Need Experience and Skills? Volunteer!

There are many ways you can get the experience and skills you need to give you an advantage on your job search, but did you know volunteering is also one of them?
 Sarah Si Yan Ying
Sarah Si

Although many see volunteering as a way to give back to the community and maybe even an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves for a short stint each week, the benefits are great for volunteers as well.

In fact, volunteer work is a great and fulfilling way to gain experience you need in a particular area or develop new skills that you feel you may need in the long run. “How can this be?” you may ask. Well, read on to find out.



Gaining valuable work experience

If you’re looking to round out your portfolio of work experience or are just having trouble finding internship opportunities during these difficult times, volunteering may help you gain the experience you need in the area of work you’re looking at – without threat to your current position and the ties long-term commitments may bring.

In addition, volunteering also means that you’ll move out of your comfort zone and try your hand at different activities and challenges you may never come across in a corporate environment, allowing you to gain valuable experience employers are usually on the hunt for. On top of that, your willingness to get out there and gain experience will show employers your ambition and initiative!

Volunteer experience is also a great way to start meaningful conversations with recruiters. They give unique insights into your interests outside of work and causes you are passionate about, as well as avenues to tell authentic stories about how you picked up key transferable skills. These are all key to standing out as an interesting candidate during the job search process!



Picking up new skills…

Is there a skill you may need in your dream job that you didn’t have the opportunity to develop in school or over the course of your previous internship(s)? You could consider searching for a volunteer opportunity that gives you the chance to learn or exercise such skills.

For example, if you’re studying business in university but are also passionate about art, you can try volunteering in a museum. Not only would this be a great way to build customer-facing skills (which may be hard to come by during internships), but you’ll get a chance to further indulge in your own personal interests too, and pick up new knowledge about them in the process.

Just because you won’t be paid in cash doesn’t mean that you won’t be compensated with valuable new skills and knowledge. In fact, picking up a diverse range of skills is key to boosting your career resilience in the future. Besides, you never know how something like art knowledge may come in useful somewhere down the road!



…and brushing up on current ones

It’s never a bad thing to continue honing your current skillset. By volunteering, you develop skills you already have, and continue to refine them for the benefit of not only the community, but yourself as well.

Remember the above example of volunteering at a museum? In the course of that, you’ll get chances to practice your teamwork and communication skills as you coordinate with other volunteers, sharpen presentation skills as you give talks to visitors about the works on display, or develop your research and critical thinking skills as you read up on the exhibits to better explain them to visitors.



Expanding your network

The beauty of volunteering is that you never know who you’ll be working with or speaking to – perhaps a recruiter in a company looking to hire, a person working in the industry you’re hoping to enter, or maybe even a director or CEO. You’ll never know what opportunities that volunteering may bring your way when it comes to building your personal network.

That said, please don’t go into volunteering explicitly for the networking (Yes, some people actually do this!), as that just makes the entire process fake and disingenuous. Remember that meaningful connections are mostly formed among people with genuine common interests and values. So volunteer for a cause the legitimately matters to you and just be your best self! Then take meeting whoever may come your way in stride.



Boosting your mental health and self-motivation

Because volunteering keeps you connected with other like-minded people, you’ll be able to better counter any feelings of stress or helplessness if your job search is stretching on longer than you thought. Moreover, the sense of fulfilment brought on through donating your time and effort to a cause you believe in can also give you a boost in self-esteem and self-confidence, whether in your personal or professional life!

But at the end of the day, remember that this is all about investing in what matters to you personally. Above all else, you’re a person before you’re a professional. And when you continue to allow yourself to grow and cultivate the values and interests that give your life meaning, that is how you find your broader purpose and motivations in the world of work as well.