How to Jumpstart Your Career Through Volunteering

Updated: May 2, 2019



Holding that freshly printed diploma in your hands? Congrats! Now it’s time to land a great job. While there’s no single method to guarantee a speedy job search, volunteering is a giant leap

in the right direction.


You can be a force for good in your community and give yourself a major edge in the job market. There’s no better win-win than that. Let’s talk about how volunteering can jumpstart your

career – along with a few tips on how you can boost the effect!


Volunteering Gives You More Work Experience


One of the biggest hurdles for new college graduates is lack of work experience. Volunteering is the answer. Just because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean the experience you’ve gained isn’t valid. Today’s hiring managers want candidates with the right skills – and it doesn’t matter how you

got them.

  • Choose volunteer projects wisely – Not all volunteering is equal. If you’re looking for a technology position, developing a website for a non-profit might be a better choice than a clean-up project. Think strategically. What kind of volunteer position would give you the work experience you need?

  • Be consistent – Helping out a couple times isn’t as impressive as a regularly scheduled shift or a big project. Make a commitment and follow through.

  • Show your work – If it’s the type of project where you have something to share, be sure to organize samples in a portfolio, in the same way you would from a paid job.

  • Get a great reference – Who would be the best person to provide a reference? Your volunteer supervisor, a board member, the Executive Director? Think about the impact of that person’s statement in the eyes of your prospective employers. See if they could write the recommendation directly on LinkedIn.


Bonus Tip: Look for non-profits that have a strong, structured volunteer program. You want a position that provides training and a specific job description. You could even ask them to set it up like an internship with goals and outcomes. This will help you translate those experiences into relevant work examples in your resume and interviews.


Volunteering Gives You Stronger (or New) Professional Skills

Have you noticed that many job postings require skills that you don’t have (or need to improve)? Volunteering is a low-pressure way to learn, grow, and gain confidence. Best of all, you’ll have proof that you can apply your skills in a professional setting. Employers are more likely to choose a candidate with real-world experience over one with only classroom training.

  • Find the right opportunity – Many volunteer matching websites have search filters that help you find specific tasks or skills such as writing, graphic design, or accounting. They’re often looking for professionals to provide services that they can’t afford as a non-profit with a limited budget.

  • Catchafire.com is an excellent way to connect with non-profits seeking specific professional skills. Projects can be short or long-term and the charities are screened to make sure you have a good experience as a volunteer.

  • Seek out a mentor – If you don’t feel confident enough to tackle a project on your own, see if you can join a team or have a partner. Many organizations have committees for big fundraisers. Look for volunteers in leadership positions. Ask if you could shadow them or develop a mentoring relationship, if the work fits with your career goals. The Volunteer Coordinator is also a good resource to identify a mentor.


Bonus Tip: Don’t overlook “soft skills,” like communication, public speaking, leadership, or listening. These are highly valued by hiring managers. For example, if you’re shy, you might want to choose a volunteer opportunity where you interact more with others. This will help you ease into a full-time job where you’ll be expected to communicate with customers or others on your team. It will also help during the interview process.


Volunteering Expands Your Network


Networking is the single best way to increase your chances of landing a job. When you begin volunteering for a non-profit organization, you’ll be introduced to a variety of other volunteers,

all of whom work in different fields and industries. Volunteering can get you out of the college campus bubble. Working together on a volunteer project builds trust and friendship – the perfect ingredients for a strong network.


  • Chat it up – Ask what your fellow volunteers do for a living and talk about the kind of job you want. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet new people outside your normal social groups.

  • Connect on LinkedIn – If you meet someone through volunteering who could help you with your job search, send them an invitation on LinkedIn. Ask if they could introduce you to others in their field who might be hiring now or in the future.

  • Check out the Board of Directors – Before you choose a volunteer opportunity, see who serves on their Board of Directors. Some of the most influential members of your community serve as board members for local non-profits. You might have an opportunity to interact with them at events or fundraisers. It’s also a friendly way to start an introduction on LinkedIn. Having a mutual interest always helps!


Bonus Tip: Many companies sponsor specific causes or organizations. If you’ve set your sights on a specific employer, look at their website to see if they regularly donate to certain organizations or if their employees volunteer there.


Volunteering Gives You A Positive Image


Even though it’s unfair, many interviewers make negative assumptions about recent college graduates. Who hasn’t read a meme about lazy millennials? (Groan) Having volunteer experience can quickly dispel these misconceptions. You’re no longer a snapchatting teen, you’re a professional who gives their valuable time to a cause. Even if your volunteer activities aren’t directly related to the job opportunity, it shows commitment, maturity, and drive. These are all qualities that any employer would love to have on their team.


  • Talk about Why – In job interviews, share why you chose to volunteer and how it fits with your values. If those values match up with the employer’s, even better! Hiring managers want new employees to be a good cultural fit. That’s just as important as knowing how to do the job.

  • Emphasize People Skills – If you worked as a team or led others, make sure you bring it up whenever possible. You might be an expert at all the technical aspects of your field, but if you can’t work with others, that’s a big strike against you. Your volunteer experiences reassure the interviewer that you’ll be a good team member.


Bonus Tip: Post about your volunteering experiences on LinkedIn. Share a photo of you with your volunteer team members and say something about why you’re involved and how it makes a difference. This will contribute to your positive image and impress recruiters and HR managers as they check out your profile.


Volunteering Makes Your Resume Stand Out


According to a recent Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey, 81% of HR executives said they take a job applicant’s volunteer experience into consideration and 76% believe it makes them a more desirable candidate. Many hiring managers are actively looking for volunteer experience on your resume. It’s that important! Let’s talk about how to incorporate your volunteer work into your resume for the greatest impact.


  • Put it in the right place – If your volunteer experience is relevant to the job opening, put it in the section with your work experience. If it’s not directly relevant, create a volunteer experience section and list your activities there.

  • Use the same formatting – Even if it’s volunteer experience, it should follow the same format as your work experience – include title, organization, length of time, and bulleted list of responsibilities or accomplishments.

  • Give it a strong title – Think about what would be most appealing to the person reading the resume. For example, instead of simply “Volunteer” you could say “Website Management Volunteer.”

  • Use descriptive bullet points – Remember how you agonized over each of the bullet points to describe your work experience? Put that same level of effort toward describing your volunteer work. For example, instead of “Helped with website” say:

Bonus Tip: There’s a section in LinkedIn just for Volunteer Experience. It will show up under your Education section. Be sure to fill it out with as many details as possible, just like your resume.

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Hopefully this blog has given you the incentive to start volunteering right away. If you’re already volunteering, incorporate some of our tips, so you can be more strategic about your efforts. You’ll have your first professional job in no time.

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