We have known for some time that a degree alone is no longer the ticket to the job of your dreams. In an increasingly competitive job market, employers are looking for something extra, and no matter what your education or professional experience, you must think outside the box to enhance your career prospects.
For some, that means creating video résumés and posting them on YouTube; for others, it’s leveraging social-networking sites to reach decision makers. But the really creative job seekers and those focused on building their careers are beefing up their résumés and making a difference — they’re volunteering.
“Volunteering not only teaches individuals leadership skills but also helps them with relationship development and tells recruiters and hiring managers that you are willing to stretch yourself beyond your current role,” says Ana Valdez, executive director for the US based Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility.
Volunteering is essential for your career development as it widens your network, helps you source mentors and references, and builds your leadership skills. It provides opportunities to demonstrate an enterprising and rewarding use of time both on your résumé and in interviews.
For those serious about building their networks and making a meaningful difference through volunteering, it is recommended that you get involved in three ways:
- Join your professional vocational association – like HRMATT – and actively participate in committees and on project teams. Like most things in life, you will derive no benefit if you are disengaged.
- Offer support for an NGO or CBO engaged in service that you are passionate about—whether it is protecting the environment, helping the elderly, mentoring young people or building a more resilient democracy.
- Join a business chamber or BSO to stay up to date on trends in the economy, network with key decision makers, and have a voice on national matters.
Wherever possible, tie your voluntary work to your career goals. For example, volunteering with children is valuable if you want to be a teacher or educational psychologist. If you have a political career in mind, volunteer to spend time on the campaign trail.
And if you’re undecided about your career, volunteering with organised NGOs and BSOs exposes you to experience a variety of vocations and industries, and gives you more information to decide what career is right for you. For example, HRMATT and Rotary clubs regularly invite speakers to talk to members on professional development and current affairs, as part of their activities.
Just because work is not paid, does not mean it is not valuable. It has been said that volunteers are not paid .. not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.
Not only does volunteering give you skills and experiences to enhance your résumé, it can also be significantly personally rewarding.
People are often surprised by the amount they get out of volunteering whilst at the same time making a real difference in their community.
Volunteering makes you feel great as you aid someone in need, but there are other advantages. You build self confidence, discover talents you did not know you had and teach skills to others.
And in a world where who you know can make all the difference, volunteering can open up many new networks – both social and professional.
One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to participate in a shared activity. It has been shown that your health improves from volunteering, as you end up making new friends and building positive relationships with individuals who share your passion.
And when those you are serving see what a constructive thing volunteering is for you, you inspire them to help out and volunteer.
And it is good for your health!
Research by Carnegie Mellon University found that older adults who volunteer at least 200 hours each year were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure. Volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine. By spending time in service to others, volunteers report feeling a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.
This sense of purpose increases overall life satisfaction, whilst lowering risks of depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. We vote in national elections every five years, but when we volunteer, we vote every day about the kind of community we want to live in.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.