slowly than to commit yourself to a schedule you can't or don't want to fulfil. Maybe start out on a limited number of hours until you get the feel of things e.g. few hours helping to feed deserted pets at an animal sanctuary?
    • Non-Profit Organisations may have questions, too! Be aware you may have to attend an interview or fill out an application form. This is usually undertaken in the interest of children and 'at risk' populations with whom the organisation have a legal responsibility to consider.
    • Virtual Volunteering. Yes it does exist! volunteering from home!
    • Give voice to your heart through your giving and volunteering!
      "Bring your heart and your sense of humour to your volunteer service, along with your enthusiastic spirit, which in itself is a priceless gift. What you get back will be immeasurable"
    • Find out first. Ask for written information about the charity's programs, finance and their authorities. Make certain you are comfortable with their fundraising methods and expenditure of funds. Remember it is unlawful for charities to promote political views. Get in touch with returned or previous volunteers.
    • Enjoy yourself!!!
  • Art and Design: Youth and community centres, art galleries
  • Drama: Youth and community groups, prisons
  • Media, Journalism, Marketing: Promotion, advertising and reporting for various organisations
  • Architects, Engineers, Construction: Overseas projects for Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
  • Food Scientists, Hospitality Management, Culinary Arts: With the NGOs you could learn about food production, ethnic cooking on a budget, and nutritional issues which affect the indigenous populations of countries such as Africa.
  • Tourism: Camp counsellors in the US and Australia, and numerous opportunities with both USIT and APSO in third world countries.
  • Leisure Management: community games, coaching soccer and GAA teams, overseeing youth clubs, after school programmes, Summer and Easter camps. For those of you wishing to get onto the Graduate Diploma in Teaching, this may be a plus on your application.
  • Music: retirement centres, homes for the elderly, church choirs.
  • Computers/Writing: virtual volunteering, visit:
  • Languages: not the obvious "let's au-pair in France for the summer" but other summer camps or overseas projects where your language of study is spoken. Impress employers with more than your compulsory placement abroad. Show that you have a genuine interest in the language, culture and country. Also don't forget about business development.
  • Social Care: demonstrates that you are not just fulfilling your compulsory work experience for college
  • Environmental health: conservation activities in Ireland or abroad.
  • Information on Volunteering in Ireland and Abroad