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My side hustle – how volunteer experience led to great things

Full-time student, part-time work, family commitments, social life, and self-care. Introduce the idea of a side hustle and you’re probably already freaking out at the thought. But it is possible – and worth it!

I’m Ruby and I’m a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student. I love writing, taking photos, making videos and being creative. Although I don’t know exactly know what I want to do at the end of my degree (which is perfectly okay), I know I want to do something that allows me to pursue these things.

So, here’s my story of how I was able to get paid doing what I love by turning volunteer experience into my side hustle.

Why I did it

In my first year, I remember being told by one of my lecturers, “don’t wait to the end of your degree to start getting experience. If you go for a full-time job and can’t show examples of your work, then they’re not going to hire you!”

This scared me, but it has also made me determined to get a head start on my career. A head start, for me, meant building a portfolio to showcase that I can really do these things that I say I can.

Screenshot of Curieux

Building my portfolio

After that first semester during holidays, I emailed some Canberra-based media organisations asking if I could come along for some work experience.

I heard back from the editor of Canberra Weekly, who offered me a week of volunteer work, which led to me being published for a couple articles. Feeling accomplished, I thought this meant that because I have my name attached to something, that the work was done.

But, towards the end of my second year, and knowing that the type of industry I want to crack into is competitive, I realised that doing one week of work experience isn’t going to cut it. I needed to keep learning.

While visiting New York on a trip that happened to coincide with Donald Trump’s election in 2016, I jumped on the chance to turn this coincidence into an opportunity. The street outside Trump Tower was filled with angry protesters, so I joined them and interviewed and recorded three people about the rally.

Picture of Trump protests

After, I emailed the editor of Curieux – the University of Canberra online student-run magazine – pitched the story and a few days later, it was published. When I returned from the trip, I decided that I was going to become a regular contributor to the magazine.

This was another thing I had to juggle in my already busy life, but I found a way to make it work. The articles were unpaid, but I looked at it as personal development rather than professional or financial gain.

Fortnightly articles meant that I challenged my writing and editing abilities, got to experience new things and talk to different people, and make connections. I even got to interview the electronic music duo, Slumberjack, before their Groovin’ The Moo Canberra appearance.

Landing a paid gig

With a portfolio ready to show off, I decided to start applying for internships and casual jobs in the industry.

Admittedly, I got a few rejections before something came up, but I did end up with a paid internship with the University of Canberra’s Marketing and Communications team as a Digital Content Producer.

A Digital Content Producer means that I am creating all sorts of articles, videos, web pages, and graphics. This has made all that extra voluntary work I undertook worth it. My boss, Daniel, reassured me of this when he mentioned that being able to look over my past work was a key reason why I was selected for the internship.

Now make your move

If you’re passionate to gain professional experience, to improve your skills and to see where it all takes you – then start small. Here are some tips for how to get started:

  • Put the word out through email that you’re looking for some work experience. And if they don’t respond, pick up the phone!
  • Take up volunteer work
  • Attend professional workshops, events, open days, etc.
  • Start a website or blog to collate your best work as an online portfolio
  • Be open to meeting new people and gaining connections

Words by Ruby Becker, Bachelor of Journalism student