Volunteering to help others is a great strategy to boost your career and grow your professional network. Whether you need change of pace, are fresh out of college, are new in town and looking for a job, or you just want to enhance your career prospects, then you should consider engaging in volunteer work.
Volunteering can be as simple as teaching young kids to read, or it can be as big as helping organize a fundraising event. And while all of this is given freely, you aren’t going home empty-handed. Volunteering to help others is rewarding both personally and professionally. Here are some benefits of volunteering for your career:
- Volunteering gives you an edge in job applications: Employers want people who are self-starters. Having volunteering experience means that you have the initiative to do something that is not asked of you. Similarly, if you are seeking a change in career or are looking for your next job, volunteer work covers up gaps in your resume – showing that you choose to take action and be productive, even if you are not getting paid for it.
- Volunteering grants you experience: While some employers do accept applicants straight out of university, you have an advantage if you already have work experience. Through volunteering, you can give an employer an idea that you were able to manage your time effectively, be accountable for your tasks, and interact with different kinds of people. More importantly, if you have done volunteer work that is related to the career where you are in, or that you plan to pursue, then that can already be added to your relevant working experience.
- Volunteering allows you to explore a new industry: As compared to employers, volunteering entities are more welcome to accept people and let them work on a short-term basis. If you’re an accountant who has a knack for writing, then you are welcome to contribute to your local community newsletter. Soon, you may consider applying for a full-time position if they are able to recognize your skills in this field. Moreover, you get to see how things work in new industries. This drives your attention away from what you’re currently doing, provides a new perspective, and relaxes your mind, making you more prepared and function well once you get back.
- Volunteering expands your network: As you do volunteer work, you get the chance to meet more people. Make a good first impression, be of service and be grateful for the relationship. Keep this list growing – you could be meeting CEOs, staff, clients, professionals, and service providers along the way. Who knows, you might need their help someday.
- Volunteering hones your skills: Through volunteering, you are able to develop your skills, usually without the same level of stress that can happen in the workplace. You can either improve on the skills you already have, or learn new ones. For example, if you are a programmer, you can help in boot camps to prepare course materials and exercises – but in the process of helping others, you further develop your skills by teaching other people what you know.
The five points above are just a few of the ways that volunteering enhances your career and gives you an edge over others. I have been volunteering to help others for many years, and the benefits—both personal and professional—have been immense. Not only have I met some amazing people and forged great friendships, but I have made professional connections and been exposed to business opportunities that would have never been possible otherwise.
My volunteering interests are varied. For years, I volunteered at Fern House, a drug rehab for homeless men and guys just getting out of jail or prison. I mostly helped them secure funding for operations and to purchase their building. Today, my interests mostly focus on helping entrepreneurs from all walks of life. The organizations where I volunteer my time include the Duke Startup Challenge, Cleantech Open, Pacific Community Ventures, and the Founder Institute.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can find opportunities in your community, you can find them on sites such as Volunteer Match, Idealist or the Hands On Network. Good luck and happy volunteering!