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Volunteer Work Can Show Potential Employers Your Initiative, Range Of Skills

Trinidadian Simmone volunteer Africa
Simmone Taitt volunteering in Moshi Tanzania

We all know that volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, but could doing good actually be good for your career? It can, says Noel Jones, human resource manager at Methanex Trinidad. Recruiters such as Jones see volunteerism as a sign of a well-rounded employee with real-life experiences that could add value to businesses.

Veteran volunteers also agree that they’ve seen the benefits of volunteerism in their own careers. Simmone Taitt, head of business development at Gracious Eloise Inc., a digital handwriting technology company based in New York, is on the boards of two charities and in 2014 worked with women entrepreneurs in Tanzania through the nonprofit Cross Cultural Solutions. She says volunteering keeps her balanced.

“I made volunteering a priority in my life to give what I can: love, time, donations,” she said. “But the most important of them all is love. It’s free and we all have it within us.”

Giselle Mendez, president of the Volunteer Center of Trinidad and Tobago, counts work-life balance as just one benefit of donating your time to a cause that’s important to you.

Here’s what’s in it for you:

Networking

One of the strongest reasons to consider volunteering is the opportunity to network. It is a great way to connect with people who share your values. No matter your field, your career development depends largely on the relationships that you nurture.

Your network is your net worth, according to marketing expert Porter Gale. Many hiring decisions are based on who you know, so it’s a good idea to meet leaders and impress them with your social conscience and performance. You never know, your next job could come from someone you meet at your local Rotary Club.

Learning new skills

Volunteering teaches many marketable skills, such as time management, goal-setting and teamwork. “When you work in a team with limited resources, pursuing a common goal, you learn how to deal with many different kinds of people,” said Mendez.

Organising an event could teach you project management and leadership. Want to improve your sales and marketing? Volunteer to raise funds for a local nonprofit organisation.  

You can even test-drive a career before committing to it. Maybe you’ve been considering a career in the health sector; volunteering with the Ministry of Health’s Public Volunteer Programme could tell you if that career path would be right for you.

Building work experience

You can use your skills to help others while building your résumé. Mendez described how young professionals often perform volunteer roles they may not be able to do in their jobs because of a lack of experience.

“In the private sector, you may not have certain qualifications,” she explained, “but in an NGO, where resources are tight, someone may give you the opportunity to perform a function that they need.”

New graduates often lament that employers want them to show work experience when they’ve never had a job. This is where volunteering comes in.

Are you a graphic designer or a copywriter? Why not help a charity with their website? You might be able to add a nice clip to your portfolio.

Traveling the world

Who says that you can only volunteer in Trinidad and Tobago? Many organisations provide opportunities for volunteers to work in communities worldwide.

“I happen to enjoy travel and volunteering,” said Taitt, who uses part of her vacation time to do international volunteer work. “I’m in a very happy state when I’m combining both. Truly, the world is only getting smaller, and sustainability is becoming more important than ever. I want to be a part of the conversation, and for me, that means experiencing with all my senses, in the place, with the people.”

Attracting employers

Hiring managers like volunteers. In a 2011 LinkedIn survey, 20 percent of the hiring managers polled said that they had made hiring decisions based on volunteer work. Jones agreed that volunteer experience plays a part in hiring, since it shows that candidates are willing to give back to the societies that educated them.

On her LinkedIn profile, Taitt includes the organisations she volunteers with, and looks for résumés that list volunteer experience when she considers potential hires, too.

“You want to present yourself as dimensional,” she explained. “Volunteering adds both dimension and intention. It’s a great way to stand apart.”

Massy Wood Group Managing Director Vaughn Martin cautioned that a list of volunteer activities did not earn an automatic nod. “It depends on the level of involvement,” he said.

He looks for certain volunteering roles that could signal potential leadership abilities.

Jones agreed. “Depending on the role, it could show skills outside of their core competencies, which is valuable.”

For new graduates and job-seekers, volunteer work could also be used to demonstrate transferable skills when you don’t have much paid work experience. Volunteering at an organisation where you may like to work might even be a way to get your foot in the door for paid work.

If you want to start volunteering, Taitt says the best way is to begin with a cause that’s important to you and seek out experts doing work around it. Mendez further says that trying out a few projects and organisations will help crystallise your interests.

Maybe it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some good for your community – and your career.

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