It can be exciting to take time off from work to volunteer. Will it help you with your career once you get back and begin looking for employment, however?
More than 30 percent of the American workforce sign up to volunteer through different organizations in the average year. They help raise funds for the Red Cross, go to the local animal shelter to help with their adoption awareness campaigns, sign up to help a political campaign of their choice, or go overseas to help with projects in education, healthcare, or construction. In a great many of these cases, the benefits are more than just about a conscience that feels better. There can be tangible benefits to your career, as well.
Volunteering may help you land your first job
If you’ve just earned your degree after four years of college and are looking for your first job, it can help to keep in mind that volunteering experience on your resume can lend it added weight. When recruiters see that a job applicant has volunteered, they see them as someone who likes to roll up their sleeves and get things done.
Young job applicants tend to be skeptical that volunteering could possibly count for experience on their resumes. Recruiters, however, do see the right kind of volunteering as time spent on a job. In addition, working as a volunteer can help you learn more about yourself. Do you do better on your own, or as part of a team? Are you happier at a startup, or at a large corporation? Are you more enthusiastic about administrative work, or about work in the trenches?
When you have clearer vision with which to see what kind of environment you thrive in, you’re likely to do better at your job search.
Volunteering helps make you more employable
Four out of five recruiters prefer job applicants with volunteering experience. When the majority of the resumes they receive look about the same, the few resumes among them that have volunteering experience can stand out.
It’s important to remember, however, that it isn’t just any kind of volunteering experience that can boost your resume. It needs to be related to your field. If you’re in finance, for instance, your experience volunteering at a local dog shelter is only likely to help your resume if the work you do at the shelter has to do with keeping their books for them.
You get to make useful connections when you volunteer
Considering how important networking is, you could go to networking meet-ups to get in touch with professionals in your geographical area, and use those connections to land a job. LinkedIn is a great way to network professionally, too. It’s important to remember, however, that while you get to reach out to people in your industry in these ways, and perhaps have short conversations with them, you don’t really get opportunities to build relationships.
When you volunteer, however, you get to work alongside a diverse group of volunteers, sometimes including board members and managers. Working next to them for months, you get to show them what you’re really like at work, and you get to build personal relationships. They are likely to remember you, and to think of you when great jobs open up at their companies.
You get to improve your skillset
Even once you do land a regular job that you like, you’re likely to notice that after a while you stop receiving opportunities to expand your horizons. Some companies do offer their employees chances to challenge themselves, but in a great many companies employees stay with a set of responsibilities as long as they are good at them. Unfortunately, if you don’t grow your skillset, you aren’t as attractive to new employers as you would be if you branched out.
To improve your resume, you need to pick up new skills, and volunteering at different kinds of organizations is a great way to do this. It’s important to understand that nonprofit volunteer organizations aren’t very different from for-profit organizations in the way they are managed and run. They may get their funds differently, but they still have an accounting department, management, marketing, and other familiar work areas.
Whatever area of skill you focus on, you’re likely to find somewhere to fit in at a volunteer organization. In addition, at such an organization, you’re likely to run into new kinds of challenges in your work that enrich your problem-solving abilities.
Volunteer work allows you to fill in gaps in your resume
Jobs can be lost during difficult situations like a pandemic, or at any other time. If it takes you a few months to find a new position, however, it can be hard to explain to interviewers that you have been doing nothing in those months, other than looking for employment. Saying, instead, that you chose to make a difference to your community by volunteering with an organization is a better way to go. The Corporation for National and Community Service believes that compared to people who don’t volunteer, volunteers improve their chances of re-employment by 27%. Volunteering between jobs is an excellent way to keep your resume gap-free.
Volunteering allows you to try a new career direction with little risk
For anyone who dreams of switching to a new career, it can be hard to know if the new career that they think of is truly likely to work out for them the way they hope. For instance, if you hope for a new career in photography, how do you know that real-life photography work will be as enjoyable as you think it will? It can be hard to obtain paid photography gigs without much actual experience, so it would be hard for you to find out.
The alternative is to turn to volunteering as a way to try professional photography on for size, and to build up a resume of successful gigs to show a potential future employer what you can do. You can easily Google up volunteer photography assignments, say, for a local animal shelter.
You could take beautiful pictures of the animals there to help make them more appealing to potential adoptive families, get a feel for the work, and build a great resume in the process. It’s important to remember that you can look on Google for volunteer assignments in just about any line of work. Volunteering can be an excellent, low-risk method by which to try a new path.
How do you get started volunteering?
Finding volunteer positions for any type of work is easy on Google. It’s also a good idea to try volunteer resource sites such as VolunteerMatch, Idealist, CatchAFire, CreateTheGood, or HERC, or to reach out to nonprofits or NGOs in your area.
You don’t necessarily need a lot of time to be able to volunteer successfully. If you currently have a job, you can offer a helping hand to an organization that you like over the weekends, or after work. It’s simply about understanding that volunteering is great for your career.