How Being a Volunteer Can Benefit Your Career
Someone once told me that being a volunteer is a selfish way to improve your career. At first I thought that must be a mistake or a contradiction. It has to be! I mean, how can helping people (for free) be selfish? The fact is, becoming a volunteer is one of the best things you can do for your career. The crazy amount of benefits that you gain from it will seem to dwarf all the good things that you are doing to help the community. Really, considering everything that you stand to gain – they’re helping you!
How? Let’s look at what volunteering can do for you. Whenever you volunteer you will:
- Learn useful industry specific techniques
- Hone your transferrable soft-skills
- Widen your professional network
- Gain valuable experience in a working environment that you can use to get an awesome job down the line
- Learn about different industries, careers, and jobs
- Be a difference in the lives of others
And all of these great things will cost you a grand total of… nothing!
So yes, volunteering can be a selfish action but it is one that can make a real difference to people in need.
Choosing Where to Volunteer
If you want to get the full benefits of volunteering, you’ll need to choose the right place. While every position can help you improve yourself, different organisations and different roles will produce different results. For instance one organisation might offer great networking and soft skills opportunities. Another might be prime for learning how to be a leader. Choosing the right place for you will mean that you will get the most benefits, do good work, and enjoy the experience.
Because each place can be so different, it can be helpful to think about what you want you might get out of your volunteering experience. It’s also a good idea to think about what type of volunteering work you want to do and ask yourself who you want to help. Before you decide where to volunteer, consider your answers to these three questions.
1. What Type of Organisation Do You Want to Work For?
There are thousands of groups around the country that help people in need. Pick a few organisations in an field that you are interested in and do some research. If you are going to be working for them you’ll want to agree with the group’s mission. Even better, you might be considering a career in that industry. Being interested will also help to boost your motivation on long or boring tasks.
Nonprofits are what most people picture when they start thinking about volunteering. These organisations use the money that they generate to improve their services and help people. Despite the fact that these groups aren’t in the money making business, you can still learn great skills here. They are usually a good place to start volunteering since they are always on the lookout for people who can help.
Don’t just limit your search to just nonprofits though. For-profit companies and startups can have some great programs in place designed to help people. Volunteering for these groups can give you actual business experience and will put you into contact with lots of different people. Next time you’re looking for a job, a working position may be available at one of these companies allowing you to help people and get paid.
2. What Type of Role Do You Want?
Maybe you want to work in a crowd-control role. Maybe you have some ideas about how to run an event. Do some fundraising or help out in the office. Having an idea of what type of job you want to do is important. Be aware however that you might not get your dream job. That’s okay – everybody has a job to do and you might get your choice next time.
This is why picking a group you like is so important. Motivation for the organisation’s cause will come in handy when you’re working on a task that isn’t that fun. A lot of jobs that need to be done can be a bit brain numbing after a while. Just like a regular paid job, you will find it easier to work somewhere if you are invested in what you’re doing.
3. How Much Time Can You Devote to Volunteering?
This question is as important for you as it is for the organisation. No matter where you go, you should have an idea of how much time you can spend helping out. Is it one night a month, a few hours a week or as much as possible?
Organisations want to know when you are available so that they can best use everyone’s energy. They might ask you to help out when you don’t have the time. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to say “No, thanks” in that situation. These organisations want their volunteers to enjoy helping out and won’t want to you be turned off by being forced to help. They also won’t stop asking you if you turn them down when you’re busy.
Just don’t say you will help and then flake. That leaves everyone else there in a bad position and won’t make you you super popular amongst the other volunteers.
Best Places to Volunteer
Once you know what you’re looking for you can start looking for an group where you can make a difference. Volunteer organisations across the country want great volunteers to help them. This list barely scratches the surface. Feel free to check out their volunteer pages or use it to kickstart your own volunteering journey.
- Oxfam: Oxfam is committed to helping stamp out poverty around the world. You can help this cause by volunteering to work in the their stores, as a charity walk assistant, or in their offices working on administrative tasks.
- Community Broadcasters: Volunteering at a local TV or radio station can be a great way to help provide quality programming to people across Australia. Its smaller size also offers a fantastic way to get your foot in the door in an extremely competitive industry.
- The Smith Family: Help disadvantaged children with their education and give them and their family a better future. You can work as a mentor, a tutor for various subjects, or as an administrative assistant.
- Refugee Council of Australia: If you are interested in helping people fleeing persecution who are looking for a better life in Australia, the RCOA can help. They are partnered with almost 200 asylum seeker organisations across Australia and you can find a role with an organisation close to you.
