Byline: Niki Chesworth
COMPANIES know the business benefits of corporate social responsibility (CsR) which is why it remains high on the agenda despite the recession.
on Friday, Lord mayor ian Luder will visit Berger primary school in Hackney, to underline his campaign to promote financial literacy in schools with the help of volunteers from City businesses and livery companies.
"The business case for engaging with schools is strong; you increase staff motivation, skills and personal development, influence skills and attitudes in the local talent pool and enhance your business image while building bridges with the local community," he said of the initiative. it is these softer skills, which can be developed through volunteering, that employers are increasingly seeking out when they recruit.
"Anything you can do to differentiate yourself in this market will help your job prospects," says ed scott, managing consultant at recruitment agency Witan Jardine, who volunteers his services through Career academies UK, which helps 16- to 19-year-olds.
"If you volunteer, it shows that there is something else about you. This will come across in job interviews as it will reveal a different side to your personality - a caring element and perhaps passion, if you can talk about your experiences in an animated way."
Scott warns candidates against cynically taking on voluntary work purely as a means of making them look like a "nice person".
"But be careful about bragging about what you do," he said. "Remember, any volunteering that you do is just an added dimension - the icing on the cake - the sort of thing you talk about at second interview. You have got to mention it at the right time and first and foremost you should concentrate on your skills and experience."
One tip is to find out if the employer is involved in any CsR projects and what is important to them.
"If you have helped in the same areas, it can give you some common ground," adds scott. "it is also a great way to answer those common and difficult questions: 'What do you like about our busi-ness?' and 'Why do you want to work here?'."
However, volunteering is not just about adding something to a CV to impress a potential employer.
"There is a clear link between skills development and volunteering," said Carolyn Housman, corporate responsibility manager at the City of London Corporation, which runs the free City action scheme brokering volunteering opportunities between City firms and community organisations in the fringe boroughs.
"Getting involved in community projects can be a way to try out a new skill. Law firms may offer a pro-bono service, for example. softer skills can also be developed such as people and team management. These may be harder to test in the workplace.
"So while your employer may not want to take the risk of giving you a team to manage if you have no experience, you can develop these skills through volunteering. it is also a more engaging way to learn than on a course - and at the same time you are giving something back to the community.
"Another key skill that is vital in the current climate is change orientation. When you volunteer, for example in a school, you have to work outside of your comfort zone and that demonstrates that you can handle different situations and deal with different people." it was feared that the credit crunch and then the recession would lead to a decline in corporate social responsibility initiatives. However, the opposite has been the case.
There has been a 30 per cent rise, for example, in the number of companies signing up for City action and a 20 per cent increase in the number of projects. so not only are more companies volunteering their staff, they are involved in more projects too.
City action has been running for 11 years and in the past five years alone, businesses have sent over 5,000 volunteers to community groups due to City action's matchmaking abilities. …