Working for free: How to use volunteer jobs to give your career a boost
When I was 12 years old I started working as a volunteer to the playground supervisor at a local City of Edmonton Parks and Recreation playground. When I was 16 I got my first real job running teen centres for Parks and Rec and when I was 19 I entered the Recreation Administration program at the University of Alberta.
Lisa was working in the banking industry and wanted to make a career change into a ‘creative’ environment. She volunteered at her city’s art gallery to get a feel for the environment she thought she craved. Lisa hated the politics and red tape and the attitudes of the people she volunteered for and decided to stay in banking for the time being.
Sam was an unemployed chartered accountant who volunteered on a not for profit board as their Treasurer. He made important contacts through other board members and kept up his accounting skills while making a contribution to the community. Most importantly, when he went on job interviews he was able to state with pride that he was continuing to hone his accounting skills while job searching.
The message is simple and clear – volunteering teaches you life lessons, broadens your network and gives you skills you can add to your resume.
Clients ask me all the time if they should put their volunteer work and interests on their resume, and the answer is a definite YES! When HR professionals and hiring managers read your resume and see that you volunteer at X and volunteered previously at Y, it sends a positive message about you. It may be just the edge you need to land on the interview call list ahead of another applicant. Employers will be impressed that you took the initiative to learn new things.
Intelligent hiring companies will consider a candidate for a position who has the skills regardless of how that skill was acquired. If you did some PR for a local art show, you established a network of contacts, exhibited people skills, salesmanship and the ability to communicate effectively. You now own those skills whether or not you were paid for demonstrating them.
When deciding where to volunteer think about:
- the environment– creative, philanthropic, medical, people focused, technical, financial, media, etc.
- the location
- the time commitment
- what do you bring to the organization and the role
- what do you want out of the experience
- what kind of people do you like to work with
- is this strictly for fun or is it to further your career growth
Who needs volunteers?
- Overseas development organizations
- Music and arts festivals
- Sporting leagues and events
- Children’s camps
- Environmental organizations
- Crisis lines and peer counseling organizations
- Human rights organizations
- Religious organizations
- Political campaigns
- Government agencies (local, provincial, federal)
What are some things a volunteer can do?
- Coach a team.
- Read to children.
- Raise money for charity (fight diseases, reduce poverty, help the sick and injured, etc.).
- Care for the elderly.
- Feed the hungry.
- Provide counseling and support.
- Run errands and do deliveries.
- Gather and analyze data.
- Raise awareness of important issues.
- Do clean-up and repairs in the community.
- Build houses or playground equipment.
- Care for animals.
- Stage concerts, plays and other cultural events.
- Protect the environment.
- Plant trees.
- Help-out with a political campaign.
- Conduct research.
- Sell products or services.
- Fund raise.
- Join a service club.
- Promote an event.
Helpful Web Sites:
- Find volunteer opportunities at a volunteer centre in your area by visiting the Volunteer Canada Web site.
- Browse the links at the Canadian Volunteer Directory on the Canadian Universities.net Web site to find volunteer opportunities from across Canada.
- Travel and do volunteer work in three communities in different regions of Canada by participating in the Katimavik program.
As a life long volunteer I can assure you, wherever you decide to contribute your time and energy you will be appreciated and you will learn something.