I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo a few months ago and ever since, my colleagues and I have been on the prowl for jobs. Thanks to our mandatory co-op placements, we all have at least two years of work experience and have mastered the cover letter and resume.

But, at least for our chosen career field, employers aren’t biting. It’s not unusual to hear someone has submitted 300 customized cover letters and resumes to positions they are beyond qualified for – it’s standard. What’s also standard is most people haven’t even had a single call back.

What does this have to do with Sustainable Waterloo Region?


 For me (and about 50 more of Waterloo Region’s most talented volunteers), a lot.

With the 20 or so applications I’ve submitted, I’ve had several “call backs”, even for higher level positions I would generally consider out of my reach. I know for certain I wasn’t the smartest person in my class, so what gives?

A large part of it has to do with the fact I am applying as someone who is currently volunteering. Employers can see that I’ve consistently held positions of increasing responsibility over the past three years.

That’s just the beginning.  There are a lot of other benefits to volunteering, particularly while at school or under/unemployed. Let’s list some which haven’t been mentioned on this blog yet:

  • Being unemployed means receiving constant rejections while your finances are running dangerously low. Instead of “hello”, most friends and family greet you with “Do you have a job yet?”  It’s enough to lower even the heartiest person’s self esteem.
    – Volunteering somewhere that appreciates your contributions can provide you with some much-needed validation: “Even if the job market is tough, I still rock and can do great things”.
  • An important factor in keeping healthy mentally is having strong social connections.
    – The inevitable friendships you make while volunteering can provide those laughs and conversations that will pick you up if you’re feeling low.  Bonus, there are many studies showing helping others is one of the best ways to increase your own feelings of happiness. Win-win!
  • Plus, there’s a high chance if you’re volunteering in your chosen career field, you’ll more readily have connections when jobs come up in relevant organizations.
    – Effortless networking!
  • At a smallish and volunteer-focused organization like Sustainable Waterloo Region, it’s not hard to be involved in many areas if you ask around. There probably isn’t a single area of the organization I haven’t worked with at some stage. This opens me up to a wider net of jobs, as I can legitimately say I have experience in many areas.
    – This broad experience would never have been possible at a conventional job or internship.
  • Plus, lots of jobs ask for “ability to juggle multiple tasks/demonstrated passion/ ability to communicate with upper management”.
    – Volunteering shows you can prioritize, are passionate, and if your venue is a one-room office like ours… it’s pretty easy to make a case for the fact that you are proficient at communicating with the Executive Director. A well aimed paper airplane would probably do the trick, not that I’m trying to start a trend or anything…

Reality Check
While we love our volunteer culture at SWR, it isn’t perfect. We all complete work to a very high standard…which means we often get carried away and spend more time working than planned.  This can cut into time we should be relaxing, with family, or doing school/paid work. But this where prioritizing comes in, and there are no hard feelings when a volunteer decides it’s time to take a step back and decrease their work load/move on.

So, what do you do when 300 resumes aren’t enough?
My recommendation is to volunteer with something you are passionate about.  Even if you’re a bit slower to complete the next batch of resumes because of your new commitments, you may be in for some better luck.

And if you are already successfully making your way through the working world, never underestimate the myriad of skills that an applicant can gain through volunteering!


3 thoughts on “When 300 Resumes Aren’t Enough

  1. David Nichol says:

    Great article! I graduate from the University of Waterloo in June. I have been having the same experience, resume spamming the job market. I to am thinking of going the volunteering route to get experience and to keep busy. It is encouraging to know that others have had success with volunteering.

    Thanks for the uplifting article.

  2. Victoria Alleyne says:

    Thanks David!
    Glad to hear that you’re thinking of volunteering, don’t forget to check out Sustainable Waterloo Region’s website as we’re always updating opportunities.

    So far I’ve found that recent grads getting jobs do so generally if they’ve already worked/volunteered at the organization in the past. The other ways of getting a first interview if you don’t have an internal contact is doing something kind of creative to make your resume stand out (interesting layout, linking your blog or a short youtube video talking about why you’re so awesome for the position).

    Good luck on the hunt!

  3. Chris Burke says:

    Excellent advice, Victoria. In our current economic times this is the advice graduates need to hear.

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