How successful as a volunteer can you lead ?

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Gurdeep Sahota found his dream job

Out of university, unable to find a job no matter how hard he tried, Gurdeep Sahota decided to do voluntary work at a British Heart Foundation shop.

After just two months there, Gurdeep, 22, hit the jackpot. He was offered a full-time paid job as a sales assistant at a new BHF furniture and ­electrical store in Essex.

“When I walked into the shop last August, it was the best decision of my life,” says Gurdeep.

“I was pretty low at the time. I’d been unemployed for five months and was struggling to keep my energy going.”

Surviving on Jobseeker’s Allowance, he was beginning to think there was little or no future for him.

“I was so worried about my CV having a massive hole in it. I’d left university early – it wasn’t working out for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but just kept on applying for jobs. I got nowhere. It was really ­soul-destroying.”

When he spotted the new BHF shop five minutes from his home he walked in on the spur of the moment and was told he could start immediately.

“They were just getting ready to open so there was a lot of testing of equipment and moving stuff around that needed doing. One of the first things I noticed was that it was

great to be getting back into a  routine – having to get up at a set time. It made me feel so positive.”

It was also great, he says, to meet other volunteers and customers. “People of all ages and all walks of life surrounded me, I loved it.”

Gurdeep decided he would work all the hours he could. “I just wanted to show what I was capable of, treating it like a real job.”

While he got the training he needed, Gurdeep also found he was good with electrical items and found it easy to help customers. “What surprised me most was that I found I was really good at selling and chatting to people. My ­confidence just grew and grew.”

It only took a matter of weeks for BHF managers to realise Gurdeep was doing a fantastic job. “The day they came to me asking if I wanted a full-time job at the Romford branch was fantastic – I felt so good about myself.”

He has gone from strength to strength and has now started an Open University course in his spare time to continue his degree in Business Studies.

“There’s no doubt volunteering worked for me. Despite all those dozens of CVs I sent out for jobs, no one could actually see what I was capable of. Words on a piece of paper can’t do that. The minute I was volunteering though I could physically show off who I was and what I was capable of. It’s the perfect way to get a job.”

HOW TO GO ABOUT IT

Whatever your age or background, charities can be a marvellous place to gain invaluable experience.

“Our volunteers are vital to the work of the BHF and we appreciate every minute people donate,” says foundation retail director Mike Lucas.

“We also hope to give ­something back. At a time of national job cuts, BHF shops are encouraging both men and women to keep their foot on the career ladder and gain excellent retail experience.”

The BHF has a network of 560 shops and more than 110 ­furniture and electrical stores offering a huge range of opportunities. Roles include window dressers, ­telephonists, stock collectors, sales assistants, warehouse assistants, books and music specialists and electrical ­function testers.

To find your nearest BHF shop call 0844 412 5000 and for more information on volunteering opportunities visit www.bhf.org.uk/volunteer.

Other charities to consider are cancer support group Macmillan (www.macmillan.org.uk) and Age UK (www.ageuk.org.uk). As well as part-time slots, Community Service Volunteers (www.csv.org.uk) offers great opportunities to volunteer full-time while ­Volunteering England (www.volunteering.org.uk) will put you in touch with groups in need of your time. The organisation “v” offers volunteering options to undecided university and school leavers aged 16 to 25. Go to www.vinspired.com to see thousands of offers, including sport, music, fashion and the environment.

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