How to Start Writing your Volunteer or Work Experience Section
Although the course has titled this section “Volunteer or Work Experience” there are many different activities and experiences that you can use to write about meaningful events outside of your academic life. Here is a list of questions that indicate possible entries for this section: Volunteer or Work Experience Questions.
These experiences (and more traditional work and volunteer experiences) are expanded ways to think about how you became who you are now, where you might want to go next, and what you can contribute. As you ask yourself these questions, you may find that this is a section where have a lot to say.
Why this Section Matters
You may recall from the Learning Outcomes sheet that it is a good idea to think of your accomplishments not only as credentials – “I earned my BA at FIU in Liberal Studies” – but also in terms of skills:
❖ Critical thinking
❖ Creative thinking
❖ Written communication
❖ Oral communication
❖ Quantitative literacy
❖ Information literacy
❖ Civic knowledge and engagement – local and global
❖ Intercultural knowledge and competence
❖ Ethical reasoning
❖ Foundations and skills for lifelong learning
❖ Integrative learning
As you write this section, think about which of these skills and attributes you developed and demonstrated outside of your academic life.
Be sure to review the Volunteer or Work Experience Specifications Checklist and Grading Rubric before getting started.
Pro Tip: many people are surprised to find that in order to provide significant context for their experiences, they have to research their own lives. Dude, really! Ex: If you volunteered with an organization that provided relief to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, go to the organization’s webpage to read its description of the crisis and how its team intervened. Contact friends who volunteered with you and ask what part of the experience was meaningful to them and they remember. Check news reports to be sure you remember the name and dates for the storm. Biggest rookie mistake: Writing everything from memory.
❖ IV. Plan for the Future ❖
In this section, develop and reflect on your five-year goals. Think about where you want to be in 5 years.
Your Submission for this Section should have Three Elements:
- Clear and specific statement of your 5-year goal(s). This assignment isn’t a contract with the universe or anyone else; you may refine or completely change your goals in the coming years. So, that means you shouldn’t twist your mind into knots trying to uncover and articulate the “perfect” goal. The point of this exercise is to imagine the concrete steps that someone might take to reach a desired outcome.
- This: In 5 years, I want to be a country Desk Officer for the United States Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
- Not This: My goal is to work as a diplomat or something international. I just love traveling.
- Discuss the tools you’ll need for success. What skills, personal attributes, certifications, credentials, experiences, and/or connections will you need to reach your stated goal(s)?
- This: To reach this goal, I will probably need a master’s degree in International Relations and also some entry-level experience. I am looking into an internship or entry-level job with non-profit organizations that partner with the State Department. One of my professors mentioned the Foreign Service Officer test. I suspect that I will need that too.
- Not This: Getting to be a diplomat is a tough and competitive but I know I can distinguish myself because I am a hard worker who gets along well with other people.
- In your discussion of the tools you’ll need for success, clearly state how you know what you know. In other words, you will need clear and specific references to the research and/or networking activities that you used to inform your thinking.
- This: In researching this career, I studied several Desk Officer biographies on the State Department webpage and observed that most people in the field of diplomacy have advanced degrees, often studying International Relations. I also asked the FIU’s Career and Talent Development office for help in finding Florida organizations that are involved in international diplomacy. Working together, we found Global Ties Miami, an organization that works with the U.S. State Department’s professional exchange program. I have written to the director of Global Ties Miami to share my long-term goals and to ask about volunteer opportunities. I have also located the State Department’s information page for the Foreign Service Officer test. I still have lots of questions but I now I also have some answers too.
What to Avoid
Here are some Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them:
- People who defined their goals in terms of salary often struggle with this section. People who think about their careers as a way to make a meaningful contribution to their communities, country, humanity, other living things or to planetary health, find that their thoughts flow more easily and they have more to think about and to say.
- People who try to write this section without networking or research often find that even their best ideas seem superficial and vague when they try to write them down. Sometimes we get a notion (a vague information-less idea) from movies or television shows that suggests a career path to us. Or out of sense of romance, we connect two things that might not be as connected as they seem.
- Joe saw a movie about a stock trader and now tells everyone he’s headed to Wall Street. But Joe knows very little about what college degrees most traders have or what actual traders do all day. He also hasn’t kept up with technological advancements; he has no idea, for example, about how algorithmic trading might change his prospects.
