How Volunteerism Can Benefit Your Career

Employees volunteering together

In last month's blog, we discussed volunteering to support mental health awareness. While volunteering impacts the cause or people being helped, it also offers many benefits to the volunteer – both personally and professionally. For starters, related to mental wellness, volunteering can reduce stress, combat depression, mentally stimulate, and provide a sense of purpose. Volunteerism can also have a tremendous impact on your career. 

Volunteering can help you build career-related skills, gain practical experience, and meet people with whom you can network. Building skills and experience can lead to greater career mobility, advancement, and satisfaction. Career changers and those just looking to stretch their wings may see an increased level of confidence after honing their skills in a volunteer position. Your newly developed self-assurance may also help interview performance.

According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 50% of employers state it is difficult to find candidates with soft skills. Employers also contend that students are not learning soft skills in college. Soft skills may be more challenging for colleges to teach because they tend to be more behavioral and personality-related characteristics. An abbreviated list of soft skills employers seek includes critical thinking, innovation, creativity, complex problem-solving, and communication.  

Hard skills are also in great demand. Hard skills are typically job-specific. They include business analytics, financial management, analytical reasoning, technology, project management, and accounting -- to name just a few. Additionally, technology is changing the workplace faster than ever and finding its way into all types of jobs. According to SHRM, employers assert that college education doesn’t keep pace with technology.

Whether considering soft skills or hard skills, there are no one-size-fits-all skillsets. The right mix of skills varies by job and industry. There are numerous situations where skill development and practical experience can benefit your career. For example, perhaps you:

  • are seeking a promotion but lacking the necessary skills
  • have a suitable job but in the wrong industry -- or vice versa
  • possess basic-level skills but need higher-levels skills to get ahead  
  • want to change occupations but don't have the practical experience
  • pursued a "hot" major but are finding employers also want experience
  • completed a less-in-demand college major and are having trouble finding suitable work 
  • etc.

Once you've determined the skills you want to build, also consider your interests and values. You'll have a better chance of finding a meaningful and enjoyable volunteer experience if it matches your goals, interests, and values. Next, in addition to your career goals, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do or achieve as a volunteer. Relevant questions to ask yourself include:  

  • What skills do I want to build? 
  • What skills can I offer the volunteer organization?  
  • Would I prefer to work with adults, children, animals, or remotely from home?
  • Would I like to work with people, data/numbers/information, or tools and equipment?
  • What's best for me, behind the scenes or a more visible role?
  • Are there specific causes that are important to me?

Here are some websites to search for appropriate volunteer opportunities:

  • CatchAFire – Listed are hundreds of volunteer projects for many skills and time commitments. Search by skill or browse all projects, including remote options.
  • Volunteer  – Search for opportunities that match your volunteer interests, from location to type of work. 
  • Idealist – Find volunteer opportunities in your local area or internationally. 
  • National and Community Service – Federal organizations offer volunteer positions across the U.S. 
  • American Red Cross – Volunteer opportunities exist in key service areas.

Written by: Barbara Van Dyk

June 17, 2021

About the Author

Barbara Van Dyk headshot

Barbara is an experienced career counselor with a Master’s Degree in Counseling & Guidance from New York University, an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, and more than 20 years’ experience in the academic and corporate worlds.