Career Development Planning for Volunteers

Many people, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, often don’t have access to professional development resources, the ones that spur careers and help you achieve personal goals. In fact, 36 million Americans lack even basic work skills, making it challenging to find meaningful employment.

But there are ways to gain useful skills and find professional development opportunities without having access to costly career services and investing lots of money — and volunteering is one of them. Learn how you can reach your career goals by giving your time to a good cause!

The Benefits of Volunteering

What’s great about volunteering is not only does it help others, but volunteers often experience benefits as well! Here are some of the most significant perks volunteering can have on your professional life:

Learn New Skills

Those who volunteer in community programs gain the opportunity to learn and develop a wide variety of new skills. For example, if you decide to help organize a charity fundraiser, you’ll acquire experience managing money, planning events and conducting community outreach. And at the fundraiser, if you run the ticket booth, you’ll learn how to provide customer service, solve problems and handle cash transactions.

These types of opportunities translate into real-world career experience. Volunteers can use these experiences as part of their career development plans and leverage their newly acquired skills into a desirable job.

Meet More People

Studies show 80% of companies don’t advertise their open positions and, instead, fill them via word of mouth. That means, to get the job you want, you need to know the right people. That’s where networking comes in.

Networking doesn’t just mean attending industry-wide conferences or mixers and handing out business cards. It also means meeting new people and making real-life connections.

One way to do this is by volunteering. As a volunteer, you’ll have the opportunity to build relationships with people you otherwise wouldn’t have met. When it’s time to start your job search, you’ll find these individuals can help you obtain leads, referrals, advice and maybe even recommendations.

Discover Interests

If you decide to volunteer, you’ll have the advantage of trying out tons of new tasks and activities in a variety of settings. It’s not uncommon for a volunteer to discover a passion they never knew they had.

For example, if you volunteer at an animal shelter, you may discover that you love helping sick or abandoned animals. This passion could then blossom into a professional veterinary career. Self-discovery like this can be crucial for those who aren’t sure where to focus their ambitions in terms of a career path.

Upgrade Your Resume

Most job openings receive a large stack of resumes in response. And studies show, recruiters only spend about six seconds on a resume before moving on. So how can you make yours stand out?

Volunteer experience helps. Not only does volunteering suggest empathy toward those less fortunate, but it also shows you take initiative, value learning, enjoy developing new skills and are a productive member of society. All of which are qualities employers love.

Gain Confidence and Self-Esteem

One of the greatest things you can gain when volunteering is confidence. In fact, studies show that individuals who volunteer report feeling higher levels of self-esteem after giving back. As a volunteer, you can take pride in knowing that you’re bettering yourself and your community.

Tap into this confidence to nail the interview process and land a job you love! You may also find the confidence you gain carries over into your personal life as well.

How to Create a Career Development Plan

If you want to reap the full rewards of volunteering, it’s a smart idea to craft a career development plan. This will help you focus on taking advantage of the right opportunities and will guide you as you seek out the experiences and skills that’ll provide the most value to your career.

To get started, follow the steps below:

1. Find a Volunteer Program

If you already know where your interests lie, seek out volunteer programs in a related cause area. For example, if you’re interested in education, consider volunteering with a tutoring program or in a classroom. Or, if you love spending time around animals — and you don’t even mind cleaning up after their messes — you could sign up to volunteer at your local SPCA or animal shelter.

If you don’t know where to get started, don’t worry. It just means you have more opportunities to choose from! Start by browsing VolunteerMatch to see what opportunities are available in your community.

If there any volunteer roles that stand out to you, feel free to reach out to the volunteer coordinator and set up a meeting. You may want to speak to a current volunteer and learn about their experiences with the organization. From there, you’ll learn more about the organization’s goals and values to see if they align with their own. Once you find the right match, you can sign up and start dedicating hours!

2. Evaluate Your Experience

As you volunteer, think about what you’re doing and what you’re learning. Are you meeting people who work in the industry you’d like to enter? If so, try to engage them in conversations about their work. Later, connect with them on a professional network like LinkedIn.

Are you learning new skills, such as management, collaboration or digital marketing? Update your resume with these new skills and experience as often as you need to.

Turn your experiences into actionable steps toward achieving your career goals. Start applying for jobs or register for classes. Don’t wait to pounce on new opportunities or they may pass you by. Those who succeed are the ones who don’t stop pushing forward!

3. Reassess and Optimize

Finding the career of your dreams doesn’t happen overnight. And you’ll find not every volunteer experience will prove fruitful. The key is to learn from any mistakes, adapts and move on. By taking steps to resolve any issues you run into, you can prevent them from happening in the future and continue progressing.

You may volunteer with organizations that don’t provide adequate training or supervision. You may sign up for an opportunity that you think will be exciting and challenging, only to find you’re asked to complete rote tasks for hours on end. Or you may even find a role at an organization where certain paid staff or volunteers act unethically. While many volunteer programs are excellent, there are some that are mismanaged, disorganized or simply not what you’re looking for. As you volunteer, take the time to assess what you’re learning and how you’re liking your volunteer role. If there’s an issue that can’t be resolved, you can always resign and find an opportunity that better suits your needs.

4. Earn a Degree

After serving at several nonprofits, you may just find a career path you want to commit to! Perhaps you decide you want to enter the nonprofit field full-time, or maybe you’ll discover you want to become a teacher, marketing professional, social worker or veterinarian!

Once you choose a career path, talk to the contacts you made while volunteering and find out what experience and requirements you need to land a job in the field. Depending on the role, you may need additional certifications or degrees to proceed. Find out what those are and apply to the right program for you!

Developing a Career Plan Through Volunteer Work

If you want to create an effective career development program for yourself, consider adding volunteer work as a top priority.

Other than helping your local community, the benefits you’ll gain from volunteering can help you make new connections, develop new skills and jumpstart your career. As a bonus, you might also discover a hidden passion you never knew about!

Search for volunteers by skill or cause area on VolunteerMatch.

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