By Yvonne Milosevic
“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” – Horace Mann
We probably don’t need to sell you on the karmic benefits of donating your time for a worthy cause. But besides all the feels you get for helping others, there’s a surprising side benefit you may not have considered. Namely, that volunteering is one of the most underleveraged ways to advance in your career.
Today, we focus on skills-based rather than classic volunteer activities, such as planting trees or serving meals at a soup kitchen. Strategic volunteering exposes you to diverse industries and functions, helps identify your strengths, builds connections, and provides valuable new skills and experiences. Check out these three major professional benefits you can get when you give back.
Volunteering Develops New Skills
As a volunteer, you can try out new skills without worrying about affecting your current position. For instance, your job may not include project management or give you much chance to grow your leadership ability. If so, look for a volunteer position that provides formal leadership to others.
Many volunteering roles will help you hone those always-desirable soft skills. Think of areas such as communication, public speaking, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. You can also look for opportunities where you’ll make an impact with your existing skills. For example, the pandemic has underscored the value of technology and virtual volunteering. Showing how you use those skills for good would be an attractive addition to your resume.
If the goal is to qualify for future roles or switch careers entirely, be selective. Focus on finding places where you can build expertise that makes you a more desirable candidate for your next job.
It Can Offer Relevant Career Experience
It’s often difficult to gain job experience without getting hired for the new role. Whether you’re a recent grad or hoping to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment, volunteering is a tried-and-true method of gaining relevant knowledge in a new field. The key is identifying positions and organizations that align with your desired career. That way, you can show potential employers that you have transferable skills despite limited or no formal professional history in the role.
At the same time, it gives you valuable feedback on whether you enjoy the work and want to explore further. If you discover that you don’t relish the tasks involved, you’ve saved yourself a lot of angst down the line.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Gandhi
Volunteering Expands Your Network
Chances are, most of your network comes from the same industry you do. But strategic volunteering connects you with diverse people coming together for a common goal. This creates a unique opportunity to expand your network with connections outside of your field.
Unlike those typically awkward formal networking events, the volunteering environment is usually open and friendly. It’s a place to forge meaningful connections with people who have shared interests without pressure or expectations.
That said, you’re still networking with people who may help your job search or provide professional references one day. So, make it your business to meet as many people as you can while volunteering—you never know who’s connected to exciting new prospects.
Of course, your primary reason for volunteering is still to share your skills and give back to your community. But why not also reap some professional advantages along the way?