In Career Transition? Reward Yourself with a Volunteer Role

CPC Career Team

By Sharon Graham.

National Volunteer Recognition Week April 12 to 18, 2015 

Have you noticed how many awards and acknowledgements there have been lately – thanking volunteers for their contributions? Volunteer Canada along with Investors Group conducted a Volunteer Recognition Study which indicated that many volunteers appreciate a genuine thank you.

“Volunteers want to be thanked and shown how they have made a difference – they want to know the impact of their contributions.”

Volunteer Canada, 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study

Across Canada, we have a number of National and Provincial Award Programs for outstanding volunteers. Many not-for-profit organizations and associations also offer highly regarded awards to their volunteers. Even corporate volunteerism programs for employees are on the rise.

Recipients of these awards are tireless workers who give of their time with no expectation of praise – however if you ask, they will undoubtedly say that they have received much more than they have given. For them, it’s all part of living in, learning about, and giving back to their communities and to the less fortunate. However, in addition to reaping immeasurable personal rewards for the work they do, they create visibility for the organizations they help, and inadvertently raise their own profile as a leader in their area of expertise.

Many individuals in career transition allocate some of their time working in hospitals, schools, seniors’ residences, local food banks, sporting events, and fundraisers. They have ensured seamless completion of everything from basic necessities of life for the frail or chronically ill to managing a seemingly endless string of complex initiatives that are part of a massive undertaking. Thanks to their devotion, these true leaders have built their exposure and name recognition.

 “In 2013, volunteers devoted almost 2 billion hours to their volunteer activities, or the equivalent of about 1 million full-time jobs.”

2013 Statistics Canada General Social Survey: Giving, Volunteering, and Participating.

The value of such community service may be far more than you realize. The altruistic motives, of course, are strong:

  • Volunteering is a great feeling of contributing – doing so unselfishly with no expectation of monetary reward is one that most volunteers say counts for most.
  • Getting involved to make a difference – giving an hour, a day, a month, or more to make an improvement in an ongoing process, a specialized service, or an event.
  • Growing your base of acquaintances – being part of something outside the home and building on new connections where you may get together outside the non-profit.
  • Being known as a philanthropist – donating your time instead of (or as well as) money is a very sincere way of contributing and being respected for your commitment to a cause.
  • Supporting a non-profit, political, or religious affiliation – benefiting an organization or philosophy that has deep connections and reflects your personal values.

If you are in a career transition, taking on a volunteer role offers you far more than all of this. You will reap many more career related benefits:

  • Connecting to build your professional network – getting out, spreading your wings, and letting others get to know you, what you stand for, and how you work.
  • Being active and getting to know your community – helping to keep the blues at bay when you are actively job seeking or feeling frustrated in your current employment.
  • Gaining work or leadership experience at a different level – learning and making contributions in ways that your own roles haven’t allowed.
  • Building a reputation as someone that can be counted upon – making and sustaining a mark that makes people want to know you and to work with you.
  • Sharing your knowledge – creating more valued relationships in sectors you’ve never considered. Giving support, information, and innovative ideas that drive solutions.
  • Spreading your leadership talents – becoming an active member for ad hoc and permanent committees, and exploring the process to earn a spot on various Boards.
  • Joining groups to gain executive experience and exposure – pursuing a range of roles until attaining levels such as treasurer, secretary, vice-president or president.

When you get involved, you really do get back many times more than you give. The more people that know you and appreciate what you have to offer, the better you will feel about your participation and leadership. Whether you are actively job seeking or not, there are any number of people in these groups or associations that can bridge gaps between employers and potential new hires. These are terrific connections to the hidden job market – that myriad of executive positions which companies prefer to fill through a referral process, not by posting openings.

So, whether your current full- or part-time ‘job’ is that of searching for employment or you are someone that is simply open to new opportunities, be sure that people know you and your worth. Especially if you are job searching, it’s important for you to share that vital piece of information with your contacts.

Here are some ways to consider using your volunteer experience to best advantage:

  • Make a great first impression and continue to be visible, highly involved, and seen as a genuine, active, contributor to the vision of the organization.
  • When people you meet in the volunteer world ask you how things are going, be honest. Showing appreciation for their interest, give them a positive and memorable update about your employment quest.
  • Remember that you are with other volunteers and that they – perhaps more than others – love to help. When they ask, let them know what they may be able to do for you. It can be as simple as a request to let you know of any suitable openings.
  • Ensure that you include your volunteer roles and activities in your job search material! If you are involved with a political party or religious group, use descriptions that are generic to ensure you don’t disengage someone with opposing views.
  • Add information within your resume. Unless a paid board or executive position in a non-profit is your goal, this usually works best as a sub-section on the last page. Be sure to include any notable accomplishments that emphasize your leadership. Don’t forget to list the awards and recognitions that you have received.
  • Mention your engagements in your online networking. Tell friends and followers in your Twitter account, blog conversations, website, Google+, and other social media sites about your volunteer engagements and successes.
  • Include your listing of volunteerism in LinkedIn. When you mention the organizations you support, you are adding new dimensions that enhance your visibility for those looking for someone like you.

Definitely, pro-bono involvement gets a positive reception from recruiters and hiring managers. For decades, corporations have supported charities in ways that include large financial contributions, and more and more have expanded on that by donating employee time – allowing the company commitment to be seen and felt at the grass roots level – freely giving back and getting involved with high profile community initiatives.

What is your experience? What works for you and what benefits have you realized from volunteering? Please share your insights with our readers!

Sharon Graham is CANADA’S CAREER STRATEGIST and author of the top-selling BEST CANADIAN RESUMES SERIES. Founder and executive director of CAREER PROFESSIONALS OF CANADA, Sharon is committed to setting the standard for excellence in the industry. A leading authority on resume, interview, employment and career transition, Sharon provides career practitioners with tools and resources to enable them to provide exemplary services to Canadians.

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