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How to become a skilled volunteer overseas

Ever wondered what hiring managers are looking for when they recruit for Australia’s most sought-after NFPs?

In this series, we interview the people who hire at the organisations where you want to work – and we’ll give you the inside knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing.

This month we speak to Samy Mounir, Acting Volunteer Services Manager, Australian Volunteers Program at Australian Volunteers International – an Australian Government initiative that matches a broad range of skilled Australians with partner organisations in the Indo-Pacific region.

Check out the current roles available at Australian Volunteers Program at Australian Volunteers International here.

Hi Samy – thanks for chatting with us! To kick us off, can you tell us a bit about the Australian Volunteers Program?

The Australian Volunteers Program works with local not-for-profit and government organisations in the Indo-Pacific region to identify the professional skills they need to achieve their development goals and then recruits Australian volunteers with the relevant expertise. Most volunteer assignments are around 12 months, which gives them time to make an impact.

We support more than 1,100 Australians to volunteer overseas each year, which includes providing airfares, a living allowance, access to health and security services, and a dedicated in-country team.

The program is open to Australians of all backgrounds and ages, and we offer additional support to people living with a disability and those travelling with their partner or family.

What are some of the things that might attract volunteers to apply to your program?

Many of our volunteers are driven by a desire to use their skills to support change in other countries. We find that Australian volunteers are passionate and altruistic, and keen to contribute to a positive future for communities in our region.

That said, many volunteers are aware that an international volunteering assignment can be a great addition to their CV. A volunteer assignment is a unique opportunity to learn skills that you generally don’t develop in an Australian workplace, with volunteers frequently involved in diverse range of activities while on assignment.

Volunteers choose the Australian Volunteers Program because they’re attracted to the values and principles of the program. It is the Australian government’s flagship international volunteer program, and volunteers feel confident that the program promotes the safety and respect of the volunteers and the people and communities they volunteer within.

So walk us through the recruitment process at Australian Volunteers Program

The Australian Volunteers Program recruitment process is very thorough, and it pays to be prepared.

There are four key stages:

  • Online application: where you submit your resume, personal identification, and a recorded video
  • Two interviews: one with Australian recruitment team and another with the organisation you will be volunteering with
  • Compliance: reference checks, police checks and psychological assessment
  • Getting ready to go: visa and travel arrangements, medical checks, and pre-departure training

For more information on each stage, visit ‘How it works’ on our website.

What are the top things you look for when assessing a volunteer application?

The first thing we look for is the suitability of the candidate for the position. There are some very basic requirements: you must be an Australian citizen/permanent resident over the age of 18 and have relevant qualifications and/or experience.

That said, applying for a volunteer assignment is different from your typical job application. We don’t want short and snappy resumes, we want to see the full extent of your professional history.

We also look beyond your professional expertise and assess whether you can weather the many challenges that will arise from living and working in a different country. Your application needs to highlight that you are flexible, self-aware, resilient, culturally-sensitive and adaptable – these are the most important qualities in a volunteer – over and above any professional qualifications or experience.

What’s the most common mistake you see volunteers make in their applications?

It is not necessarily a mistake, but we often see volunteers submitting incomplete resumes. As said above, every little experience counts, and we frequently receive applications that do not include local volunteering experiences that can be extremely relevant.

Additionally, we often see candidates submit incomplete applications. Volunteers need to make sure they request and complete our recorded video AND submit their online application.

And if they make it to interview, who is a candidate most likely to meet on an interview panel at the Australian Volunteers Program

Our application process includes two interview rounds. The first is a one-on-one Skype interview with one of our recruiters in Melbourne, and the second Skype interview is conducted with one of our in-country team staff members and a representative of the organisation you are applying to volunteer with.

The second interview is a valuable opportunity for the volunteer to meet the people they will be working with and vice versa. It’s also a great chance to meet the in-country team who will be your first port of call for any questions you have during your assignment.

What advice would you give volunteers to improve their interview skills?

We recommend volunteers prepare for their interview! We understand that interviews can be stressful but we expect that applicants will:

  • Know the position they’re being interviewed for,
  • Have read the resources they’ve been sent;
  • Have researched the country (and the partner organisation before the second interview); and
  • Have prepared some examples/stories relevant to volunteering.

Applicants should listen carefully to the question and take their time to answer, providing some examples.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to volunteer on the Australian Volunteers Program but perhaps doesn’t have the right qualifications or experience?

Come along to an information session! It is a great way to hear about the program, learn some tips and tricks on how to apply, and listen to the story of a returned volunteer. Visit our website for upcoming information session dates and locations.

Keep an open mind and apply even if your qualifications or experience only partially match the assignment description!

Remember, we value your flexibility, cultural sensitivity and resilience. If you can demonstrate these soft skills and some technical experience, there is a good chance you will be the best person for the role.

When searching for the right assignment, don’t just look for a role that is an exact fit for your qualifications. Cast the net wide and think broadly about how your background would be useful based on the challenges outlined.

Be confident in your previous experiences, both paid and unpaid, personal and professional, and know that we are looking for Australians just like you to embark on this life changing journey.

Thanks Samy!

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