Make Volunteering Work for You

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Volunteering can be an excellent means of breathing new life into an otherwise stagnant job search. Keeping skills sharp, making new professional contacts, bridging gaps in your resume – these are all benefits of including volunteerism in your job-search strategy.

If leveraged properly, any volunteer work can make you a stronger candidate. Consider the following tips to maximize the value of your volunteer experience.


Find Relevant Opportunities

Regardless of what you end up doing, volunteerism is a tremendous way to give back to your community. But if you’re looking to bolster your resume, not all experience is created equal. If you come from an accounting background, for instance, answering phones and stuffing envelopes won’t do much to encourage your professional development.

Whether your expertise is in marketing, communications, finance, fundraising or grant writing, find an organization that aligns with your passion and be clear about what you can bring to the table. Identify an area of need and present yourself as the solution.

By maintaining your skills through meaningful volunteer work, more people will observe your work ethic and skillset firsthand. Not only will your professional network expand, but the organization you volunteer with might decide they can’t do without you.


Be Honest About Your Intentions

There is no reason to keep your job search a secret. Don’t hesitate to let your colleagues know that you are in quest of a specific job and that you hope to gain the necessary experience through your volunteer efforts. Eventually, find time to meet with your supervisor, present them with a cover letter, resume and the kind of position you’re after, and ask for their opinion. This is a great way to get an honest, professional appraisal of your application materials. Who knows? You might even get a job offer or referral out of it. If you have been a truly valuable volunteer, your colleagues and supervisors will be more than happy to help.


Keep Track of Your Volunteering

If you are donating your time and expertise on a regular basis, you should get in the habit of tracking the number of hours you’re putting in. This is especially important if you are attempting to fill gaps in experience or work history through your volunteer efforts. Hiring managers will likely have questions about the frequency and duration of your volunteer projects, and you’ll want to be prepared when it comes up in an interview.

Even if you are not getting regular hours throughout the year, the impact of your volunteerism can still make you a more appealing job candidate. Let’s say you are in charge of an annual fundraising campaign, food drive or any type of event where goods are collected on behalf of a charity.

Since the event itself may have only kept you busy for a few weeks out of the year, focus on the results rather than the time spent. Perhaps you are a volunteer camp counselor, or maybe you provide free tax preparation in the spring. Whatever the case may be, keep track of the number of people you’re serving. The dollar figure raised, the number of items collected, the number of students/clients served – they convey the impact of your efforts in a way that will help you stand out to prospective employers.


Update Your Resume Accordingly

While your resume should reflect the time invested and impact of your volunteering, unpaid roles shouldn’t appear alongside the paid experiences that make up your work history. Create a “Volunteer Experience” or “Major Accomplishments” section and list them there. Even if you are not actively seeking a new job, including a “Community Involvement” section is a good way to showcase any nonprofit boards, special committees or any other philanthropic initiatives you are part of.


The United Way of Greater St. Louis has developed a great resource to find relevant volunteer opportunities in the St. Louis region. Visit United Way’s Volunteer Center at stlvolunteer.org to find remote and on-site opportunities that are best for you and don’t forget to browse the volunteer listings we have at SDI!

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