October 14, 2019 | Careers + Retirement

Volunteering: One of the Best Ways to Gain Experience in Your Career

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Volunteering: One of the Best Ways to Gain Experience in Your Career

Quorum

Oct 14 2019, 12:24pm


Volunteering your time and talents to the community provides a valuable service, and makes you feel good. But, for those of you looking for experience, considering a career change, or just looking to network or pick up some new social skills, you may not have realized just how rewarding volunteering can be.

Added Benefit #1: Resume Experience

Look back to high school when your guidance counselor told you that the best college candidates were those who had well-rounded applications. Colleges look for academic success, of course, but also like students who involve themselves in extracurricular activities.

The workplace isn’t any different.

If you’re a recent graduate, you might have a head full of knowledge but not a lot of career experience to put down on your resume. Volunteering can fill in those gaps.

Say you’re an actor in a community play who offers to put your accounting degree to work by making sure the incoming money for ticket sales and sponsorships are properly handled, the bills get paid, the budget balanced and taxes filed. Your service is essential to the organization, but you also gain valuable experience that you can highlight on your resume and use for future accounting jobs.

In some cases, volunteering can transition into the actual job. If your interests lie in working with the elderly and you donate your time at an assisted living home as you pursue your nursing degree, you could gain a head start on the competition when it’s time to apply for your post-graduate job. Hiring managers will have witnessed your ability to interact with seniors, and have seen the intangibles you could bring to the staff.

Added Benefit #2: New Career Experience

Entry-level employees aren’t the only ones who can benefit from volunteering. If you’re considering a career change, volunteering allows you to “try on” the job while asking yourself:

  • Is this a growing industry that will provide opportunities?
  • Is there a greater chance to advance in this field than in my current job?
  • What is the work environment like?
  • What work/life balance could I expect at this job?
  • What training must I have before I move into this field?
  • Which part of this industry would I like to focus on?

Getting experience in an industry you’re considering through volunteering is a great way to figure out the possibilities for your next career—without giving up the job you have first.

Added Benefit #3: Networking (and the Intangibles)

In any career, networking is important. The boss you had when you interned in college for example, can help you to land your first job. And if your boss moves on to a different company, you have a connection who may be able to help you should you decide to change workplaces.

There are a tremendous networking opportunities with volunteering. You might love dogs and volunteer at an animal shelter; even if you don’t aspire to be a veterinarian, the person who takes the dogs out to the play yard with you, could be someone older and more experienced who could become a mentor, offer inspiration, be a sounding board for ideas you might want to share with your boss, or just become a friend.

Volunteering also brings self-confidence that can translate to the workplace. It can give you a sense of achievement, move you outside of your comfort zone, help you work better with others and remove social anxieties when confronted with new situations. It’s a non-threatening way—the boss isn’t watching—to work on some of the self-improvement tasks you’ve always wanted to tackle.

Getting Started

If you’ve decided to volunteer, you have countless options. Start by thinking of the organizations that match your interests and contact those based in your community (animal rescue shelters, libraries, hospitals and nursing homes, museums) to learn about openings. There also are national organizations, such as the National Park System, the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity that need volunteers.

Other great databases to look for volunteer opportunities include All for Good, Idealist, and Volunteer Match.

Remember, volunteering is a win-win situation. An organization receives much-needed help, and you get to experience the good feelings that come with it. Job benefits are the cherry on top.

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