Volunteering in retail can bring great benefits not only to the charity you’re joining but also for your CV. Many see volunteering as working for no money, but it can bring other benefits which may lead you to your dream job.
If you are either looking for your first job or looking to move into retail, then volunteering can be a great stepping stone. You don’t necessarily need experience – just enthusiasm and passion for the organisation you will be working for. Oxfam, in particular, look for people who have a passion for music, fashion or books.
So what skills can you acquire by volunteering in retail? There can be a wide range of skills – from basic skills to more developed skills such as a knowledge of fashion. Many organisations, like Oxfam, offer on-the-job training. This means volunteers gain experience in the retail industry – such as customer service, using a till system and working as part of a team in a retail environment.
Margaret Brooks volunteered to work in the Lemington Spa branch of Save the Children when it first opened over 20 years ago. By working there, she feels as though she developed a wide range of skills. She says: “I worked as part of a team, and we were left to mange the whole shop together. I had never worked in retail before, so I learnt a lot about customer service, fashion and also the money side of it.”
She also found she gained knowledge about certain designers and how to value and price clothes – something which she thinks would be valuable to anyone looking for jobs in fashion retail. “It’s not just the basic retail skills you pick up – sometimes it is the skills you hadn’t even thought about gaining, but could look great on your CV for future positions,” says Brooks.
Aside from being fun, volunteering can also be a great start if you’re unsure about moving into retail. It allows you to get a taste for the retail environment and see if it suits you, as the positions usually come with little pressure. The same goes for someone who is looking for a step back into work after being made redundant or having started a family. You will meet new people, who may turn out to be great contacts. People who volunteer like to help those they volunteer with.
So what does volunteering say to a potential employer? It shows that you are keen to learn and gain new skills in an industry you are looking to work in. And because volunteering is unpaid work it may show to an employer that you are serious about a career in retail. Leisha Ashton, head of volunteering for Oxfam says: “As an employer it is great to see that someone has filled their CV up with volunteer work. Showing that you have gained new skills while you were trying to find a paid position looks much better than a gap on your CV.”
Plus, volunteers may become full-time staff. Many of Oxfam’s paid manager positions are taken by people who have volunteered. Oxfam’s present head of retail also started out by volunteering in one of Oxfam’s shops and worked her way up to the position she is in now.
Or a volunteering position could be the first step to getting a paid retail job somewhere else. “Volunteering at one of our shops has been great for some of the younger people who have come to work for us. They have gained new skills and then can go on to take them to a paid position – either in retail or another industry,” says Brooks.
Working as a volunteer for a charity can also give you a sense of well-being – as you feel as though you are giving back to the community. “You get to be part of a team who are giving back to people less fortunate than you. If you go on to work for another retail company, you can take this with you, knowing that you have gained experience but also helped others,” says Ashton.
Even if volunteering is only a small part of your working history, you’ll feel as though you have given something back. “It is a great way to meet people and at the same time give back to your community,” says Brooks.
So whether you’re looking to gain experience in retail and use volunteering as a stepping stone or see volunteering in retail as a more long-term opportunity, you will see the benefits – either by gaining new skills, helping out the community or securing a paid position in retail.
Extra helful: Advice on preparing your CV and application