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How Volunteering can Give Your Career a Boost

Volunteering is more than just a way to give back to the wider community. It can be a way to add to your skill set and personal/professional network, as well. And that’s just for starters.

A survey of LinkedIn members found 41% ranked volunteer work as highly as paid work experience when evaluating candidates – and 20% said they’d hired candidates because of their volunteer experience. And an Idealist study of the sector found that 76% of survey participants considered nonprofit experience important in screening job candidates.

Three benefits that can come with volunteerism:

  1. Learn new skills or enhance existing ones. Nonprofits have all sorts of needs and helping to meet them can take you in new directions. Fundraising or membership drives, for example, entail no small amount of salesmanship. That’s a good skill to take away. Plus, you’ve acquired certain skills from your liberal arts education. A volunteer position can help you learn how to apply them in the real world or in an environment you may not have considered or experienced. Your finely honed research skills from school assignments could be helpful for an organization seeking demographic insights for donor outreach, for example.
  2. Expand your network. Working with a nonprofit is a great opportunity to develop relationships with others who share your passion. You can always use more friends; these are folks who might be able to help you in your job search. Others might also be good referrals if they can speak to how effectively you performed on behalf of the organization.
  3. Employers value volunteerism and what it says about you. Keep in mind that showing a steady commitment to a cause will be appreciated by not just the nonprofit, but by prospective employers. In fact, three-fourths of all respondents (organizations and job seekers alike) to an Idealist Careers survey said it was important in selecting job candidates. Plus, it demonstrates that you have positive, productive interests that occupy your personal time.

Start by exploring career sites using selected, individual skills as a basis for your search. Each should give you an idea of different positions that align with your skills; winnow them down to two or three and from there, add separate skills sections to your resume that match each job. For an event planning job, for example, you might cite organization or problem solving skills. Your skills are listed ahead of your actual experiences, and your volunteer work can either be cited as a “Related Experience” or, if the skills gained are significant enough, as a skill category by itself.

Listing your volunteer experience on your resume is really a matter of emphasizing the skills you’ve attained more than your past jobs or your degree itself. Gene Durkee, Director of New England College’s Office of Career and Life Planning, said the best way to demonstrate what you have learned is by applying what you know to help someone.

“If a student can increase student enrollment in a campus club, or design a brochure for the local food bank, or do some data organization for a nearby Red Cross – that’s the best way to show skills,” he said.


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