Volunteering for the career of your dreams

When we’re working hard at work and at home and trying to make time for our loved ones and ourselves, it can be easy to think there’s no time for anything else, but what if something else could fast track your career and help you feel more satisfied and balanced in every aspect of your life?

I’m talking, of course, about volunteering.

There’s more to volunteering than soup kitchens at Christmas. The right placement has the potential to fill your skills gaps while offering friendship and the opportunity to feel part of a dedicated team working towards a valuable shared goal.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) shares the results of its annual survey into volunteering in July each year. In 2018, the survey found that 38% of people had volunteered at least once in the previous year. Of those, 17% did it for the chance to learn new skills, 7% wanted to get on in their career and 2% used volunteering to help towards a recognised qualification.

Volunteering at all stages of your career

Volunteering can be extremely valuable at any age and any point during your career journey.

For young people, giving their time up to support a local good cause or working in a charity shop can be an extremely valuable way to gain experience of the world of work and prove they are responsible and committed enough to hold down a position. These are the kind of qualities employers are looking for, even in their weekend and casual employees, so getting that experience and a reference can make entering the world of work that bit easier.

For undergraduates and graduates, participating in a charity project offers the chance to develop marketable skills alongside their academic learning. Getting involved with the Student’s Union can help young people get to grips with organisational structures and participate in specific roles or projects that will support their future career choices. Publicity, for example, or keeping the books. Similarly, there are many opportunities to travel abroad through volunteering, whether to build schools in the third world or teach English as a foreign language.  All these different experiences provide useful examples to discuss in the next job interview.

Volunteering to support promotion or a sideways move

Once in employment, it’s also important to keep volunteering in mind as a way of continuing to push yourself forward. One example I use is of the employee who wants to move into a management role but has no management experience. It’s a familiar catch 22 for many. Taking on a voluntary team leader role can give you an opportunity to gain the leadership  skills you need outside of your paid job.  Maybe you are wanting to progress to a more strategic level but lack confidence in your strategic leadership. Becoming a trustee of a charitable initiative could really develop your knowledge and self-belief so next time the promotions come around you will be ready.

In the same way, if you want to move into a different part of the business or want a career change, but haven’t had the opportunity to gain the skills you need, looking outside of work can help you fill the gaps and give you both the confidence and relevant experience you need to follow your dream.

The value of volunteering in retirement

I work a lot with people later in their careers. Some of whom are often in the lucky  position to retire by the time they’re in their early 50s, but aren’t ready to spend their days living the “retired” lifestyle. Many could easily have another 10-15 years of their working lives ahead of them and want to feel that this time is valuable and rewarding. They often want a job with less responsibility but that still offers a chance to use their skills or are looking for an opportunity to do something they really enjoy. In these instances, volunteering offers the opportunity to bridge the gap between what they do now and their future goals and can help them to gain experience that will support an application for paid work. If they wanted to work in a school, for example, volunteering with reading, becoming a school governor and getting involved in other school activities is a useful way to get a foot in the door.

Beyond retirement, many people talk to me about feeling as though they have lost their purpose and sense of identity without work every day. Others talk about missing the social aspect of being part of a team.  These people are looking to be part of something, make a difference and give something back. Many of them take on volunteering responsibilities as hospital guides, working in historical houses, running sports clubs or fundraising activities. Often, their volunteering choices will have an emotional connection and are less about learning skills and more about belonging and contributing.

Whatever your motivations for volunteering, you can make a difference, both for yourself and the organisation you choose to give up your precious time with. When you think about the kind of things run by volunteers, the scope and scale is phenomenal – there really is something for everyone and it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment.  It really is valuable.

For more information on volunteering opportunities in your area visit www.do-it.org, where you can search by geographic location as well as type of charity and skills.

Inspired? Watch this talk by Mark Bezos.

I would love to hear your stories – tell me how volunteering has helped you in your career!

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