Make Volunteering Work for You

Potential employers often view your volunteer experience as a measure of your real-world business skills. And why not? When you are in a volunteer post that uses your passions, skill-set and ambitions, you have a chance to prove what you can do—often years earlier than you could in a typical position.
Volunteering can open doors to responsibilities you have not yet experienced. You can leverage what you know, while learning on the job skills in a more flexible environment. Meanwhile, you can expand your personal and professional network, and can learn about the latest trends in your chosen field.

However, just volunteering for the first opening that comes along is typically not a good move for you or the organization. Instead, use the principles of strategic volunteering to maximize the value of the experience—for you and the organization.

To do this, run an inventory of your short and long-term goals, assess your transferable skills, and identify your core values. Do you feel drawn to the life of an entrepreneur? You might consider working as an assistant to the Executive Director for a small non-profit. Create a project and see it through, trouble-shoot a new product or service, or prepare in-house research.

Shadowing the leader, you can gain invaluable insights into the demands and day-to-day realities of the job. For some strategic volunteers, this experience could even evolve into a mentoring relationship or a permanent position. In any event, your connection may be help you when you're interviewing for a paying job.

As a strategic volunteer, you can have the opportunity to use your technical skills and knowledge in an environment that is often more flexible and forgiving than other business settings. And you can also often enjoy the privileged position of being behind the scenes on important projects. While your volunteer time may include some routine tasks, research your opportunities carefully so land in an environment that challenges you.

As a strategic volunteer, you may have the experience of working in a field you're passionate about, while sharpening your skills and using the knowledge you've gained as an employee or student. You can have an opportunity to see results from your hard work and may be able to take the lead on an important assignment.

Strategic volunteering can add positive and useful experience to your resume as well as contributing to a lasting sense of personal satisfaction.