Every once in a while you’ll hit a wall in your professional life. Career-driven people know how important it is to continue growing and developing professionally, but how can you get professionally active if there aren’t any promising new job openings?
As many workers have discovered, volunteering is often a great option. If you’re looking for a way to jumpstart your career or even break into a new career field, here are five ways volunteer work can help you reach your goal.
One of the most commonly cited career benefits volunteer work provides is new networking opportunities. Look for volunteer opportunities where you can show off your professional skills.
“Volunteer work will often give you the opportunity to make new contacts and develop new relationships in your local community, the organization that you are volunteering for and with other people that have chosen to volunteer,” says Zach Brown, recruiting strategy consultant at David Brown International. “Your network will grow in ways that you may not expect and that can be fruitful in the long term.”
While creating more person-to-person connections is great, you can take it one step further and start forging a connection with employers. “Companies volunteer, participate in 5Ks and attend fundraisers all the time,” says Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift. “Introduce yourself to employee volunteers at these types of events and begin to build relationships. Understand this isn’t an appropriate opportunity to ask for a job, but it will give you a connection when it is time to reach out professionally.”
- Developing your skills
Volunteering can also help if you’re looking to transition your career focus. While there may not be many chances to develop skills not directly related to your position with your employer, there’s a good chance you can do so with the right volunteering role.
“Many volunteer opportunities allow you to build a certain level of expertise in a functional area that perhaps you aren’t exposed to at work,” says Monique Honaman, founding partner of ISHR Group, a human resources leadership, development and coaching firm. “For example, it might mean building your financial acumen by serving on the finance committee at a non-profit or being in charge of managing the budget and collecting the funds at a fundraiser.”
- Building your resume
One of the most common anxieties amongst job seekers is having to explain gaps in their resumes to potential employers. Volunteer work is a perfect way to fill in those gaps. “If you are unemployed, volunteering is a great way to get out of the house and be active,” says Paul Kostek, an independent contractor and career advisor. “It also helps you to fill in the space on your resume when you’re looking for work. You can fill in the gaps with the volunteer work, listing roles and responsibilities.”
- Differentiating yourself
Even if you haven’t had any noticeable downtime between past jobs, volunteer work still looks great on your resume. “Competitive organizations are looking for candidates that stand out from the crowd and that have something special to offer,” says Brown. “Actively making contributions to your community and demonstrating your range of skills and abilities through volunteer opportunities is a great way to make a potential employer notice you.
- Putting it to work
As with most things that can help you move your career forward, volunteering isn’t a magic bullet. To get the best results, you need to volunteer strategically. “Choose a place to volunteer that needs your skill set and will potentially have job openings in the foreseeable future,” suggests Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of executive coaching and resume writing service, Call to Career. “If you want a position as an HR manager, you don’t want to volunteer to just stuff envelopes. You want a volunteer position that will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to a potential employer.”
Putting your skills to work for a charitable cause can build your skills, expand your professional network and show employers your personal drive and motivation. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be helping your community. It’s the definition of a win-win.
Matthew Tarpey researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.