Picture of someone holding a briefcase, leaning against a wall.

Most students in paid MSU positions have volunteered for the MSU in the past

C/O Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

Every year around February and March, the McMaster Students Union begins hiring for paid student positions. Whether it’s being a part-time director for an MSU service, a research assistant for MSU Advocacy or working for the Silhouette, there are many ways to get involved and actually be paid for your work.

In addition, the MSU highlights that prior employment or volunteer experience within the MSU is not required to apply for these positions. While that may be true, the odds of actually landing a position in the MSU without prior volunteer experience are very unlikely.

But if they’re saying you can apply without prior experience in the MSU, why would they not also hire students who don’t have prior experience? I’m not saying it’s impossible to be hired for a paid role, I’m just saying it’s not likely you will be hired for a paid role.

Why is that? Because in the four years I’ve been at McMaster University, most people I know who have been hired for paid roles had previous volunteer experience within the MSU.

Because in the four years I’ve been at McMaster University, most people I know who have been hired for paid roles had previous volunteer experience within the MSU.

Let’s highlight the part-time director positions first, shall we? Director positions are student positions that manage an MSU service. For example, services such as the Women and Gender Equity Network, Spark, the Student Health Education Centre, Diversity Services and Maccess all have a director.

Currently, all of these directors used to be volunteer executives for their respective services. Volunteer executives have to commit a large amount of time to the service — around 5-10 hours a week — typically for a whole year. If we open it up even further, most part-time directors have at least been a general volunteer for their service or the MSU as a whole. 

Evidently, most directors have volunteered for the MSU in the past. This can make sense in many ways, as they are managing a whole service and obviously need to be qualified to do this — so volunteering is an asset, right? But what about paid positions that don’t involve directing a whole service?

Even for non-managerial roles, students who are hired for paid roles often have volunteer experience beforehand. I can speak on behalf of the Sil — as the Opinions Editor for the past two years, I volunteered for the Sil the year before I got hired.

At the Sil, previous experience is considered an asset. You don’t need to have previous experience to be hired, of course, but you’re much more likely to have a step-up in being hired if you can say you’ve written an article or two for the Sil in the past.

I can’t speak on behalf of the other paid roles in the MSU, but I can tell you that almost all my friends that have been hired for a paid role in the MSU have volunteered for the MSU at some point in their undergraduate career.

So what’s the problem? The problem is: what about the people who can’t afford to volunteer? Students may find themselves in a financially unstable situation where the only option they have is to find a job — volunteering simply doesn’t make sense because it won’t help them pay for their groceries or rent.

As a result, because they are not volunteering for the MSU, they are less likely to land a paid role in the MSU. This makes a lot of paid roles in the MSU financially inaccessible for students if they are unable to volunteer. They may be spectacular at the role they’re applying for, but they may not be hired because they don’t have previous experience with the MSU.

So what’s the problem? The problem is: what about the people who can’t afford to volunteer?

The fact that “you can apply regardless of MSU experience” is misleading — you can apply, but if you do have volunteer experience, you are more likely to be hired. It’s okay if volunteering helps you get a step up in being hired, but the MSU should start making that more clear.

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