How would you spend your time if you were entirely focused on doing good for someone or something else?
Imagine yourself in that scenario. Where do you see yourself? Are you cuddling with homeless kittens? Bringing smiles to the faces of sick kids? Are you feeding hungry people in your community or helping improve their health or education? Do you see yourself on the scene of a natural disaster?
Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy thinking about the fulfillment you’d get from one of the above activities, go do one! If you have just a few hours a week, you have time to volunteer. You’ll do more than help accomplish the mission of a local non-profit, charity or organization; you’ll boost your own career, too.
Here are a few underrated ways volunteering can be good for your professional side:
1. Be the first to know when a job opens up
Even if no jobs are available when you hop on board as a volunteer, something could always change. Someone might leave for another job, the non-profit could receive extra funding to hire a new employee or temporary help might be needed when a new mother takes her maternity leave.
When these situations happen, people with the power to hire will likely want to interview someone who’s already familiar with internal processes and has demonstrated a passion for the organization’s mission—someone like a volunteer.
If this best-case scenario were to happen, the organization will choose from the best of the best volunteers. So even though you’re not getting paid, treat your job as a volunteer as if it’s a real job. Be punctual, work hard, don’t complain when tasked with seemingly unimportant duties and try your best to get along with other volunteers and staff.
If you’re a reliable and well-liked volunteer, you’ll be at the top of the list when a position opens up.
2. Show potential employers you’re not resting on your laurels between jobs
Maybe you graduated from college or were recently laid off. Your first instinct might be to throw yourself into scouring job boards, attending networking events and fine-tuning your cover letter. While you should do all those things, remember that the job hunting process can be long. And you could be doing more to beef up your resume besides moving bullet points around.
Several months of “professional job hunter” on your resume will impress absolutely no one. Several months as a volunteer as a tutor for a literacy organization, as a dog walker for an animal shelter or as a repacker for a food depository, however, will set you apart from other potential candidates who used their unemployed down time to feel sorry for themselves and eat cartons of Ben & Jerry’s.
3. Expand your network
If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’ve probably already exhausted your network. You’ve already reached out to your past professors, your friends, your friends’ parents and your friends’ parents’ friends. And you’re still jobless.
So it’s time to expand your network.
One of the most attractive qualities about donating your time to any organization is the opportunity to meet other volunteers from all walks of life. You’ll meet people of all ages, from all different careers, all of whom who come with their own network that’s completely untapped by you.
Don’t treat this like a networking event where you hand out business cards to every new volunteer you meet. Though all these people may seem different than you, remember that you all have one thing in common: passion for the particular non-profit or charity where you chose to volunteer your time. Use that common interest as a talking point to get to know as many other volunteers as possible. You never know who might be able to open a door to a new job.
4. Add new expertise to your skill set
Non-profits, charities and other organizations that depend on volunteers to keep things running smoothly often have tight budgets. That’s why they need free help in the first place. They may not be able to afford a full-time marketing director, accountant or administrative assistant to the CEO. Or, these positions exist, but those employees are overworked because the organization can’t afford to hire a lower-level employee to help them out. They would be overjoyed to have an extra pair of hands on deck.
This atmosphere is the perfect opportunity for you to step up and offer to fill in those gaps, even if for things not considered “official” volunteer duties. Need more social media experience? Offer to manage the Twitter and Facebook accounts. Want to pursue a career in event management? Ask if you can help organize and plan an event. If you want to add management experience to your resume, then volunteer to help manage the volunteers.
Don’t look at this tactic as working for free. Instead, look at it as free career building. (Click to tweet this idea.) You can develop the experience you need to land a job.
So what are you waiting for? Think about the good you can do for yourself while you do good for others and find an opportunity to volunteer. Check for available opportunities on Volunteer Match or Idealist.org and find the do-gooder activity that’s right for you.
How have you used your volunteer experience to advance your career?