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How to Use Volunteer Experience for Career Advancement

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By Kim Slaughter
Career Coach

The nation’s current state has left us feeling more isolated than ever. With many people facing joblessness and social distancing keeping us far apart from each other, people are looking for ways to engage with one another. So if you’ve ever considered volunteering, now is a great time to get involved!

Volunteers are needed now more than ever to relieve the pandemic’s damage to our communities and help some of our community members feel more connected. If you feel alone and are looking for a way to engage with others, consider offering your skills, talent and time to help those in need. 

The Benefits of Being a Volunteer

There are many great benefits to volunteering, especially for students, young professionals or workers looking to change industries. It helps you:

  • Engage with others
  • Foster connections
  • Support your community
  • Gain career-relevant skills
  • Strengthen your resume

There are even student loan forgiveness opportunities for volunteers. Organizations such as AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, Peace Corps and the National Health Service Corps tout benefits such as student loan forgiveness. Review the benefits carefully to ensure that you understand the requirements. 

From a career development perspective, experience is experience, whether you are paid or not.  Volunteering can be listed under the professional experience section of your resume to demonstrate why you are qualified for the position you’re targeting. This is great for recent graduates or emerging professionals.

Volunteering Helps You to Develop Professionally

I have talked to many emerging professionals who cannot gain the right kind of experience to help them land their ideal position. These people may be pursuing a new career field, or they may have just graduated from college and have limited experience. However, volunteer experience helps these individuals to build up their resumes as they seek their next career opportunity.

Serving as a volunteer is also lets you gain career-relevant skills and build a network of support people. Through volunteering, you can build a “hidden network” where many jobs that are only available through personal connections are found. This community of support people is invaluable as you’re seeking a new job.

Volunteering Is a Way to Gain Both Soft and Hard Skills  

As you consider ways to volunteer, think about transferable skills, such as soft skills, that you can gain. Approximately 97% of employers hire for soft skills, and these employers rate soft skills as just as important as hard skills. Soft skills that many employers value include communication, emotional intelligence (EQ) and a growth mindset. 

Technology skills are also highly valued, especially during the current pandemic, which has resulted in the need to work virtually. Virtual volunteering helps you develop your technology skills and makes a great addition to your resume.

However, if you’re using volunteering experience to help you qualify for future roles, be selective in the volunteer opportunities that you consider. Focus on identifying opportunities that will help you gain direct and transferable skills.

How to Find Volunteering Opportunities

To begin volunteering, look within your own community or school at first. Local communities are in desperate need of workers, because some people may now be unable to help organizations because of the pandemic. If you’re unsure which organizations are in need of volunteers, reach out to them. Many local organizations will gladly explain available opportunities so you can understand how you can be of assistance. 

Virtual Volunteering

As the pandemic continues, the need for volunteers will grow. If you’re concerned about your health and do not want to volunteer in person, there are several ways that you can work virtually. To find virtual volunteering opportunities, check out Idealist or VolunteerMatch, or check for opportunities with the federal government.  

Virtual volunteering lets you build your resume with unique experiences, and different types of virtual opportunities are available. You could gain experience developing marketing materials, writing grants, volunteering as a technical recruiter or helping with JavaScript development. No matter what your preferred career goals may be, there are volunteering opportunities to help you build your resume and gain new skills.  

Contact Career Coaches for Expert Advice

Career coaches offer one-on-one support catered to your individual career goals, which includes helping you pinpoint the right volunteering opportunities for your professional needs. Career planning can be daunting, but you can make the process manageable and action-oriented. Get started today and begin volunteering for career advancement.   

About the Author

Kim Slaughter has worked in the field of higher education for more than eight years. Kim currently works as a career coach for the university. As a career coach, she assists students and alumni accomplish career goals through identifying career strengths and key educational experiences to demonstrate strong differentiation for the job market. Kim earned a M.A. in Psychology in 2020 from AMU and an MBA in 2011 from Shepherd University.

Edge relies on the valuable input of many different authors and contributors. Sometimes the final article is a result of a collaboration between various individuals. Rather than credit an individual writer, the "Edge Staff" account was created to distribute credit to all the people who contributed to the article's success.

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