- State and Territory Emergency Services: The SES provide assistance following natural disasters such as storms, cyclones, or earthquakes and may provide assistance to state police and fire departments. It’s a great way to help out your local community and with many positions available you don’t need to be in peak physical condition.
- WIRES and RSPCA: If you love animals then volunteering for WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) or the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is an excellent choice. You can work closely with sick, neglected, or surrendered animals at their centres or help out with charity drives, administrative work, or even help with skilled work like photography.
- Red Cross: The Red Cross helps to alleviate the suffering of people – no matter where they are. There are lots of volunteering opportunities ranging from working with the community, helping with disaster relief and working in retail stores.
There are thousands more places (both big and small) around the country that have vacancies for volunteers. Another way to find a great place is to speak to people you know. You might realise that a friend volunteers somewhere and you might be able to tag along with them and see what it’s like.
Benefits of Volunteering
Whenever you volunteer, you use your skills and time to make other people’s lives better. Some of the many benefits you can expect to see from volunteering include
- Making a difference for people who are in a rough patch
- Standing up for those who don’t have a voice
- Helping the environment
- Helping animals
- Gaining confidence
- Improving your self-efficacy
- Improving your teamwork
- Improve your mental well-being
- Gaining new skills, knowledge, and professional experience
- Learning about new industries or jobs
- Honing your current skills and abilities
- Improving your practical application of skills
- Teaching others using your experience and knowledge
- Making your resume look more impressive to employers
- Meeting new people who can become part of your professional network
- Meeting new people and becoming friends
- Getting to know people in your local community
Learn from Others
Volunteering can be an awesome opportunity to learn from the people around you. Most volunteering organisations will provide you with training so that you’re not thrown in the deep end. This means that at the very least you will learn some hard skills that you can take with you. The hard skills you learn and develop will depend on the group you choose to volunteer with. If you volunteer as an administrator for instance you could learn organisational and office manager style skills. Volunteering in a shop on the other hand would give you skills about stock management and EFTPOS.
Perhaps the most significant skills you can learn whilst volunteering are soft skills. While you can learn soft skills from the people you volunteer with, don’t discount learning them from the people you’re helping. These interpersonal traits like resilience, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, time management, and delegation can be used in almost every job. Most importantly, employers LOVE soft skills.
Share What You Know
Learning skills and techniques is one aspect of volunteering. Another is honing your already well-developed skills and even teaching others what you know. Imagine you are already a great barista and are making coffees at a volunteer cafe for homeless people. You can use your experience to help the other people working with you and teach them the tips and tricks you know to make a great cup of coffee.
They get to learn from someone who knows more than them, you get to share your abilities, and everyone benefits from being able to drink better-made coffees. It’s a triple win!
If you have professional training and still want to use your skills to help people you might want to consider experteering. This means that you donate your skills to help people or organisations that otherwise would not be able to afford your skills.
Kind of like the whole, “give someone a fish vs teaching them to fish” story, experteering relies on skilled people teaching individuals and communities how to do tasks.
Experteers can also work with volunteer organisations to give them services they might not have. Similar to lawyers who work pro-bono – it lets you give back to the community in
a really meaningful way. Although this form of volunteering is only just gaining in popularity, it’s a great opportunity to really put your abilities to the test.
Dipping Your Toes In
One of the great aspects of volunteering is the low barrier to entry. Getting a volunteer position is a good way to scout out a future job in an industry like event management, working with animals or legal aid. Not only will you be helping people but you will get to see what it’s like working in that sector. It’s also a good way to meet people in the industry who can tell you more about the job and maybe even help you later.
If it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul. You helped people and learned a bit about yourself and the way people work. You might get to work on other types of projects and realise your true passion.
Help Your Job Search
Volunteering can also be a super booster for your job search. Considering that it gives you skills, lets you network, provides experience, and looks great on your resume it seems like a no brainer! Most people underestimate the usefulness of their volunteering when looking for their next job.
You don’t need to shout it from the rooftops but don’t hide it way way down in your resume either. And, if you ask and you’ve done a good job, most organisations are happy to give you and written and/or a personal reference – which comes in really handy when you’re job hunting.
The Best Gift is You. So, Go on! Be selfish and volunteer today
While you still might not be convinced that helping others is a selfish act, the fact is that nothing else beats volunteering in terms of giving you new skills and experience. If you have to help make people’s lives better to do it – so be it. So go out there and make the world a better place today. Just don’t forget to learn a thing or two while you’re at it.
Do you volunteer? What organisations do you help and have your experiences affected your job hunt? Tell me below!