When you volunteer, you share your time and skills with people and organizations without expecting to be paid. Volunteering is a great way to invest in your career and your community.
As a volunteer, you can boost your career by gaining valuable workplace experience and skills while expanding your network. Use this article to learn how to help your volunteer activities support your career goals.
Practise your work search skills
Finding and applying for a volunteer position is a lot like finding and applying for a job. You can even use your search for a volunteer activity as an opportunity to refine your work search skills. Think about the kind of workplace experience you’d like to gain from volunteering, whether it is improving your people skills or finding out what it’s like to work in a particular field. Try answering these questions:
- What skills do you want to use or develop?
- How much time can you contribute? Do you need flexible hours?
- What experiences and features are you looking for? What are the must-haves and the nice-to-haves?
- What issues or causes do you feel strongly about?
Look for volunteer positions that can further your skills and career goals:
- Let friends, family and co-workers know you are looking to volunteer.
- Find volunteer opportunities at Go Volunteer or through Culture and Tourism.
- Check for a volunteer centre near you at Volunteer Alberta.
To learn more about a position:
- visit the organization’s website
- attend an information session about the organization
- talk to the volunteer co-ordinator
- talk with people who volunteer or work for the organization.
Apply to be a volunteer
When you apply to be a volunteer, you:
- will probably have to complete an application and take part in an interview
- may be asked to go through a security screening process, including a driving history and criminal record check
- should prepare for the interview as though you were applying for a paid position.
Use the interview as a chance to practise your interview skills.
If an organization can't use your talents when you apply, you can ask to be put on a waiting list, or you can apply for a position at another organization.
Practise attitudes and skills that support your career goals
Volunteering offers you a great opportunity to practise attitudes and skills that will increase your value as an employee:
- Know your job description and understand your role.
- Be dependable—show up on time for every shift, let your supervisor know if you can’t make a shift and stay on task and complete assigned work.
- Have a positive attitude.
- Work as part of a team.
Don’t forget to give the organization advance notice when you decide it’s time to resign from your position.
Take advantage of available training, mentoring and evaluation
As a volunteer, you may have opportunities to participate in training activities that can build your skills and knowledge. Take advantage of these opportunities and add them to your resumé.
You may also be able to find a mentor—an experienced staff person, board member or volunteer who can help you succeed both as a volunteer and in your career.
Some organizations give their volunteers the chance to be evaluated on their performance. You may want to hold onto a copy of your written evaluation for future opportunities. They may also ask volunteers for feedback on the volunteer experience.
Expand your network
Your network is all the people you know and all the people they know. Volunteering gives you the chance to expand your network. Keep a list of the contacts you make volunteering—staff, board members, clients, other volunteers, suppliers and others. You never know who may be in a position to help you.
Ask for a reference
By being a dedicated and effective volunteer, you can earn a positive reference that you can use when you apply for a paid job or a post-secondary program. When you ask someone to be a reference, make sure you know how the person actually feels about you and your work. Choose someone who:
- knows you well
- knows the volunteer work you do
- understands your career goals and the kind of position you’re applying for
- can answer questions about you appropriately.
Always ask permission before mentioning a reference’s name in an application or interview.
Mention your volunteer experience in your applications
Mentioning your volunteer experience in a resumé or interview can demonstrate that you are committed to your community and have the skills, connections, initiative and experience needed in the workplace. Try to be ready with the following information:
- contact information for your reference
- the title of your volunteer position and a written job description
- examples of your volunteer activities, skills and accomplishments
- how your volunteer experience relates to your current application.
Some volunteer organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, offer work experience certificates that you can include in your resumé or provide in an interview. These certificates can show the number of hours you volunteered, the skills you learned, and include an evaluation of your work ethic. Ask your volunteer organization if that’s something they’d be willing to provide.
Volunteer to achieve your career goals
Volunteering can help you build a solid foundation for the next phase of your career, whether that’s landing your first paying job, seeking a promotion, changing your occupation or continuing your education. The skills you use, the tasks you complete and the outcomes you achieve through volunteering will bring you closer to your career goals while also giving you the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others.