Re-entering the New Zealand workforce after a VSA assignment has its challenges. Many VSA volunteers do not return to their former places of employment, or even to the same type of work.
Here are eight tips on re-entering the job market:
1. Think of your assignment as a secondment
Try to position your assignment as a career continuum, like a secondment where you’ve built your own skills while plugging a gap in another organisation.
One risk when you re-enter the New Zealand workforce is that an employer might see your assignment as a career break – not so much a holiday, but time out. So ‘mainstream’ the experience as another step in your career.
2. ‘Doing good’ while developing skills
A volunteer’s motivation is more likely to be a desire to ‘do good’ than professional development. However, employers who are not familiar with VSA are likely to see volunteering as a ‘nice to have’ without realising how the whole experience stretches and grows an individual.
Address that perception by explaining how you’ve developed skills and competencies ranging from resilience and initiative to team building and leadership – i.e. “I gained as well as I gave”.
3. Present your assignment like any other job
Some volunteers write about their assignment in their CVs differently than their career roles. It is presented as a narrative, as though they’ve had two years’ time out travelling in the south of France.
So detail your assignment in your CV as you would any other job. Specify the role, and bullet point responsibilities and achievements. Take care not to use ‘development speak’. Instead of ‘cross cultural communication’, try ‘listening and communication skills’. Even the term ‘volunteer’ can be misunderstood – where you can, use your job title e.g. ‘health educator’ instead of volunteer.
4. Here to stay
Beware of giving the impression that you will head off overseas again at the first opportunity. Emphasise the good things about being home and your commitment to working in Aotearoa New Zealand.
5. Older workers
Older workers, particularly those who have been out of the job market for a time, can find it tougher to get back into work. Don't give the impression that your assignment was an 'end of career' final fling. Ensure that in your CV, covering letter and interviews, you position your assignment as complementing your previous career. Whether resuming that career or embarking on a change of direction, your assignment was a building block on the way.
6. Be confident
You have developed useful, transferable skills that are extremely relevant to the New Zealand workforce. Have the confidence to say how you developed and benefitted from your assignment. Say what was in it for you.
7. Do a stocktake
Do a skills stocktake from before and after the assignment. The difference is what you can talk about with a prospective employer. When listing what you achieved, include personal achievements e.g. “I developed significant levels of relationship building skills.”
8. Use your VSA reports
You’ve already done much of the thinking for everything above in your reports while on assignment. Pick out the key competency and skill elements from your 6-monthly, yearly and final VSA reports.
- Seek claims to be New Zealand’s no.1 job finding site.
- DoGoodJobs connects job seekers with not-for-profits and social enterprises.
- Smart Select, established in February 2017, is free for all job hunters. You can also post your CV.
- LinkedIn, the world's largest professional network with 400 million members in 200 countries. An ideal setting to position your assignment in terms of 1, 3 and 5 above.
- If you're interested in further work in international development, Devex Jobs posts job announcements from around 300 NGOs and development agencies. There's also links to a series of Career webinars on topics including Starting Your Career; Ask the Recruiter; CV Tips and Career Basics; and Career Spotlights.