Volunteering: Soup for the soul, gold for your career

Picture this; you’re a long-serving public sector employee with a burning desire to enter the not-for-profit sector. Problem is, every job you’ve applied for has gone to someone with NFP experience (eye roll).

You have two options; give up and resign yourself to the public sector forever, or persevere and fight for your dreams.

A highly successful yet often overlooked way of getting your foot in the door of any industry, not just the NFP sector, is by volunteering.

Aside from racking up stacks of karma points by being a complete do-gooder, there are heaps of career bonuses that come from donating your free time to help others.

Here are some of the ways volunteering can boost your career:

You’ll learn new skills. Volunteering will help you develop new and transferable job skills as well as apply your current skills in new ways. For example, a mid-career media professional working in the education industry could use their skills to help boost the public profile of a not-for-profit charity. At the same time, they might be rewarded with an avenue to develop project management or leadership skills. Winning!

You’ll expand your professional networks. If you’re struggling to reach 500+ on LinkedIn, volunteering is a great way to go about it! In all seriousness, volunteering helps you build your professional relationships by meeting new people in an area that might be completely foreign to you. Whether you’re serving at a soup kitchen or designing brochures for a welfare organisation, chances are you’ll be rubbing shoulders with an entirely new group of like-minded individuals. Aside from the social benefits of a few new friends, one of these contacts might be the key to future employment opportunities and career development.

You’ll explore the big wide world. Volunteering allows you to taste-test different organisations, roles and issues, in turn helping you to identify how you want to spend your 9-5. While volunteering isn’t the same as being on staff, it can expose you to the work of an organisation in a deeper way than by just being a Facebook follower. In short, volunteering enables you to try new things, challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone, thereby showing employers that you’re not afraid of change.

You’ll fill in resume gaps. If you’re not employed, volunteering with a not-for-profit is a great way to fill a gap in your resume. It’s always easier to get a job when you’re in a job. By volunteering, you’ll be able to draw examples of skills used in your current role when interviewing for potential jobs.

If you’re still interested in volunteering, the next step is to think about what opportunities you’re best suited to. There are a number of factors to consider at this point, including:

What’s in it for me? It’s important to consider your motivations for volunteering before you take the plunge. Are you hoping to utilise your skillset to help others, or is climbing the career ladder you’re main game?

What do I value? Are you passionate about the plight of children, or are animals more your thing? Consider your personal values and interests so that your position aligns with an area that appeals to you. This will make volunteering a deeper and more enriching experience for you.

What skills can I bring to the table? Think about what skillsets and expertise you currently have, and how you could use these in a voluntary capacity. For example, you might have a certain university degree, and have a strong knowledge in one particularly area. Volunteering could be an excellent way to put some of this knowledge and skills into practice. Similarly, you should also consider the skills and attributes you want to work on, as well as the areas of your craft you want to hone.

How much time have I got on my hands? Some volunteer roles require a minimum number of hours per week. Before applying for such roles, think about how much time you can realistically invest in the organisation, especially if you’re already juggling full-time work. It’s also important to consider how flexible you’re prepared to be with this commitment. For example, are you only ever free on a Friday night after work, or can you spare a few hours on the weekend?

Will I be in it for the short term or long haul? Are you looking for a short-term opportunity, or something more permanent? Short-term opportunities might include volunteering on a once-off occasion, such as a charity fun-run. Alternatively, you might consider working on a long-term project, thereby allowing you to gain end-to-end project management skills while having the satisfaction of seeing a project to fruition.

In summary, no two volunteering opportunities are the same. Similarly to applying for a job, every role will have different requirements. Some might require a minimum time commitment or a specific skill set, while others could require you to hold a form of certification, such as a police check. It’s important to consider whether you will be able to successfully meet the requirements of the opportunity, including the time required, before you commit.

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