Does Volunteering Help Your Career?

Career Blog

multiethnic group of volunteersDedicating a year or two to help others through service-oriented work experiences is a noble pursuit filled with potential benefits including hard and soft skill development, cross-cultural exposure, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from lending a hand. It can also be viewed as a positive differentiator in a world full of self-promotion and “company me” mindsets.

However, before you head off to save the world (or the local neighborhood), it’s important to have a clear game plan for what you’ll do and how you’ll navigate back to the work world after the experience. To ensure you make the most of the process follow these simple steps:

  1. Take Stock of Your Skills: Knowing who you want to help is good. Knowing exactly how you can add value is better. Sure you can rely on skill assessments, but in most cases your brand provides more reliable information. Consider what people call you for when they need help. Are you the data whiz, the social media guru, or the person who always “knows a guy”? Once you have that identified, consider how you could put those skills to use helping others. Competence is rewarded naturally in the market. If your phone never rings…well you have an issue.
  2. Consider Your Passions: Sometimes it’s a no-brainer. Writer’s must write…even obituaries. Teachers are compelled to teach. If you’re lucky these align with your skillsets, but that’s not always the case. In some instances you’ll need to find your niche or develop a passion to a point where it’s a strong enough skill to be of value. It’s important to realize that sometimes leveraging a passion requires the development of a skill you don’t particularly enjoy. But such is the price of purpose.
  3. Be Ready to Learn: Whether your desired role requires a major career change or a subtle shift in skill application, you’ll need to learn the ropes. That could be formal study or something as simple as connecting with a series of mentors who can help you on your way. In any case soak up as much from the experience as you can.
  4. Plan Your Reentry: When the experience is over you’ll have a tale to tell and the comfort of knowing you made an impact. That’s nice, but the war story doesn’t help you land the next gig. To do that you’ll need to know exactly how to communicate your accomplishments to prospective employers. A good idea is to write your return resume before you leave and then share it with a friend in HR to get his or her take. Perhaps the year or two in a service organization won’t prepare you for a job in workforce analytics or finance (maybe it will), but it might give you a leg up on conflict management, communication, project management etc.
  5. Think Beyond the First Next Job: Career management is chess not checkers. When you return from a service-oriented role, you’ll likely be focused on finding the next gig and rebuilding your nest egg, but you have to think beyond the initial placement. Getting where you ultimately want to be requires more than a single job. It takes planning, dedication to the end game, and the strength of will to not be enticed by opportunistic career moves.

Helping others is never a bad idea. Companies with strong cultures get that and will likely gravitate toward your profile.

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