So…you’re probably going to hate me for saying this, but your degree doesn’t mean shit. Just kidding. Your degree means a lot in terms of further education, but to the big wide world and your future boss, it’s not just a fancy piece of paper that’s going to land you the job – it’s experience.
For a while I thought everything would be sweet; I’d finish my degree, put on the cap and gown, shake hands with whomever you shake hands with and walk off into the sunset to my dream job. But then I had an epiphany, one that felt great because it was like I cracked the code, but also one that made me die a little inside because I knew so much more work was coming my way.
I realised that I had to do more than just study; I had to get involved with companies, use the university clubs and media outlets to my advantage and put myself out there in order to gain experience for myself. So I did.
I volunteered for Greenpeace and worked in their media section of the office here in Auckland. I’m not going to lie, I had to contain my fangirling over the fact that I was actually there, at Greenpeace, sitting at a desk (trying not to spin in the swivel chair), logged into their computer and writing a blog post, for their website! It was so strange and cool all at the same time. But once I managed to get out of my fangirling fit I realised that it was just me, the swivel chair, the sticker coated desk and the computer screen blaring blankly at me. It was terrifying and for a moment I felt like I couldn’t do it, like I was a lost baby dolphin that had strayed too far from the pod.
After about five minutes of looking around at open water and feeling like a downright idiot, I came to the conclusion that I am just a baby dolphin. I don’t know too much (more like nothing) about baby dolphins but I think in moments like this they use some initiative. So I told myself that this is an opportunity to just try and to learn from a real workplace and if I mess up, then I mess up and I’ll just try again another time. After that lil’ pep talk I cracked into it and completely forgot that I was a fresh little volunteer.
Everything was going great. I was getting the work done, I was really enjoying writing and editing the blog post, talking to Jenny and Bob (totally not their real names and I just pretended I was talking to them) until something bizarre happened. Something whizzed past me all black and white and blurry, I had no idea what it was. I started looking around, leaning back in my chair trying to see all angles of the office. Had I been staring at photos of fish, birds and whales for too long? Then it flew past me again, this time with a green shirt flapping behind. What the heck was happening, was this normal? Then someone yelled out ‘Russel’ and the flying, blurry figure stopped. And there stood Russel Norman (former co-leader of the Green Party), one foot on a scooter, green shirt loose and still but something was wrong, his head was missing. In its place, was a penguin’s!
It’s safe to say that I had quite the learning experience at the Greenpeace office. I think the most important thing to take away from that experience isn’t that Russel Norman is a ¼ penguin, though that is quite the jaw-dropping discovery, it’s that volunteer work teaches you so many things. No matter who you volunteer with you will always gain new skills or improve ones you already have. For me, this experience showed what it feels like to be left at a desk and get a job done. I could have asked for help and guidance at any time, but in that moment, when I was really nervous and didn’t know what to do, it was a reminder that in the real world no one is there to hold your hand.
Uni is really hard. You’re stressed and tired, you have no time for both your friends and eight hours of sleep. But if you manage to squeeze in some extra circulars: a club, volunteering or better yet, an internship, the benefits of those things will reveal themselves in the future when you are applying for jobs. The reality is thousands of people go to university; they get the degree, shake their hand, wear the cap and gown and walk out into the world. For some it turns out ok and that fancy certificate conjures up some magic, for others… not so much. But if you can bring more to the table than just the certificate, if you can bring multiple examples of volunteering, experience in a workplace, involvement in events, research, whatever, then you will have a lot more to hold to your name.
There are loads of places you can go to volunteer and it’s really important that you choose ones that are going to add more experience to the job you’re looking for. If you want to be in public relations, volunteer at an office, you’ll get asked to do the really boring stuff but you’ll gain experience of actually being in that environment. If you want to be a nurse/doctor, volunteer at an old folks home. Not what you were thinking I know, but it will give you experience with helping and caring for people.
Right now, we are all baby dolphins swimming along with our big, secure pod called university. There’s a choice to be made, and it’s more important than you may think. We can either keep swimming in the pod until it’s our time to leave, left in open water to figure it all out with no going back, or we can swim out into open water during our time in the pod, get a little lost and scared and learn from those experiences, so that when it’s time to leave, the open water doesn’t seem so terrifying.