Categorized | Job Hunting

Volunteer Efforts May Land You a Better Job.

Posted on 31 January 2010

Each year, millions of Americans volunteer their time to community-service organizations. According to the Electronic Journal of the U.S. Information Agency, more than 90 million American citizens participate in volunteer activities. And in recent years, the number of corporate-sponsored employee volunteer initiatives has increased in response to the realization that they benefit employers and employees, as well as the organizations they serve.

Research Links Volunteerism & Profits

Betty B. Stallings, a San Francisco-based trainer, consultant, and author who specializes in volunteerism, cites a 1993 survey in which more than 50 percent of businesses surveyed acknowledged a link between volunteer programs and profitability. Stallings states that research involving Fortune 500 companies demonstrates “an exponentially increasing number of employee volunteer programs.” These programs bring corporations and communities together as partners, and have been shown to be beneficial in attracting talented employees and in motivating staff.

Stallings points to General Mills, Federal Express, and Intel as examples of companies that have reported enhanced skills among employees who have participated in corporate-sponsored volunteer programs. Specific skills mentioned include leadership, teamwork, decision-making, communication, and time management.

Many volunteers don’t realize that altruism can help them acquire highly marketable skills.

“The employees themselves derive considerable benefits as well,” Stallings writes. “Through their volunteering, they have developed new business contacts, gained experience in strategic planning, [and] become involved with community leaders. There is a decided link, too, between physical and mental health and participation in volunteer activities.”

Volunteers Undervalue Experience

Surprisingly, many volunteers don’t realize that their altruism can result in acquiring highly marketable skills. Anita Collins, a licensed independent clinical social worker and life-planning coach, says people—especially women—tend to undervalue their volunteer experience simply because they don’t get paid for it.

“There is still a strong bias about volunteer work—that we shouldn’t list it on a resume because it’s not considered a real job,” Collins explains. “I encourage my clients to include it because they’ve brought value to an organization with the skills they were using and developing.”

Collins, who practices in Worcester, MA, suggests that one of the best ways to identify those skills is to analyze the volunteer activity as if you were writing a job description. What tasks were performed? What was accomplished? What goals were achieved?

“In my work, I find that women in midlife are really stopping and saying, ‘I have 30 productive years ahead of me, and I want to spend them in a way that makes sense to me and makes me happy,’” Collins says. “The challenge for me is to help them identify why they’re not satisfied now, and how to move to the next phase.

“Many of these women have had wonderful non-paid work histories,” Collins continues. “They run organizations, work on committees, address neighborhood and school issues, and put together major charitable events and fund-raising campaigns. The fact is, they have skills and experience to do just about anything they choose, and that information most definitely belongs on their resumes. I try to help my clients realize the value of their volunteer experience, and connect that with their careers. Without that value piece as an underpinning, they often have a hard time finding satisfaction.”

This writer can attest to the value of showcasing volunteer work on a resume. A few years ago, while in the throes of a career transition, I served as a volunteer board member for a patient-services program of The American Cancer Society. In helping plan a multifaceted event, I co-wrote a video script, helped produce printed materials, and organized a workshop on women’s cancer issues. The event was a success and the video earned a recognition award from a local ad club. Referencing this activity on my resume has led to several lucrative freelance assignments that I would not otherwise have been offered.

Perceptions Are Changing

Collins says it’s gratifying to see that the perception of volunteerism has changed. Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, the value of volunteer contributions is recognized.

When you think about what’s involved in, for instance, organizing a charity golf tournament, “you realize that it takes organizational, management, marketing, and public relations skills, as well as dedication, stamina and a willingness to work very hard,” says Collins. “Those attributes are attractive to potential employers. And they can open up entire new career avenues that you might not have considered.”

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