This afternoon I load up my car and head out of town to take part as a leader on a youth retreat. It’s going to be three days of craziness. My roommates, which just so happen to be middle school girls, will most certainly ensure I don’t sleep. I’ll be away from my husband, my blog, and my mile long to-do list; and I won’t be getting paid. So why am I going? Simple – I believe in the value of volunteerism. Yea, yea – helping people is good, and that’s a big part of why I volunteer, but I think everyone should volunteer – especially those in the market for a job. There are a few reasons for my conclusion.
Volunteering keeps your skills sharp and relevant and often adds new skills. People often don’t realize that volunteer work does not have to include boring, monotonous tasks. It can be challenging, engaging, and creatively stimulating. For someone who is between jobs, volunteering to manage a project relevant to your field is a great way to keep your skills from getting rusty, and it gives you something to speak about when you get in front of an employer. You know that dreaded question “What have you been doing since your last job”? Well, dread no more – because volunteering in a strategic way can let you answer that question in a way that reflects very well on you.
Volunteering makes you more confident. From experience, I know that looking for a job can be hard on your confidence. Heck, it can be downright demoralizing – but if you can be engaged in work that you really find meaningful (even without a paycheck) it can help you to remember how valuable you are. Employers aren’t interested in candidates who don’t believe in their value – they just aren’t. Serving in a meaningful way on a volunteer basis can help you to keep doldrums about job search and about your worth at bay.
Volunteering keeps you connected. Let’s say you are working currently, but not in the field you are truly passionate about, or you are out of your industry for a time – what happens? If you aren’t careful, you can quickly lose your connections to those around you who are key players in your industry. Volunteering can help to keep you in the sphere of relevance for your profession. This is why it is important not to just volunteer anywhere doing anything; but to approach the selection of a volunteer opportunity with precision. Identify who in your area is doing something you find important. If they aren’t asking for a volunteer – be bold and let them know what you can do. Often times, organizations are glad to have the offered help.
Volunteering can lead you to employment. In some lucky cases, a position opens up at the organization a volunteer serves at and boom – they’re now on the payroll. This isn’t a guarantee, but it certainly happens – because as a volunteer you are tried and tested. Everyone knows that you can deliver which is a much better scenario than hiring a new person blindly. The cost of a “bad hire” can be astronomical to a company, so hiring from within a volunteer base can be an easier transition. If you aren’t that lucky, volunteering can still lead to employment in a more roundabout way. Your organization isn’t the only one who sees the work you do, especially if you work with business partners. This goes back to staying connected. Work ethic and talent is easy to spot. Volunteer well in front of the right entities and your chances of going back to work increase.
Volunteering keeps you dreaming. This is why I think EVERYONE should volunteer. I don’t care if you are engaged full time at home, between jobs, or working a 9-5; you need to volunteer. People don’t tend to stay in the same profession for their entire lives anymore. I mean, how many of you reading this have had more than one “career” before the age of 30. I’m sure that's true of many of you. Our interests change, and our worldview changes. Volunteering in or outside of your field can help you to see these changes coming. Experiences that you have as a volunteer can spark new passions in you, that are sometimes in a completely different area. This can inspire you to retrain or refocus your career in a new and exciting way. This is personally the biggest reason I volunteer. I know that I want to work with youth, likely as an educator – so volunteering with them keeps me dreaming about the future. If I didn’t do it, I don’t know that I would ever pursue my goal. When you stop dreaming – busyness and burnout can happen. So dream, and volunteer.
All that being said, I have to fill up my gas tank to head on this trip, and I realize that gas prices are getting to be a huge challenge. I also realize that when you don’t have income coming in – spending money to commute to a volunteer opportunity can seem impossible. In that case, think outside the box. Can you do something meaningful for an organization 1-2 days per week? Can you volunteer your time in exchange for a transportation stipend? Can you volunteer remotely by performing freelance work for an organization – perhaps even one outside of your area? These are just a few ideas to make volunteering work for you when times are tough. Also – it’s not just you that gets something out of it – you also get to effect change, and that is huge.
Do you volunteer currently? What do you do?
Image courtesy of [anankkml] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net