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6 Ways Volunteering Can Help You Reach Your Career Goals

Volunteering for a good cause undoubtedly does a lot of good for a lot of people — but not just for those you’re helping. While the ultimate reason for giving back should be to improve our society, volunteerism can actually be quite the career booster.

If you’re a young professional or someone currently between jobs, think differently about how you go about building your experience and improving your job prospects. Just because you’re not paid for your work doesn’t make it any less valuable to your resume.

In fact, volunteering can be of real benefit in the following ways: 

1. Expand your skill set.

There’s no shortage of nonprofits in every city, and their services run the gamut from ending homelessness to childhood literacy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn’t match your values or interests.

Besides, most nonprofits are short-staffed, meaning there’ll be plenty of potential duties to take on. You may have the opportunity to work on a website, write emails, track donations, organize events, etc. Every new task improves and expands your skill set.

Surveys show that 92 percent of people who influence hiring decisions believe volunteering improves an employee’s broader professional skill set and leadership skills. Another 80 percent say that active volunteers move more easily into leadership roles.

2. Broaden your network.

Volunteering often exposes you to people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet. And with anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of jobs being found through personal relationships, you never know which of these contacts might help you find your next job.

3. Explain resume gaps.

Hiring managers want to know what you were doing with your time during any gaps in employment. By volunteering, you can easily explain gaps in your resume and actually increase your chances of finding a new job. In fact, people with volunteer experience are 27 percent more likely to find a job after being out of work than those without it.

4. Discover new interests.

One of the more attractive facets of volunteering is the chance to explore different interests and careers. You get to try various jobs on for size, meet people in different industries, and experience the challenges and rewards of the work.

Let’s say the responsibilities that come with the volunteer opportunity spark your interest. You could always parlay those responsibilities into a career in an entirely different industry then your background or education.

5. Stand out from the competition.

Just 45 percent of professionals include volunteer work on their resumes — even though nearly 90 percent of them have donated time to a cause. If you volunteer, and highlight the experience on your resume, you help differentiate yourself from the competition, while emphasizing your commitment to the community.

If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of online resources to connect you with nonprofits and other charitable organizations. Check VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and Points of Light’s HandsOn Network for volunteer opportunities. Each site allows you to search by location and by type.  

6. Highlight your personal values.

Your resume can only tell potential employers so much about you. And with companies placing more emphasis on corporate giving, your volunteer work can help illustrate how your values match those of the organization. Employers want a cultural fit just as much as a skills fit.

When deciding how to volunteer, it’s always important to look for opportunities that you can really get behind. Sure, your work will still do wonders for building your resume, enhancing your skills, and expanding your network, but you’ll be missing out on that feeling that often comes with giving back. Everybody should win from your actions — and that includes you.

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