Volunteer to help your career
It’s Volunteer’s Week which makes now the perfect time to discuss the many benefits of volunteering to boost your career. Volunteering your time with a charity or other non-profit organisation is as beneficial to hosts as it is to volunteers. A host has the advantage of you giving up your time to support their aims and activities, while you benefit by gaining new knowledge, skills and experience. But there are other advantages that can help boost your career, including:
Gain work experience
Employers look more favorably upon candidates who have a combination of qualifications and experience rather than those with qualifications alone. One of the most common questions I’m asked by graduates and career changers, is how to gain practical work experience when no one is prepared to give you a start? Short of finding an entry-level role or internship, volunteering is one of the best ways to gain practical work skills and experience. Some volunteering opportunities are very well organised offering you a solid induction and training program.
As a volunteer, it’s likely you’ll gain access to professional development opportunities since many hosts provide free training for volunteers. This could be in the form of accredited training or it could be informal, in-house induction training required before you can perform your volunteer role. Either way, any new skills or knowledge you gain are a bonus and should be included in your CV.
Network and build contacts
Volunteering provides an opportunity for you to grow your professional network and build industry connections. Everyone you meet on your volunteering journey becomes part of your valuable network. If you’re not already using LinkedIn, be sure to set up your profile and connect with as many new connections as you can. Once connected, be sure to stay in touch as there could be opportunities your network can alert you to from training to job vacancies.
Some volunteers go on to secure paid work as a direct result of their volunteer work. This might be with your volunteering host, or with another organisation you become aware of through your volunteering. Your volunteering host can also make an excellent referee when you apply for your next role.
Define what you want from volunteering
People choose to volunteer for different reasons. Some choose to volunteer as a way of giving back to society, others want more from volunteering like gaining practical work skills and experience, industry connections or access to training. It’s important to be clear about your expectations and intentions so you seek the right volunteer placement for you.
It’s a good idea to develop a career development plan before your placement to ensure you achieve your desired experience and learning outcomes. Gather as much evidence of your experience and learning as possible to be included in your career portfolio. After your volunteer placement you will be able to add your experience to your CV to demonstrate your worth as a potential employee.
How to choose a volunteer placement
When choosing a volunteer placement, think about what you want to achieve and select a host who can help you achieve your goals. Is it exposure to a particular environment that is most important to you or is it the ability to receive free training? Perhaps becoming a volunteer for a particular organisation will give you complimentary access to their annual conference or show. Create a list of your goals and try to find an organisation that aligns with it.
There may be a minimum time commitment required for you to be accepted as a volunteer. This varies between organisations but is generally a set number of hours per week or month. You may also need to attend an induction, be prepared to attend in-house training or gain a specified qualification.
Registering with a volunteer placement agency
No matter where you live, there is likely to be a volunteer organisation with whom you can register (see below for a list of volunteer organisations in various countries). The National Centre for Volunteering Organisations is also a volunteering portal where you can search for volunteering organisations near you. Once you’ve identified a volunteering organisation, you’ll be asked to complete a registration form, usually online, providing personal details and reasons for wanting to volunteer. You will have the opportunity to nominate the kind of volunteer work you are interested in so that the organisation can match you to a suitable placement.
For some roles you will be required to grant permission for the placement agency or organisation to undertake a criminal record check to assess your suitability to work certain client groups, with children or other vulnerable groups for example. Depending on the volunteer work you are seeking, you may also need to demonstrate your interest and supply references or recommendations although this is generally only the case in high demand areas such as volunteering at a major zoo or for elite sporting events etc.
Not all volunteer roles are arranged through agencies. If an organisation you want to volunteer with doesn’t have placements listed with an agency, try contacting them directly to see if they have volunteering opportunities or would be willing to arrange something for you.
Volunteering abroad is a fantastic opportunity to really broaden your horizons. High school graduates are increasingly choosing to take a ‘gap year’ volunteering abroad enabling them some time out from studying. Volunteering gives them the opportunity to travel and embark on an adventure before launching into university or corporate life.
Opportunities range from teaching English to contributing to community development projects. The minimum period is generally two weeks and volunteers are provided with room and board in return for volunteering their services. There are many organisations who arrange volunteer placements abroad although it’s recommended to choose carefully as some request a fee for arranging the placement.
Here’s a list of some of the largest volunteer organisations around the world:
Volunteering is extremely beneficial for boosting your career. From gaining practical skills and experience, to growing your network and even landing your next role, volunteering can really boost your career. Think about what you want to gain from volunteering and choose an opportunity that meets your needs. Aside from all of the positive benefits for your career, you’ll be giving valuable support to an organisation who will value your input.