Be Volunteer-Savvy for Your Career

September 19th, 2011

Some of my favorite business entrepreneurs worked pro bono for many months in order to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to make their next career move.  Others felt deeply committed to give back to the community – locally or globally – in some capacity, or were driven by a passion for a cause. Whether you are motivated by altruism, professional development, or both, volunteerism can be a great tool to boost your value in the job market.

VolunteerA LinkedIn survey found that 41% of professionals considered volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating job candidates, and 20% of the hiring managers made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s volunteer work experience.

Drawing on the success stories of my clients, some kinds of volunteer work are more valued by potential employers than than others, particular in terms of demonstrating transferable skills and experience. Some things that you can do to maximize the “market value” of your volunteer efforts when it comes time to find paid work:

  • Choose volunteer opportunities that align with your career objectives, and allow you to develop and showcase your professional skills.
  • Have a clearly defined and documented deliverable (ideally with metrics or evaluation criteria that can be verified), or a specific problem to solve, and know how you are contributing to the big picture goals and mandate of the organization.
  • Look for opportunities to lead a team. As challenging as it can be to build and motivate a paid team, overseeing a group of volunteers can be ten times harder, and many employers know it.
  • Ask your team leader or supervisor if they would be willing to give you a performance review, which can be particularly valuable if you don’t have a lot of professional experience under your belt yet.
  • Cultivate your network. Volunteer organizations bring together people from a wide range of industries and backgrounds, and you will never have a better chance to broaden and diversify your network of first degree contacts.
  • When it comes time to write your resume, describe your contributions using the terms and keywords of your career target – if your goal is to be a project manager for example, speak in terms of project management; if your goal is marketing manager, speak in terms of marketing and marketing communications.

Ready to become a volunteer but not sure where or how? Check out the website of your favorite cause for information on how to volunteer, or visit sites such as http://www.volunteermatch.org/ (USA) or http://www.charityvillage.com/ (Canada) or http://www.do-it.org.uk/ (UK)** to see who may be able to benefit from your passion, expertise, and time.

** Thanks to Paul Williams (@PaulWill1977 on twitter, who works with the UK Stroke Association) for this link.

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Meet Karen Siwak

An award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions, and she is passionate about empowering clients with the tools, strategies and confidence to take control of their career search. Read more...

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