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Volunteering = Career Development

Remember when we said that it really is OK to consider what's in it for you when figuring out how and where to volunteer? This statement becomes even more relevant in the case of career or professional development.

Whether you are currently unemployed, completing your degree, or simply considering future career possibilities, volunteering can be an ideal way to:

  • Develop new skills and competencies
  • Apply your existing skills in new ways and in new environments (not to mention, for those who aren't currently employed in their fields, simply keep them sharp)
  • Explore new career paths
  • Expand your personal and professional networks
  • Get on the radar of hiring professionals, giving them the opportunity to see you in action
  • Give back while assessing or actively pursuing your next role

Here's an example of how this might work:

Jim, a 44 year old corporate accountant, is looking for a new job. In addition to submitting his credentials and actively applying to open positions, he begins volunteering for a local environmental organization, first by lending a hand at beach clean-ups and then eventually by serving in an advisory role reviewing their current financial policies and practices.

During the course of his service, he meets a staff person whose brother works in the corporate sector; having seen what Jim is capable of, the staff person promises to check with her brother to see if he may know of any jobs opening up that might be a good fit for Jim.

At the same time, Jim is expanding his skill set by applying the principles he learned and honed in a large multinational company to a small grassroots mission-driven organization.

In the process of doing this, he's also developing new strategies, testing out ideas, and adopting a more flexible and fluid approach to his craft.

As a volunteer, Jim acquired several new allies who can keep an eye out for potential job opportunities that might be a good fit for him (not to mention write a recommendation or two). At the same time, given the passion for conservation and sustainability he's discovered via his volunteer role, he has also started considering switching sectors and begun exploring a career path in nonprofit financial accountability.

As you can see, Jim's case shows that working towards professional goals and helping to make a difference in the world really don't have to be mutually exclusive objectives. In fact, they often pair together quite nicely.

As you start the process of finding or creating your ideal volunteer opportunity, consider the following questions to help you find ways to give back while pursuing your professional development:

  • What are your personal and professional talents?
  • What skills would you like to apply in new ways? Keep sharp?
  • What skills or knowledge would you like to gain or learn from your volunteer experience?
  • Are you interested in contributing skills related to your career? Or would you prefer to do something entirely different?
  • Who do you want to work with, get to know, learn from?
  • Are there particular roles, careers, or organization types that you've been wanting to explore?

Here are a few additional resources to check out on linking volunteer service to career development: