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Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

9 Ways Volunteering Helps You Get Ahead

You may be surprised at the ways volunteering can help you reach career goals

Michael Lehet/Flickr
Source: Michael Lehet/Flickr

When I (Jonathan) step back and look at what types of activities help lead to a successful career, I am struck by how many of the most successful people I know in psychology have done volunteer (community service) work. This volunteering is quite varied and includes disaster relief, working in a church daycare center, helping on a cancer ward, being a server in a soup kitchen, tutoring, working at a rape crisis center, being involved in a political campaign, etc. Before getting into the benefits of volunteering I need to be clear that volunteering, by definition, is doing work for free. Thus, if you are unable to work for free or feel that your time is too valuable to not get paid, then you will have to think of other activities that can help you succeed with your career plans. I also want to add that it is great if you can volunteer with some organization that is related to your ultimate career goal, but any kind of volunteering has its benefits.

As far as numbers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between September 2014 and September 2015 about 63 million Americans (almost 25%) volunteered. It would be great if more people volunteered, and I hope this post gets more of you to see that volunteering can be beneficial to your career goals in so many ways. So, here goes:

1) Volunteer work stands out in your resume. Given that only about a quarter of Americans volunteer, your resume will likely increase your standing relative to your peers. It indicates a certain type of motivation that many others will not be able to show.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Wikimedia Commons

2) When you volunteer, you are doing work that benefits the community and will make you feel good. Whether it is working at a food bank or picking up trash in a park you are improving your community. There is a great deal of self-satisfaction knowing you have helped others in your community.

3) Volunteering shows that you have good time-management skills. You are able to show that you could take on an unpaid position at the same time you are taking classes, working, or participating in other activities.

4) Often, volunteering shows that you can be part of a team. This quality can be very important, especially to employers who expect their workers to be able to interact with others in the workplace. I should note that there are a number of companies that do volunteer work in the community. If you already have volunteer experience, you will likely stand out compared to other applicants.

5) If you are in college, certain scholarships require community service to apply. Thus, volunteering may boost your ability to get financial aid.

6) When you volunteer you are almost certain to build networks among the people you meet. As you might imagine, these contacts can be an excellent resource when you are looking for a job or need a letter of recommendation. In addition, wherever you volunteer you will form social networks with people who have similar interests.

7) You are able to build on existing skills and develop new skills in a volunteer situation. For example, you might have some computer skills, but in your volunteer position you might learn new ways of using computers. In addition, there are often times when you volunteer that you need to think in new ways. For example, you may have a meager budget at your volunteer organization, but big obstacles to overcome. This can get you to think in creative ways to solve problems.

8) Volunteering offers you the opportunity to explore career options. You are able to check out different activities to give you an idea of what career path might be best for you. In addition, volunteering may let you know that a certain path is definitely not what you thought it would be.

9) When you are in a volunteer situation you often learn to lead. Although you might not think about this when you start volunteering, all organizations rely on volunteers to get things accomplished. Given the large number of volunteers, it is pretty common for someone (it could be you!) to be made the leader of a group. This may not be what you wanted when you first decided to volunteer, but keep in mind that gaining this leadership experience is a real positive.

Daniel Thornton/Flickr
Source: Daniel Thornton/Flickr

To find out where you can volunteer you just need to:

Talk to others

Check out

Contact the Career Center on campus if you are a college student

Contact any non-profit organization or charity

Contact the Red Cross if there is a natural disaster (e.g., tornado)

Ask a religious leader

Also, you might consider volunteering with a friend so that you can make a difference together. In the end, I am confident that you will feel great about volunteering. Not only will it lead to a stronger resume but more important it will lead to a stronger you!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding, Dr. Lippert and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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About the Author
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. Anne Lippert, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky.

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