March 9, 2017 @ 11:04 AM

How Volunteering Can Benefit Your Career

Aliza Golshani, M.A, Ed

Aliza Golshani, MA Ed

Volunteering provides opportunity for you to benefit society, through your local community, the environment, non-profit organizations or people outside your immediate family. Additionally, the benefits for you personally, are many.

Volunteers are defined by the United States Department of Labor 'as persons who do unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization' - undertaken by choice. This definition is deliberately broad and enables people to choose widely how they would like to give their time. As such, volunteering has become a popular activity for people of all ages and across all demographics. The US Department of Labor (Bureau of Statistics, released Feb 2016) found that 25% of the population volunteered in some capacity, with those aged 35 to 55 the most likely to volunteer (28% percent.)

Volunteering is an excellent way to steer your career towards your chosen track.


Some reasons why you should consider volunteering for your career, if you are not already:


You can explore a new career

Much like trying on shoes before you buy them, volunteering provides a perfect setting for learning a new role or becoming exposed to an organization without a long-term commitment. This can be particularly beneficial for 'mid-career and over forties' workers who may have had time out of the paid workforce.

Additionally, if you have time and are feeling inspired, you can volunteer in more than one setting simultaneously. This can fast track your learning curve and exposure to different environments - potentially within the same industry, enabling you to gain an insider's view and compare related organizations.

While there is usually a distinct difference in expectations for volunteers and employees, organizations can provide you with rewarding opportunities to deliver valuable results that can contribute to your professional career growth.  The best way to succeed in making a positive impact is to ask initially what skills and tasks you would be responsible for and ensure these align with your overall values and career goals. It is possible that after you have proved your worth, a direct job offer or a referral to another organization with a paid opportunity may arrive. 


You can develop and grow your network - personal and professional

If you are not currently volunteering, your existing network can inspire your decision about where you would like to give your time. Your local community - and causes with a strong national or international reputation with local branches - can be a good place to start. If you have given money to a charity or have family members already affiliated with an organization, you have strong personal ties that can provide a route for you as a volunteer.

People already employed in your target field are often happy to share their knowledge about the industry, similar organizations, people they can make an introduction for you and job openings.

If you volunteer at an organization and are seen to add value through your helpful contributions, you can vastly increase your chances of attaining a positive recommendation when you apply for paid positions.  Attaining jobs through someone we know, is common place in the world of work today. 


You can learn new and transferable skills

Volunteering provides a great opportunity to use and hone your current knowledge and expertise or develop new skills.

A mid-career lawyer could use her legal drafting skills to help a community organization with their legal documentation for fundraising or registration with the county authorities. Volunteering could provide a forum to improve her mediation, facilitation or negotiation skills.

A web developer could help create or maintain a website for a nonprofit organization. In the process, he could increase his communications skills and social media knowledge, both of which are highly valued in the workforce.

If you prefer to volunteer for events such as community clean-ups, food bank shifts or holiday clothing collections, you can take on a leading role in directing or overseeing an event. This translates to managerial or project management responsibility, a highly transferable skill in professional employment settings.


Nonprofits and hiring managers like to hire volunteers

Nonprofits reward dedication to their causes and often show appreciation to valuable volunteers for their commitment. Internal human resources or hiring managers may inform such volunteers about opportunities for paid employment. The San Francisco Food Bank and Oxfam are two organizations that have hired hardworking and professional volunteers as paid employees.

Hiring managers and recruiters scout for strong alignment of professional experiences with an advertised position when they review resumes.  While a paid position that is very similar to an advertised role can be a recruiter's golden ticket, strong volunteer experience is often rewarded with significant weight.

With thought and planning, you can use your volunteerism to shine the spotlight on skills and experiences that will enhance your resume.


Your LinkedIn Profile will thank you

Adding a volunteer position on your LinkedIn profile can increase your opportunities to 'connect' with other people affiliated with the same organization. These LinkedIn connections can become the first branch to a professional working relationship or enable you to deepen a surface level connection into a sustaining professional contact.

Including volunteering efforts on your LinkedIn profile, asserts you as an individual that values causes enough to take concerted action towards their growth or improvement. This can impress hiring managers or potential future professional contacts.


Determine your parameters and dive in

Once you decide what skills you can contribute, how often and the period of time you would like to contribute and what organization you would like to volunteer for, much of your preplanning work is achieved.

Ensure that your goals and that of the organization for which you will volunteer are aligned and clearly communicated (preferably in writing). This will smooth the way for a professional and rewarding volunteer experience for all involved.

The key ways to make your volunteerism credible for future employers is by adopting this purposeful approach. You can highlight your proactive and positive personality traits and transferable skills when describing these experiences in your resume or at a job interview. This will enable a prospective employer to form a strong positive impression about how you would continue to bring value and benefit their organization.

Now, go out and enjoy being a volunteer and all it can offer for your career!


Aliza Golshani is the Founder of Your Path Careers.

After transitioning from the legal and educational sectors, Aliza found her career purpose - helping others successfully navigate their career and professional transitions.

Aliza Golshani is frequent guest blogger for Phase2Careers.