Volunteer work can broaden and deepen your experience and provide skill development in a way that is often not possible or available to you elsewhere. We hear all the time about the challenges faced by those actively job hunting, particularly recent graduates: “I don’t have direct experience in the type of work I’m looking for, and many employers don’t train anymore”, or “I don’t have any connections in the industry I’m trying to break into and there is so much competition!”
Here is a summary of some of the ways that volunteering can help you build skills and gain experience.
Meet new people. Volunteering puts you amongst all kinds of people. You don’t just get a new perspective on the rich diversity of our communities, but you learn to get comfortable talking to people you’ve just met, as well as how to start and sustain conversations. You’ll also have a chance to observe how others navigate in the nonprofit work environment and learn other social skills, all while building self confidence.
Develop professional relationships. Volunteering helps you develop new networks, through which you will hear about job openings, training opportunities, and networking events. Through these networks, you will also build an awareness of the trends, issues, people & resources in your community and the causes you’re interested in, while at the same time allowing you to elevate your visibility amongst experienced, influential community leaders. You may have a well-developed skill set that you now want to apply to a cause you’re passionate about – new networks can help connect you to the right people at the right organization.
Hone and sharpen skills. You may have just graduated, or perhaps your job doesn’t allow you to use all your skills and experience, or to advance further. Volunteering can help you retain and sharpen existing skills like planning and budgeting for example, with the bonus of concurrently developing soft skills such as team building, goal setting, problem solving and adaptability. A volunteer position may afford you the opportunity to learn how to be a leader and achieve a higher level of responsibility when none exists where you work.
Develop new skills. Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and try new things in a relatively risk-free environment. You could try out working with animals in a volunteer position, for example, before committing to the cost of a multi-year university veterinary program. This is a valuable way to either reinforce your level of interest or possibly even discover that it’s not the career for you. You can also explore entirely new fields – possibly discovering skills & interests you were previously unaware of.
Boost your performance. The act of volunteering and engaging with your community stimulates the circulation of oxytocin, one of the “feel-good” neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Apart from the “feel-goods”, oxytocin limits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Your increased sense of well being and reduction of stress will help you learn better, improve your focus, and release your creativity.
Build your resume. All experience is valuable, and head hunters have long encouraged clients to include volunteer work on their resumes. Typical interview questions that ask for concrete examples of “thinking outside the box” or “working with teams to overcome challenges” can be answered by referring to your volunteer experience. The fact that you care about your community, are willing to learn new things, have the initiative to gain the experience you need, and possess the time management necessary to fit volunteer work into your schedule are all attractive attributes to a prospective employer.
In summary, volunteering is a great way to make the connections you need and gain the experience necessary to pursue the career you’ve always wanted.