Volunteering – a conscious and strategic development choice

What’s a volunteer? Maybe an unselfish person who goes the extra mile to use his/her skills to give back to the community and the world? Probably most volunteers will agree, that using the resources and personal surplus you may have for the good of others may come out as an unselfish act, but can at the same time be very satisfying and give new meaning to your life. Research will even tell you, that volunteering can benefit your health, as it helps you stay active and stimulates the production of dopamine – your brain’s ‘feel good’ hormone.

So if we agree that the time you spend volunteering, benefits both the cause you choose to volunteer for, the communities you volunteer in and can also at the same time benefit you – have you ever considered utilizing all these benefits as a conscious and strategic development tool?

If you considered volunteering for personal and professional development, here are five conscious and strategic moves to consider:

Seek opportunities to maintain and develop skills

If you choose to spend time volunteering, the community or organization you volunteer for will most likely be interested in knowing what personal and professional skills and resources you have to offer. The personal resource can be as simple as time, but as a traveling partner you most likely also offer a line of personal competences including  global outlook and growth mindset.

Your professional competences may come from the educational background you have and the job experiences you can already include in your resume. And this might be what gets your foot in the door when you look for new volunteer experiences. This is great, especially if you are a traveling partner on a career break, because maintaining the skills you have and keeping up to date with new trends within your professional field will definitely make a difference when at some point you wish to use these skills in a paid position again.

But consider this: what are the competences you would like to develop? Or the competences your would need to develop for landing your dream job – or just your next paid position? And what volunteer positions and tasks might help you develop just those skills? Wherever you choose to volunteer, the community or organization will benefit from applying the competences and skills you already have, but they might also be able to offer you tasks that can give you the opportunity to try something new and thereby develop new skills.

Expand your network

Volunteering is a great way to expand your network. Actually that is one of the reasons why researchers say, volunteering is good for your health. Because it makes you part of a community, it fosters new connections and helps you build a personal support system. But consider this: what if volunteering can also expand your professional support system?

A lot of paid job opportunities come through personal and professional networks. Some job postings are only offered within company and employee networks. Even listed job opportunities become more accessible if the personal and professional network you have can recommend you and serve as your reference in a hiring process.

So what type of jobs would you be interested in in the future? And what type of people would you then want in your network? Any chance you can find volunteer opportunities that will expand your network in a country you might wish to work in, or give you the opportunity to network with professions related to your personal career wishes.

Let’s say you are hoping for a career in the health sector, finding a health project to volunteer for might not just help you develop relevant skills, it might also get you a great network of health professionals that can guide you towards your next job offer or serve as a relevant and valuable reference for future employers.

Accept formal roles and responsibilities

In the blog post Career advice for the “trailing spouse” Key Resource Person and executive coach Paul Vanderbroeck states that being formally part of an organization is more important than being informally active when building a resume. Hence President of the Parents Association trumps volunteering to tell stories in your kid’s school.

Volunteering as a loose commitment might be tempting, as other aspects of your life as a traveling partner will benefit from a flexible ad hoc commitment schedule. However as some of us have learned in other aspects of life, a loose commitment can fast become less important and even end up being no commitment at all.

By taking on a formal role in a community or organization, you show yourself as well as others that this volunteer opportunity is a priority to you. You also show possible future employees that you are ready to commit and take on responsibilities.  Let’s face it: a formal commitment is a lot less flexible and can also be a lot more demanding, but it also looks a lot better on a resume.

Gather examples, think in STAR Moments

STAR or Situation, Task, Action and Result is a HR model often utilized when employers scan applicants to see if they are the right fit for a vacant position. They will look for or ask you to share past experiences that might resemble situation you will face if they hire you. They want to know how you handle these situations, the tasks and actions you can initiate or contributed to and the result it might bring.

Look for the blog post STAR struck – HR insight to help you build your resume by here we are global founder Jannie Skov-Hansen for a more in depth description of the STAR model and how to use it when applying for a new position.

And take on volunteer tasks that can help you collect those STAR examples. While you might be busy volunteering, occasionally take a pause and think about what you accomplish. Think about the situations volunteering puts you in, the tasks you perform, the skills you develop, the problems you solve and conflicts you resolve. What actions did you take? What are the results and what did you learn in the process? All of this will give you a sense of accomplishment. It will also build your personal and professional self-confidence and it will give you those great examples; success and development stories that you need to land a paid position when that time comes.

Follow your heart

All this said, we all know that volunteering is still an unpaid opportunity that will money wise – at this moment in time – not help support your family.

We might all agree that volunteering brings value to others as well as to yourself in the form of skills building, extensive network, personal and professional accomplishments, STAR examples and last but not least; simple feel good dopamine production. However, since you will still be spending your valuable time working for no money you might as well do it for a cause that you are passionate about. And think about it: volunteering for a cause that you feel passionate about might actually also be the best way for you to find other like minded volunteers that will become that personal and professional support network you need to develop a career that you can also be passionate about.

This said: happy heartfelt volunteering!

Story by here we are global’s Strategic Communication and Development Focal Point Mette Lindgaard Seligmann, a Dane currently located in Cleveland Ohio. Interested in volunteering for here we are global? We are always looking for Focal Points and volunteers to help build local network groups. We currently also have global teams working with Social Impact and Communication. See other potentials within our community, that you would be interested in developing and volunteering for? Please always fell free to let us know!

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