Whether you’re looking for part-time work, an internship or a graduate job, volunteering can be a great way to develop skills, build your networks and gain experience of the New Zealand workplace.
Divya Kataria, from India, says the many volunteer roles she had while studying in New Zealand helped her develop personally and professionally.
Divya aimed high with her first voluntary role. In her first year of studying for a Bachelor of Engineering at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), she set up an exchange programme giving AUT engineering students the opportunity to study at a university in Prague.
“I had this desire to go to Europe,” says Divya.
“So I made it my life’s mission to form a bilateral agreement between a European university and my university in New Zealand so that I and many other students could go and study there and experience a semester abroad.”
With AUT’s support, Divya spent two years setting up the agreement between AUT and Czech Technical University in Prague.
“It was such a confidence booster for me to form something from scratch,” she says.
Divya didn’t stop there. When she came back from her semester in Prague, Divya joined the student board of AUT’s engineering department. The role involved giving the dean feedback every month about classes, assignments, exam timetables and any other areas students had concerns about.
She later became international affairs officer at AUT and then president of the student association, an elected role that involved representing the university’s 30,000 students on the AUT council. Divya also held multiple ambassador roles.
“Through these volunteering roles, I’ve met international students from all around the world – some from countries that I didn’t even know the name of,” says Divya.
“Volunteering is crucial for your personal development and for your professional development.”
Divya’s advice to international students who are job hunting is to build up their skills by volunteering with their student association, or to help with other activities or events on campus.
The experience Divya gained through her roles at AUT gave her relevant skills – such as leadership, communications and time management – to put on her CV when applying for graduate or intern roles.
She believes employers look for volunteering experience on international students’ CVs.
“If you’ve not had many part time jobs, it’s fine. But employers want to look at your CV and ask: Do you take time out of your life to contribute to the community? To contribute to New Zealand? How proactive have you been in getting to know Kiwis’ culture and language? What are you doing towards the development of your community or your university, and towards your personal and professional development?”
Volunteer work also makes candidates stand out in job interviews, says Divya.
She says five interview questions employers often ask international students about their volunteering work include:
What volunteering roles have you had?
Why do you do voluntary work?
Do you enjoy volunteering?
What skills have you gained from volunteering?
Has volunteering made you more professional?
Divya stayed on in New Zealand after finishing her studies to work as a graduate civil engineer on a major government infrastructure project in Wellington. Her job involves handling the construction of two bridges.
However, Divya’s post-graduate career hasn’t ended her passion for working in the community. She now volunteers as a United Nations peace ambassador, raising money to help North Koreans affected by tuberculosis.