Written By: Elizabeth Mimms
It can be difficult to understand how to bridge the gaps between education and experience in order to move closer to your desired career. One way to gain experience is through volunteering. Volunteering not only makes you feel good, but it also looks good on a resume. In addition, you may utilize volunteer experiences to gain crucial knowledge, skills and abilities sought after by employers. Volunteering also allows you to expand your connections and networking circles.
This article will help you identify areas of competencies to improve upon, find organizations in need of assistance, set realistic expectations about personal commitment and provide tips for how to connect and use volunteer experiences as a resume booster.
Volunteer work, whether in addition to a current job or as an activity in between jobs, shows an employer that you are willing to try new experiences, be involved in your community and generally demonstrates a willingness to take initiative and make things happen.
Mentioning volunteerism-related skills that are relevant to the professional world is one of the best ways to position yourself for a new career field.
Identify what experience or knowledge you want to gain
Volunteering has many rewards. It allows you to try on different organizations and roles and helps you build expertise without job-hopping. While volunteering is not the same as being on staff, it can expose you to the work of an organization in a deeper way than becoming a member or conducting an informational interview with an employee. More importantly, volunteering can aide in gaining valuable, relevant experience. Whatever expertise you want to develop, there is likely an organization or project already in progress that could help you do it. For example, nonprofits that use volunteers often need a hand coordinating their activities (community clean-ups, weekly volunteer nights and staffing big fundraisers are common examples).
Identify organizations seeking the utilization of knowledge, skills or abilities you seek to increase
To assist you in finding a volunteer opportunity in your area, we recommend three websites you can use to search and contact organizations for volunteer opportunities:
• Volunteermatch.org: Volunteer Match aims to build services that overcome the barriers that keep volunteers and nonprofits from finding each other, working together and developing strong relationships.
• 211.org: United Way supports this nationwide social services directory. Use this guide to identify potential volunteer opportunities or find organizational websites listing paid positions.
• Idealist.org: The mission of Idealist is to close the gap between intention and action by connecting people, organizations, ideas and resources.
Determine your parameters
How much time can you devote to volunteering and for what duration? Are you available during the day or just evenings and weekends? Knowing exactly what you are able to commit to will make it easier to search for the right fit. Another step in determining your parameters is to let your volunteer supervisor know your career goals. When the supervisor knows what most interests you, they may be better able to offer experiences to satisfy those interests.
Remember that the goal is professional development. As a volunteer, ensure that you are always consistent, responsible and dependable. Show up on time and fulfill your responsibilities in an effective manner. Your supervisor may be a good source for writing a letter of recommendation one day. In addition, be flexible. Your volunteer experience may not always be what you expected. With this in mind, be willing to do what needs to be done and learn what you can. Great volunteers maintain a high level of professionalism in all aspects of their work,
paid or not.
Utilize your network
What organizations are you already familiar with? Have you donated money somewhere? Are there local organizations that have a great reputation in your community? These can be good places to start, especially if you are a first-time volunteer. When reaching out to volunteer organizations, professional correspondence, and much of the business world’s correspondence, is now done via email. Keep the reason for your email clear and concise. Additionally, set your signature to something more professional that includes your full name, email address, a phone number where you can be reached and maybe even a physical address. If you receive a response to your email, be sure to read the response fully and answer it timely. If you cannot answer it right away, at least email the person and let them know that you received the email and that you are thinking of a response.
CSU Career Services is available to students and graduates. Services include personal career counseling via email, phone and Skype. Appointments are made through CareerQuest, our password protected database.
877.297.6192 | CareerServices@ColumbiaSouthern.edu
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