- Linda loves dogs – old ones, puppies, big ones, little ones. Since junior high, she’s been telling everyone that she wants to be a veterinarian. But she doesn’t know how long people study to have that career or even if there are veterinary schools near her parents’ home. She’d like to stay in South Florida and raise her children near their grandparents, aunts, and cousins. How much student loan debt do most veterinarians carry. And mostly she has no idea what veterinarians do all day. What percentage of each day is spent on accounting, draining infected boils, euthanizing or sterilizing animals, cuddling cute puppies, and so on?
In both cases, Joe and Linda need more information:
- People who wait until the fourth or fifth week of the semester to start work on this section often find that networking opportunities take time to set up and that research can lead to a dead end or to more questions. People who start late, sometimes imagine that this work can be effectively started and completed over one weekend or even one night. Although, you are only required to produce 300-400 words, this assignment will take most people several hour-long sessions to complete. That is because each sentence must convey a deep and informed understanding of your goal and how to reach it.
How to Get Started
- Step 1: Here are three scenarios. Read each one and then imagine how this person might write his or her Plan for the Future section. Plan for the Future Section Examples.
- Step 2: After you read the three scenarios, think about your own story. You might even try writing down your own story and printing it out. Then go back to the three required elements for this section of the report. Compare your story to the elements you’ll need to include for this section.
Be sure to review the Plan for the Future Section Specifications Checklist and Grading Rubric before getting started.
Pro Tip: Many students use thinking about and writing this section as an opportunity to network or investigate graduate programs. Things you might do: Using the internet, personal contacts or the FIU directory, locate someone who has already achieved your goal. Read their biography or informally interview them about the path they took to reach the goal. For example, if you are thinking of a career in video game story design, research which universities offer advanced training for this career; go to the library to locate books about it; talk your friends; visit your professors during office hours.
❖ V. Appendix ❖
In this section, attach your CV and any artifacts: papers, images, presentations, group projects, digital media (video and audio), creative artwork, links, internship reflections etc. Each artifact must be labeled.
Review each section of your report. In many places, you will have made a claim about something you have accomplished. Here, in this section, you will provide the proof of your claim by attaching evidence.
- If in the Curriculum section you discuss a course where you and your team made an effective video (Prezi, PowerPoint presentation etc.), include a link to the video in your appendix.
- If in the Curriculum section you discuss a course where you wrote a paper or annotated bibliography that shows your research and critical thinking skills, include a copy of the paper in your appendix.
- If in the Volunteer section you tell of a trip where you studied abroad in France, include pictures from the trip in your appendix.
- If for the Plan for the Future section you interviewed a local business leader, include a photo of your meeting notes.
Appendix Grading | An appendix that Earns all the Section V Points will Include:
- CV with a file name that makes it easy for the reader to know at a glance which CV goes with which report.
- This file name: MartinezTM CV Spring 2019.docx (Author’s last name and first initials, type of document, month and year created)
- Not this file name: CV.docx
- Not this file name: CV IDS Capstone.docx
Imagine you are an instructor with 50 students. Which file name would be most helpful to you? Suppose 20 of your students label their CV as CV.docx. How do you easily tell one CV from the other? The clear-labeling requirement is a good rule to follow when applying for jobs. The recruiter or boss may have a stack of electronic files to review; don’t make her search to find yours.
- In addition to the CV, include at least three different artifacts, each with a file name that makes it easy for the reader to know at a glance which artifacts go with which report. Three is the minimum but you may want to include far more. Remember: No orphan artifacts. Each artifact in the appendix must be referenced clearly somewhere in the report.
- An appendix that is missing artifacts, has mislabeled or deceptive artifacts, or in any other way does not follow these directions, will sacrifice points accordingly.
Imagine that your reader may know far less than you about the areas where you are developing expertise. At any point in the Report, you may want (need!) to insert an explanation that provides context for your interests, accomplishments, and goals. Ex: If you are excited by the ways that data collection might prepare our society for climate change, you will have to devote time and intellectual energy to helping your reader to understand systems that collect data, typical uses for collected data, and how your ideas depart from or add to the ongoing data-collection conversation between experts and stakeholders that are taking place around you.
Dos and Don’ts
✔ DO carefully balance a personal approach with professionalism (but not too personal)
✔ DO explore a blend of academics AND action
✔ DO more showing than telling, but both are necessary
✘ DON’T include everything you have done—only those samples and artifacts that best represent your work
✘ DON’T retell your academic history; think about the skills and knowledge that are a part of your work at the university.